By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Quarterback is easily the hardest position to predict for the Patriots in free agency in 2020, simply because of the massive unknown. Unlike other positions where one player staying or leaving may alter a team’s plans, Bill Belichick has to have completely separate strategies for Tom Brady.
If Brady stays, the free agency plan at the position should be simple. Do nothing.
Brady is the clear-cut starter, they still have an emerging young project in Jarrett Stidham, and Cody Kessler is under a very affordable contract for 2020 which means at worst he’s a solid camp arm.
Now if Brady leaves, you’re looking at another story.
Many will call for the Pats to Tank For Trevor (Lawrence) if Brady doesn’t come back, but Bill Belichick will never purposely lose football games. Heck, he may not even be able to. Just walking in the building, he sets the Patriots’ season win total at a minimum of 6-7 games, well out of the range to get Clemson’s superstar QB.
So where do the Patriots go from there? Here are the different paths they could explore via free agency. Keep in mind that this is limited to free agents, they could certainly make a trade and/or draft a QB as well.
Not Missing A Step
Suppose the Patriots lose Brady, but want to definitely remain in clear Super Bowl contention and grab the next guy. They have one option. If (and it’s a huge if) the Cowboys let Dak Prescott hit free agency, the Patriots could offer him the ~$30 million they’re reportedly saving for Brady. Prescott made massive strides last year and his skillset would allow Josh McDaniels to open up the playbook. It’s a highly unrealistic option, but would be a home run if they could pull it off.
Maybe The Next Guy
If the Patriots want to find their next long-term quarterback but bypass the draft, they have a couple of options. Guys like Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Tannehill are going to come at a price, and they’re not guaranteed. Still, taking a QB any lower than top-5 in the draft is just as much a risk, albeit a cheaper one.
Old Man Rivers
If the Patriots want to minimize what would be a massive transition from Brady, Philip Rivers is their guy. He’s one of very few QBs left in the league with nearly as much experience, and he’ll leave them needing another solid option as early as 2021. There’s not much attractive about signing Rivers outside of name recognition and the guaranteed close games (most of which Rivers tends to lose).
In all likelihood, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota – the top-2 picks from the 2015 NFL Draft – will become free agents on March 18. Both have had less-than-stellar careers to this point, but not without showing some promise. Could Belichick and McDaniels maybe get the most out of the raw ability that made these two high draft picks to begin with? They’ve done it at just about every other position, why not quarterback? Then again, 30 INTs in a season and getting benched for Tannehill makes you wonder if there was every any talent there at all.
Older Bridge Guys
If New England doesn’t think Jarrett Stidham is ready for a 16-game season, but feel like he’s the “next guy” they want to invest in, they could bring in a veteran journeyman to work with him as a stopgap. Think Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, or Chase Daniel. While this isn’t a highly competitive option, given Belichick’s likely unwillingness to tank it could be their best long-term plan.
Younger Bridge Guys
The Patriots could also add another younger guy and give themselves a trio of options to start. The new guy would compete with Stidham for the job in 2020, and then that winner would be playing to prove they’re right for the job. The Pats also wouldn’t need to invest heavily on a QB in the draft. No “young” proven signal-caller is going to be a free agent, but there are a few guys who flashed success and could use a change of scenery. The question: is it worth choosing (and paying) A.J. McCarron or Trevor Siemian over a 26-year-old Cody Kessler, who spent much of 2019 in the Patriots’ system and is already under contract for 2020 at just $820,000?
NO GOD! PLEASE! NO!
Of course if the Patriots get hung up waiting on Brady, things could get desperate. There are always more teams looking for quarterbacks than quarterbacks themselves, so castoffs are inevitable. Blake Bortles specifically stands out in this year’s group, as the Patriots have reportedly been interested in him before, specifically McDaniels. It shouldn’t, and likely won’t, come to this. But these are strange times. So Bortles, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, or Blaine Gabbert would feel like punting the season, whether the Patriots want it to be or not.
Make sure to check out other items on the Pats’ shopping list as they’re released.
Tuesday, March 10: Quarterbacks, Tight Ends
Wednesday, March 11: Cornerbacks, Running Backs
Thursday, March 12: Wide Receivers, Offensive Linemen
Friday, March 13: Defensive Line, Kickers
Saturday, March 14: Linebackers, Safeties
Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.