Critics of the Patriots have been claiming for years that the team's dynasty is about to end, and Tom Brady's recent decision to leave the franchise after winning six Super Bowl titles in 20 years has only intensified the talk of New England's impending fall.
Losing a player of Brady's caliber certainly will impact the Patriots on and off the field, but there are reasons to believe they will again fight for the AFC East title in 2020. One of those reasons is second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who the Patriots selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Stidham won the backup job last summer, and even though he didn't get many regular season reps, he showed flashes of his impressive potential throughout training camp, the preseason and various in-season practices.
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He also benefitted from spending his rookie year learning from a legendary quarterback and the best head coach of all-time in Bill Belichick. He should at least be well-prepared for the monumental challenge of replacing Brady. Whether he will succeed remains to be seen.
Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report recently talked to some scouts (and other people in the football world) and received some interesting takes on Stidham, and much of the analysis was positive.
"He's a lot closer to playoff quarterback than another guy who falls on his face replacing a legend," one NFL scout tells B/R.
There was plenty pre-draft talk about how Auburn's offense didn't bring out the best of Stidham's talents, and that because of this scenario, the Patriots found tremendous value in the fourth round. One scout told Hayes he "begged" his team to draft Stidham.
"Knowing Bill, he's excited about taking this big ball of clay and molding it into his image," another scout says. "I've always thought Stidham was way undervalued as a fourth-round pick. I begged our guys to take him. He has so much more ability than he was able to show in college."
The praise Stidham has received from scouts, teammates and others has not slowed the debate over whether the Patriots should bring in another quarterback before next season. Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer are the only quarterbacks on New England's roster after Cody Kessler was released last week.
Signing a veteran QB in free agency doesn't make much for the Patriots, especially when you consider how little salary cap space they have at their disposal. Let's not forget the Patriots are among the leaders in dead money for 2020, including $13.5 million against the 2020 salary cap from Brady's previous contract. They don't have the luxury of being able to spend large chunks of money on roster upgrades.
Selecting a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft is an interesting idea, but the Patriots have so many other needs on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense, where many key players from last season's unit have left via free agency or trades over the last few weeks. The Patriots have the second-most 2020 draft picks with 12, but only one falls in the top 86. So, unless the Patriots use their first-rounder (23rd overall) on a quarterback, many of the best players at that position likely will be off the board by the time New England is back on the clock in the third round.
Stidham is the best option for the Patriots, and surrounding him with the most talent possible on offense before Week 1 should be among the team's top objectives for the remainder of the offseason.