Perhaps the clearest signal that the Patriots organization is returning to a place it hasn’t been in 27 years?
Rampant pre-draft quarterback speculation.
Last time this was a legitimate discussion? That would be 1993 when the merits of Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer were debated by the remaining 25,894 diehard Patriots fans in the six-state region.
The Patriots took Bledsoe and — for mostly better and sometimes worse — the problem was solved through 2000. Then the Patriots found buried treasure in their backyard and lived like kings at the quarterback position for 18 more years.
Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis
There have been quarterback-related debates — Bledsoe or Tom Brady in 2001; what to do about Jimmy G. in 2017, etc. — but looking to the draft for the franchise savior as almost every team in the league has had to do dozens of times since the Patriots took Bledsoe? That’s new.
And the name that’s causing the most intrigue this draft season? Tua.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa exploded into America’s football consciousness when he came into the 2017 National Championship Game after halftime and authored a comeback win for the Crimson Tide. As a freshman.
As a sophomore, he backed up his performance, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and throwing for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns and six picks. His junior season, first marred by an ankle injury, was ended by a hip injury from which he’s recovered nicely after surgery.
Now he’s in the draft and — if it weren’t for the hip — he’d probably be right there with LSU’s Joe Burrow getting consideration as the No. 1 overall pick. He will still probably go in the top 10, although those hip concerns may scare away some teams entirely.
And if they do and Tua starts to fall?
Enter New England. At what point would Tua’s slide be enticing enough to make the Patriots explore a trade up from the 23rd pick?
Because, while Jordan Love, Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason and others whose first names begin with “J” all have upside, Tua at full Tua is better than all of them.
These are the Pros and Cons of Drafting Tua (read that line to the tune of this from Roger Waters).
You can’t have a pro without PROduction!!! And Tua was PRO-flippin’-ductive. We mentioned his sophomore numbers. In nine starts last year, he completed 71.4 percent of his throws and threw for 2,840 with 33 TDs and three picks. He’s accurate short, intermediate and especially deep.
It’s hard to avoid being productive when you’re on the NFL’s 33rd franchise at Alabama. His sophomore year, he was throwing to Calvin Ridley and Irv Smith and handing to Josh Jacobs. Last year, it was Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs. Never mind the offensive linemen he’s got protecting him. The last Alabama quarterback to have a “good” NFL career? Richard Todd. A great one? Ken Stabler. Then Joe Namath and Bart Starr. You should take off points for production because of where Tua compiled those stats.
He’s nimble as hell, makes plays with his feet, runs RPOs like a maestro, has a lightning release and is the perfect player to help the Patriots evolve from a dropback, pocket passer who was a master at deciphering defenses to a more mobile player who is attacking the defense as much as deciphering.
He’s 6-foot and — while solidly built at 217 pounds — has a long, long, long way to go to match the durability and physical toughness shown by the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Brady. Not only was Brady virtually indestructible, he was willing to take an absurd level of punishment. Run back the 2015 AFC Championship Game for a refresher. Tua breaks. The hip. The ankle. And Tua gets spooked by pressure. Brittle and nervous. Not a good combo.
Tua has rare accuracy. And his ability to read the interior of a defense on RPOs, control deep secondary players with his eyes and put it ON receivers is elite.
We’ll see how accurate he is when, post-snap, he’s still not sure what he’s looking at and the pitter-patter of his little feet grows quicker and his backpedal goes deeper and the urge to run grows as some linebacker or defensive tackle he played WITH at Alabama is now coming for him.
He could drop. And that means opportunity. Kyler Murray is a great Tua comp. He was the No. 1 overall pick for the Cardinals and he was outstanding as a rookie last season. And that’s on a not-so-good team with a first-year NFL coach. Imagine what he could do in New England with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels?
He has to drop a long way to make it reasonable for the 2020 Patriots to use their only pick (currently) in the first 86 on a player that has the health concerns Tua does. And to go up by spending more draft picks to get into the top 15 for Tua? At some point, the team has to get back to amassing talent through the draft. They don’t have the luxury of trading picks away anymore. They need to add them.
Until you have quarterback solved, you really have nothing solved. Tua’s physical talent, leadership ability, big-game experience, production and accuracy are rare. He’d be a multi-platform asset.
The Patriots just spent 19 years with a sixth-round pick as their starter. In the one year he got hurt — 2008 — they let a seventh-rounder take over and he helped them win 11 games. Brian Hoyer was undrafted in 2009. He’s still an option. They have a fourth-rounder in Stidham who’s got upside. No need to spend a first-rounder on the position. At. All.
For Belichick, drafting Tua now would be like a guy who just pledged to save money and spend more prudently until he’s out of the hole deciding to buy a boat.