Patriots

Life after Tom Brady: Without a trade, is Jarrett Stidham the Patriots' choice?

Life after Tom Brady: Without a trade, is Jarrett Stidham the Patriots' choice?

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. 

Click here for complete Tom Brady coverage and download the MyTeams App for the latest news and analysis.

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.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

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.

Click here to listen and subscribe to Phil Perry's Next Pats Podcast:

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.

Cam Newton's private QB coach dispels 'lazy narrative' about Patriots star

Cam Newton's private QB coach dispels 'lazy narrative' about Patriots star

Cam Newton's reported agreement to sign with the New England Patriots has mostly been met with positive reviews.

A bunch of former and current players, including ex-Patriots Randy Moss and Deion Branch, as well as Newton's former teammates including Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, applauded the move. Many media members, from people who cover pro football daily to talk/debate show hosts, also have had plenty of good things to say about the signing.

Download the MyTeams app for the latest Patriots news and analysis

One of the few concerns being debated is Newton's ability to succeed for a head coach like Bill Belichick.

Everyone knows the Patriots coach runs a tight ship in Foxboro, where players rarely give the other team bulletin board material and often provide boring answers in press conferences. It's the classic team-above-all approach, typically called "The Patriot Way', and it's hard to argue with the results -- six Super Bowl titles in 20 years.

George Whitfield, a private quarterbacks coach who's worked a lot with Newton, did his best to dispel what he calls a "lazy narrative" about the veteran QB and Belichick.

"Suggesting that Cam can't adapt to Belichick is a lazy narrative," Whitfield told ESPN's Tim Keown. "Cam recognizes this as a singular opportunity. I can imagine Belichick telling him, 'You have goals, and you have a chip on your shoulder. We have goals, and our shoulders look the same as yours -- just not as big.'"

Listen and subscribe to Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast:

Another common criticism of Newton is when forced to stand in the pocket and pass, he's far less effective. Whitfield shot down this narrative as well.

"I cringe every time I hear people ask, 'Can he do it from the pocket?'" Whitfield said, per Keown. "Cam's extremely bright. He's nuanced. There aren't going to be any coverages where he looks up and says, 'I've never seen this before.'

He can play in the pocket -- it's what he's been doing -- but he also has the world's biggest and baddest parachute on his back, and when he's in trouble, he can just reach out and pull it.

Newton's ability to escape the pocket and run for huge chunks of yards and touchdowns is a skill we have rarely seen in the Patriots offense over the last two decades. Brady did a great job moving around in the pocket and sliding to avoid pass rushers, but he was never a threat to take off and make huge plays with his legs. 

It remains to be seen how well Newton will fit in the Patriots offense. We also don't know if he'll even win the starting quarterback job. He should receive strong competition for the role from 2019 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham.

Bet against Newton at your own peril, though.

There's no doubt he's super motivated to prove the naysayers wrong, and if healthy, he's still talented enough to help the Patriots be an AFC contender in 2020.