Today we continue our Camp Battle series with a look at a classic scenario — one that has played out in Foxboro more than once over the course of the last few years with Tom Brady as the starter.
Is it better to keep the rookie as the backup quarterback, opening up a roster spot at another position? Or should the veteran remain a part of the picture in a three-man quarterback room?
Here's our look at the competition for the role of No. 2 signal-caller in New England: Brian Hoyer vs. Jarrett Stidham.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Hoyer: 6-foot-2, 216, 11th pro season (four-plus seasons in Patriots offense)
Stidham: 6-foot-3, 215, fourth-round rookie
Hoyer: Experience. And all that comes with it. Not only is Hoyer a valuable mind to have in the quarterback meeting room and on the sideline, but since returning to New England in 2017, he could be found occasionally in the Patriots locker room dispensing information to his defensive teammates on what they did or didn't do well that day in practice. This is Hoyer's third consecutive season in the same offensive system, a rarity for the journeyman quarterback, who has played on teams mired in near constant turnover. He understands what he's looking at, and he understands what Josh McDaniels is looking for.
He's probably as comfortable as he's ever been in an offense. Hoyer performed almost flawlessly against the Lions in preseason game No. 1, showing off a good enough arm and tremendous accuracy at times. His throws to N'Keal Harry on the outside were driven to spots where the rookie could go get them, and his seam ball to Matt LaCosse was deftly placed over a linebacker's head and in front of a pair of safeties. Hoyer could, it seems, keep the Patriots afloat if they needed him to in a fill-in capacity. Another check in Hoyer's favor? Brady's age. Would the Patriots go into the season with just two quarterbacks knowing that the odds of Brady experiencing some sort of physical issue continues to rise with his age?
Stidham: Tools. Stidham has a strong arm and throws the kind of ball that had scouts raving about his natural ability leading up to the draft. He's a good enough athlete that he can make accurate strikes while on the run — something he had to get used to while playing behind a porous offensive line at Auburn last year.
Given a clean pocket for the majority of his time in the game against Detroit last week, he excelled. Stidham placed perfect touch on passes down the sideline to Maurice Harris and he drove one down the middle to fellow rookie Jakobi Meyers. He found Braxton Berrios with pressure bearing down on him. He picked up first downs with his legs. He worked under center and out of a huddle with poise despite never having done so in college. Even after one preseason game, it's clear there's plenty there with Stidham with which to work. In a fill-in capacity, he might be able to make one scrambling, on-the-run throw deep down the field to help the Patriots win a game. And that might be a throw that Hoyer just doesn't have in the bag.
Hoyer: It seems as though Hoyer has raised his game a bit this season in a few different ways. (Coincidence now that there could be competition for the backup spot?) His arm looks stronger than it did a year ago. It even looks like there's a little more life in his legs during practice reps in which he's pressured off his spot. Hoyer is not a mobile quarterback, though, by any means. And even though his arm appears to have some pop, he's into his early 30s, when quarterback shoulders and elbows typically go in the other direction.
Then there are the financials. On the one hand, he's guaranteed $1.51 million this season. That could be an argument that he deserves a spot almost regardless of how he looks this summer. It's a significant amount. But if the Patriots released him, they'd still save $1.49 million against their cap. If the team found itself looking for easy ways to create cap space, and if they wanted a roster spot to be able to maintain their depth at corner or outside linebacker, would they part ways with Brady's buddy?
Stidham: Inexperience. Indecision. Especially early in camp, Stidham had a hard time deciphering defenses and reacting. He choked the life out of the football in practices where there was no threat of him being hit, and at times reps lasted two or three times longer than they would've in a game situation. Stidham looked better in that regard in Detroit, but he was pressured on 10 plays and completed three of seven attempts.
Coming out of Auburn, Stidham was knocked for how he handled things when the pocket broke down. Will we start to see some of those flaws get more exposure in the next three preseason games when the "bullets are live?" If so, will he then lose some of the shine he acquired with his eye-opening performance against the Lions? The Patriots at least know what Hoyer is. With Stidham, there's much more uncertainty.
AND THE EDGE GOES TO...
Hoyer. Stidham will of course make the team. But this still looks like it's destined to be a three-quarterback room. The last time the Patriots released a vet to go with two quarterbacks was when they traded Ryan Mallett in 2014 after drafting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second. But 2019 is its own year, and Tom Brady is an older man.
If Stidham lights it up over the course of the next three weeks, and if it's clear he offers more than Hoyer as a potential fill-in, then maybe history will repeat itself and the backup job will go to the rookie. But keeping three quarterbacks seems like the prudent move at the moment.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.