Everyone wants to know: Who is The Next Guy?

We've capitalized those three words for months now in anticipation of the day when Tom Brady would no longer be the Patriots passer.

For a while, The Next Guy was just a concept. You couldn't wrap your arms around him. But now we're getting closer and closer to a real, live quarterback's name replacing those three words.

Could be Jarrett Stidham's. 

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We thought Marcus Mariota made all kinds of sense for the Patriots as a low-cost option with starting experience. He signed with the Raiders to push Derek Carr as the backup. 

It was rumored that the Patriots were interested in Teddy Bridgewater, someone who'd potentially cost about as much as Brady made last year — between $20 and $30 million — but would no doubt keep the Patriots competitive thanks to his accuracy and ability to avoid turnovers. He's headed to Carolina

Philip Rivers is off to Indy, reportedly, and Case Keenum is going to Cleveland to serve as Baker Mayfield's backup. Jacoby Brissett should be available, but the Patriots thought so highly of him back in 2017 that they dealt him to the Colts for Phillip Dorsett straight up. 

Stidham isn't the only option left, though. There's Andy Dalton.

 

His name has been bandied about for weeks as a possible fit in New England. Seems like a long shot until we see Dalton is willing to take a reduced salary. He's scheduled to count over $17 million against the cap, wherever he ends up. Plus, he's still under contract so it'll require a trade to acquire him.

If the Patriots can part with a Day 3 pick and entice Dalton to take less dough, then sure. But they need to start hitting in the draft, as we explained here, and they're already committing $13.5 million in dead money to their salary cap with Brady's departure. 

Then there's Cam Newton, who's being shopped by the Panthers.

Like Dalton, he has one year left on his contract. Like Dalton, his cap hit is large: $19.1 million if traded. Consider the compensation it'd require to land Newton, and it's a fit that's hard to envision. Like Dalton. Plus there's Newton's recent injury history and the fact that his personality fit in New England might be deemed less than ideal for Bill Belichick as the coach looks for Brady's replacement.

Nick Foles could potentially be had via trade. Derek Carr as well, perhaps, should Brady end up in Vegas with Mariota. But again, what would the Patriots have to give up to acquire those players, both in terms of trade compensation and cap space? (Foles has a manageable base salary of $15.1 million next season and has three years remaining on his contract. Carr has about a $19 million base salary for 2020 and also has three years left on his deal.)

Jameis Winston is out there, too, but he of the 30 interceptions in 2019 plays like the antithesis of what Belichick wants in his quarterbacks.

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And there are rookie quarterbacks available in this year's draft, though the thinking among many league evaluators is that anyone taken after LSU's Joe Burrow is likely going to need some time to develop. Even polished passer Tua Tagovailoa, who's coming off of a season-ending hip injury suffered at Alabama.

That brings us back to Stidham. We took a deep dive into what he showed us during the preseason last summer. There was plenty of good. There was plenty of not-so-good. There was ugly. But there was promise. 

Scouts could tell you that well before he took a snap in a Patriots uniform.

"I thought he was the most mechanically sound quarterback in the draft," former Patriots scout and Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy told me last year. "He throws an absolutely beautiful football. When the people in New England can go to training camp this year and see this kid throw the ball, it comes off his hand so clean and it's such a pretty ball. He's fun to watch throw."

 

"Stidham is one of the true wild cards because he spins it as well or better than anybody in this entire draft class," former NFL scout and NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said at the time. "In shorts, he'd be a top-five pick. Unfortunately, it hasn't clicked on the field like you'd want to see at Auburn. Some of that is the lack of protection. Some of it is an offensive system that's not great for him. But just throwing the football, he's a great athlete."

We heard those things — and we last saw him play extended snaps — almost a year ago. Since then, we've received nothing but continued positive feedback about Stidham from Belichick and his teammates alike. He's received praise from those behind the scenes as well, making an impression on all types at One Patriot Place — even beyond the football operations staff.

"Jarrett is a smart kid," Belichick said back at the midway point of Stidham's rookie season. "He picks things up very quickly. He has a good grasp of the offense given where he is in his career. He’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. In practice, he does a good job. He gets a lot of passes on our defense and when he has the opportunity to get the offensive snaps, he’s prepared and does a good job of those."

The question is, will he do a good job with regular-season snaps if he's given those come September? Even for the Patriots, who've watched him closely since last spring, that's a hard thing to gauge. Until you're in it, projections matter little. 

But Stidham is talented. He's cost-effective, with a cap hit that comes in under $1 million. And he's on the roster.

As of right now, those things appear to make him the favorite as The Next Guy in the Post-Brady Era.

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