By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Would Tom Brady really go play elsewhere as a free agent next season? The Patriots have allowed for that possibility, granting his contract a clause that will void the final two years of his "extension" next March. If Brady doesn't retire, he'll have a chance to test free agency for the first time in his career.
If Brady calls it a career, or does the unthinkable and plays in another uniform, the Patriots' best plan may be to start former Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham in his second season. And if they're willing to gamble that Brady could walk away after 2019, there has to be at least some level of confidence that they can win games with the kid.
Stidham will get his first live game snaps as a pro on Thursday night at Ford Field, when the Patriots take on the Lions in the 2019 preseason opener. If Stidham is at his best, fans will see an impressively accurate passer who can make a variety of throws at all levels of the field. If he's at his worst, he may not get the ball out at all, because Stidham's biggest area of improvement is his processing speed.
There's no question at this point that when Stidham does get rid of the football, it comes out of his hand beautifully. The hope is that he can do it in a more timely manner and execute the same way under pressure. Thursday will be his first real test in that department.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots may not be enamored with locking in a quarterback at age 43-45 for $30 million or more per season, even if it is Tom Brady. But their willingness to allow for the possibility of Brady's departure could also be a sign that they like what they've seen from the rookie.
Stidham has shown in his limited practice reps why he was at one point considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2019 draft class. He dropped off because of his poor final season at Auburn and struggles making throws with pass-rushers in his face.
His first professional snaps should signify how much he's progressed in just a few short months as a Patriot. It's not likely he's leaped forward from where he was at Auburn, but Stidham will at least have his whole rookie season to grow in that department.
But there's now the possibility, however slim, that Stidham is being groomed to start a year from now. If the Patriots didn't feel he had a chance at that, perhaps they work harder to tack on an extra year to Brady's contract. They weren't willing to do that concretely.
This whole thing feels like a game of chicken. It could honestly be much ado about nothing, and the Patriots are simply daring Brady to walk away and don't believe he'd do it. Brady's history suggests he will ultimately decide to take what the Patriots give him contract-wise.
But if he doesn't, there's a chance the Patriots feel better than you think about what they have behind him.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].