Is it possible that The Next Guy for the Patriots has been right under their nose the last two years? Well, no. Probably not.
But The Guy To Get You To The Next Guy? Possibly.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is about to be an unrestricted free agent as he heads into his 17th NFL season. He's played for eight different teams, including all three Patriots divisional rivals. He's been with the Dolphins for the last two seasons -- two of the best of Fitzpatrick's lengthy career.
Given that it won't require trading away a pick to acquire him, maybe Bill Belichick would be open to allowing Fitzpatrick to complete the AFC East cycle.
CAN HE PLAY?
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but he seems to be getting better with age? No, Fitzpatrick is not performing the way Tom Brady was in his late-30s, but he's coming off a challenging season where he was in and out of the Dolphins lineup as they tried to see what they had in Tua Tagovailoa, and he still found a way to produce.
Fitzpatrick finished the season with a yards-per-attempt figure of 7.8, a rating of 95.6 and a career-high QBR of 76.9. Some of the more advanced analytical numbers are even more eye-opening. He was first in success rate among quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks, sixth in EPA per play and ninth in completion percentage over expected. He still plays with a gunslinger's mindset, and he'll throw his share of picks -- 25 combined in 2018 and 2019 -- but that approach has yielded results over the last three seasons.
WOULD PATS FIND IT FEASIBLE?
Fitzpatrick will turn 39 next season so he's not a long-term fix at the position. But as a bridge quarterback for 2020 as they either a) groom The Next Guy or b) give themselves some extra time to find The Next Guy? He makes sense. He's renowned for being a great teammate, and he's played in a variety of offensive systems -- including a Patriots-influenced scheme in Miami under former Belichick assistant Chad O'Shea. On a low-money deal, which would allow the Patriots to bolster the rest of their roster in free agency, Fitzpatrick makes more sense than many quarterbacks who are rumored to be changing teams this season.
Here's what Belichick had to say about Fitzpatrick toward the end of last season: "Fitz has had a good career. He's played in a number of organizations and has been productive in all of them, really. He’s a tough, competitive guy that's probably as tough as any quarterback in the league in terms of being willing to block, not sliding, getting tough yards, things like that. And he’s mentally tough. He can shake things off and just continue to compete. I have a lot of respect for him and what he’s done."
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Unlike Jimmy Garoppolo or Marcus Mariota, all Fitzpatrick would cost the Patriots is . . . money. The allure of grabbing a quarterback who'd be inexpensive in terms of salary and who wouldn't require a pick (or multiple picks) headed out the door should be worth considering. Especially for a club like Belichick's, which is trying to build up its young core through the draft and values mid-round selections.
On the money, could a team sign Fitzpatrick to a short-term Marcus Mariota-style contract, where he's guaranteed around $7 million in Year 1 and then guaranteed nothing in Year 2? So long as he feels he has a real opportunity to play, he may be open to that kind of agreement.
LIKELIHOOD IT HAPPENS
It would make sense if the Patriots wanted to shoot higher than Fitzpatrick. Dealing for Garoppolo or Mariota, for instance, would be moves that carry with them some upside. With Fitzpatrick, the team would be hoping he could bring to them what he's brought to the Dolphins -- around top-20 quarterback play. But if they miss on their first options, inking Fitzpatrick would give them cash to spend elsewhere and more kicks at the can in the draft. It also wouldn't prevent them from drafting a quarterback early.
Though Fitzpatrick's style of play may rock the ball-security-is-job-security boat in New England, this is a short-term, low-cost match that isn't all that hard to envision.