You know it. I know it. Bill Belichick's primary goal for 2021 will be winning football games. This is your cue to chime in with, "Thanks, Captain Obvious."
As for his second-most important objective, though? There's a real argument to be made that it should be to do everything within his power to set up his rookie quarterback for long-term success. The reason? If Mac Jones takes an ideal trajectory in his development -- including a productive start to his pro career -- then that will help Belichick toward goal No. 1 for years to come.
That's the backdrop to today's pre-training camp question: Is Brian Hoyer's tutor-type role to Jones worth a roster spot over Jarrett Stidham?
Plenty of moving parts here so let's try to break them down into digestible bites:
1) Hoyer's presence would undoubtedly be helpful to Jones. No quarterback on the Patriots roster knows the offense -- nor knows how Josh McDaniels wants the finer points of the position to be executed -- as well as Hoyer. Even though he may not see himself as an assistant quarterbacks coach, he'd be willing and able to answer any questions Jones has.
Hoyer would also be able to bring an NFL quarterback's perspective to the table, which is something that even McDaniels can't provide. If Jones can have both McDaniels and Hoyer at his disposal throughout the course of his rookie year, his development within the offense will be better off for it. Yet there are only so many active roster spots. Is keeping Hoyer worth it, particularly if his spot is only made possible if another quarterback is lopped off?
2) Stidham's on-the-field upside still exists. Is it what many assumed it to be last spring, when he was the presumed successor to Tom Brady? No. But Stidham flashed an ability to throw accurately down the field in minicamp. Two of the most impressive throws of the three-day session were deep drives to Nelson Agholor (who dropped both). On the one hand, holding onto a player at that position -- a player who really was not able to have a full offseason in his second year as a pro thanks to COVID -- makes sense.
Given the usual dearth of trustworthy arms in the NFL, anyone who shows even a modicum of competency is worthy of some patience. On the other hand, the Patriots announced their intentions for the future at the quarterback spot by taking Jones 15th overall in this year's draft. If Stidham has a future here in New England, it's in all likelihood as a backup. So the decision that may be facing Belichick, if he is in fact picking between Hoyer and Stidham at the end of training camp, is this: Better to have a veteran tutor for Jones or a young backup who carries a little promise?
3) Cam Newton will ultimately impact the equation. If Newton is clearly the best option to start the season, then the odds are that Belichick won't want to keep four quarterbacks on the roster. He hasn't done that since Tom Brady's rookie year in 2000. That'll mean either Hoyer or Stidham will have to go. If, however, Newton struggles during training camp (or suffers an injury), that could leave the door open for Belichick to keep the other three.
Meanwhile, if Belichick truly is unwilling to part with any of his four quarterbacks, he could opt to keep three on the roster and then place one on the practice squad. Under the COVID-altered practice-squad rules, which may be carried over to 2021, veterans could be placed on the p-squad. If the rules allow for it, that could be an alternative route for the Patriots to hang onto Hoyer if they wanted him as an emergency option who doubles as a behind-the-scenes resource for Jones.
4) A trade would shake things up. Sure, the best-case scenario for the Patriots would include Newton looking the way he looked in 2018, when he was in the MVP discussion about halfway through that year, which would then allow Jones to develop behind the scenes. But an addendum to that best-case scenario would be that Stidham looks like a valuable trade asset during preseason play. Because if Newton is the starter Week 1, having both Jones and Stidham on the roster as young developing backups seems redundant.
If, however, Stidham plays well enough in New England's exhibition games that there's another team out there willing to part with something for him? That could clear a spot for Hoyer in a three-man quarterback room.
5) So ... is Hoyer worth keeping over Stidham? The answer is multi-pronged.
A) If Stidham shows legitimate potential this summer, then probably not. There are few things in the NFL as valuable as a young quarterback with some promise. So even if Jones is the long-term plan, Stidham could be worth keeping. If he can play, he'd have value as a long-term backup. If he can play, he'd have value in a trade down the line.
Both of those things could mean more value to the Patriots -- more help toward their ultimate goal of winning football games -- than whatever Hoyer would bring to the team as a mentor for Jones. As it is, the rookie will have two pretty good mentors to lean on in Belichick and McDaniels. That's why Stidham landed on our 53-man roster projection following minicamp.
B) Belichick may never have to make that final determination. If Newton is the Week 1 starter, Belichick may be able to keep all four quarterbacks in the locker room if last year's practice-squad rules remain in place. If Newton isn't the Week 1 starter, that may mean he's elsewhere to start the season, which could mean room for both Stidham and Hoyer on the roster. Additionally, Stidham could be dealt mid-summer if he plays well in the preseason. That would render this entire discussion moot.
With training camp a month away, it's an interesting discussion nonetheless.