Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're tackling the position that just might make this the most important draft season in Patriots history: Quarterback.
OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES
HOW THEY PERFORMED
Tom Brady was the NFL MVP for the third time and his play at 40 years old might just give the Patriots the leeway to wait another year to draft The Next Guy. The argument could be made - and should be made, in my opinion - that the Patriots need to draft a quarterback this spring. But given the way Brady looked, if the right player isn't there this time around, the Patriots could wait until next year and they'd still probably be OK at the most important position at the roster. Despite taking a beating early in the season, and despite battling through a variety of injuries throughout the season, Brady led the league in passing yardage and was third when it came to QB rating. He was fifth in completion percentage and fifth in yards per attempt. He's said before he'll retire when he sucks. He's a long way off.
WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Brady, Brian Hoyer
HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?
The severity of the need all depends on the window of time you're looking at. Do they need a quarterback tomorrow? Of course not. But don't kid yourself. They need one. And soon. If the Patriots can figure out a way to get Nate Solder back in the fold, adding a promising young player at this spot should shoot to the top of the offseason's to do list. Even without Solder, because of the importance of the QB position, the Patriots may believe finding Brady's eventual successor is the key to the offseason. Drafting a quarterback in the first round this season would give the Patriots a passer under contract through 2022. Brady will turn 45 years old that summer.
WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?
Man, is it going to be fun to talk about this position this offseason. Things got weird when Washington traded for Alex Smith and handed him a long-term extension with the former Niners and Chiefs QB. That means Kirk Cousins would certainly be on his way to a new city in a matter of months. And things should only get weirder from there. All three Vikings quarterbacks -- Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater -- are scheduled to hit free agency. Nick Foles is under contract in Philly but could be made available in a trade. Drew Brees, meanwhile, is scheduled to become a free agent as well. What's it all mean for the Patriots? They probably won't be interested in veteran passers, but where the above names land will alter the league-wide landscape when it comes to draft weekend. And because this is expected to be one of the deepest quarterback drafts in years, the Patriots could benefit if, after all the movement, a talented rookie signal-caller ends up falling into their laps.
WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?
Where to start? Want the most statistically accomplished quarterback in the history of college football? Someone with big-time leadership skills and an outsized (at times abrasive) personality to match? That's Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. USC's Sam Darnold may have the highest ceiling of any passer in this class. UCLA's Josh Rosen throws a pretty ball but there are questions as to how he'll move at the next level. Wyoming's Josh Allen looks like he was built in a quarterback lab, but his accuracy is all over the map. Louisville's Lamar Jackson is the most talented runner at the position since Michael Vick, but his mechanics could use some cleaning up, and he'll need the right scheme in order to succeed. All of those players could be gone in the first round. And four of those six could be gone in the top six picks. If you're the Patriots, that might be OK. Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph, Washington State's Luke Falk, Western Kentucky's Mike White and Richmond's Kyle Lauletta could be available on Day 2 and may represent good value in the eyes of Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio.
HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?
This just might be the most important draft in Patriots history. It’s bigger than 1993, I think, back when the choice was Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer. The Patriots couldn't screw that one up. But that was about becoming competitive. Every decision the Patriots make now is about trying to extend their unparalleled run. Without the No. 1 overall pick, the current challenge is greater. It's certainly greater than it was back in 2014, when they drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. Back then, they knew they had some breathing room to develop Brady's successor. Now, even though Brady just won the MVP, that window has been minimized. The team can’t bank on Brady making it to 45. The choice has to be to make a contingency plan, and to make it quickly, with a young player who the team believes has the intelligence, the arm and the leadership to be The Next Guy. He'll also need the requisite poise not to be shaken when he’s dubbed The Next Guy. Lump all of those things together, and that player will be hard to find - even in a loaded quarterback class - so how do the Patriots make sure they get him? Use a first-round pick, if they have to. Trade up, if they have to. The Patriots may be certain their man will slip to the second. Maybe they’ll be confident they can actually draft the next Garoppolo with the pick they received in exchange for Garoppolo months ago. But because the future of the most important position on their roster is so tightly bound to the health of a 40-year-old, it feels like they really can't afford to wait around.