Unless they are ready to hand the job to Jarrett Stidham, which seems unlikely given his underwhelming performance, the Patriots are going to have big decisions to make at quarterback this offseason.
Cam Newton will be a free agent again. The Patriots could certainly bring him back for another season, but Newton will be just one among many choices for the Patriots.
Let’s take a look at which quarterbacks could be available for the Patriots this offseason in free agency, trades, and the draft:
▪ Free agents: Dak Prescott, Newton, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston.
As you can see, it’s not the most inspiring group. The Patriots' answers at quarterback probably won’t be found in this crop.
Forget about Rivers, who likely would return to the Colts if he does play in 2021. Prescott likely won’t escape Dallas’s grip, and if he does, I doubt the Patriots would be the team giving Prescott a $40-million-per-year contract.
Brissett would be intriguing to bring back for a seat-warmer type of role if the Patriots want to draft and develop a rookie. But the Patriots, especially Josh McDaniels, didn’t fall in love with Brissett during his one year in New England, so I wouldn’t think a reunion is too likely.
Fitzpatrick also could be a seat-warmer, and signing with the Patriots would complete his tour of the AFC East. But realistically, if the Patriots are going to sign a veteran to start ahead of a rookie, they might as well bring back Newton. The Patriots can probably bring him back on another one-year, short-money deal, and perhaps Newton will play better in his second year in the system, and with a normal offseason and training camp. Continuity counts for a lot in the NFL.
“If the Patriots are able to go on a run and win some games and be competitive toward the latter part of the year, I think Bill Belichick would definitely offer Cam something fair,” said NBC’s Rodney Harrison. “But I also believe that they will go out and draft a guy. They have to, because obviously you don’t like Jarrett Stidham, and Brian Hoyer’s not the answer.”
▪ Veterans to watch: Jimmy Garoppolo, Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins.
Now this list is much more intriguing. If Garoppolo shakes free from the 49ers, there’s the Patriots' answer, at least for the short term. He knows the Patriots' system well, Belichick loves him, and Garoppolo is a proven talent who just took his team to the Super Bowl. The big question with him is durability, but the Patriots could still reasonably build around Garoppolo for two years, which would give them credible quarterback play as they look to rebuild the rest of the roster.
The 49ers may ultimately decide that they don’t have a better option than Garoppolo. But if they do decide to move on, the 49ers could trade or release him any time before the regular season, as his $25 million salary doesn’t become guaranteed until Week 1. The Patriots could wait and see how the draft unfolds in April, then strike for Garoppolo if they don’t get who they want.
Ryan has been rumored to be on thin ice in Atlanta, but I don’t see him going anywhere, since the Falcons would take a whopping $44 million dead-money cap hit by trading him before June 1, and would leave them without a good answer at QB. Carr is annually rumored to be on the outs with the Raiders, but he is playing well this year.
Then there are the four disappointing youngsters. Mayfield has not progressed as planned in Cleveland, and new coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t the one who drafted him. Same with the Giants' Jones, who may not have the total support of new coach Joe Judge, and Washington’s Haskins, who definitely doesn’t have the support of new coach Ron Rivera. Darnold has been a victim of terrible coaching and roster-building, and could become available if the Jets get the No. 1 overall pick.
Of those four, Mayfield could be worth a shot, as McDaniels reportedly loved him before the 2018 draft. Darnold may have the most talent, but also may be ruined by his Jets experience.
▪ Draft: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; Justin Fields, Ohio State; Trey Lance, North Dakota State; Zach Wilson, Brigham Young; Kyle Trask, Florida.
It’s long past due for the Patriots to use a high draft pick on a quarterback. The highest pick Belichick has used on one is 62nd overall on Garoppolo in 2014. And after losing Garoppolo in 2017 and Brady in 2020, the only draft pick the Patriots have made on a QB is a fourth-rounder on Stidham.
You never say never, but the Patriots probably aren’t getting Lawrence. He’s a lock to be the No. 1 pick, and there is simply too much competition to get him, starting with the 0-9 Jets and 1-7 Jaguars. The 3-5 Patriots currently hold the 13th draft position and will probably win a few more games.
But the Patriots should still be in range for a quarterback in the middle of the first and second rounds. Fields is a dangerous dual threat who could be the Patriots' younger, more dynamic version of Newton. Lance is a terrific passer and athlete who has dominated the FCS level. Wilson and Trask have made major strides as pocket passers this season and may have played their way into the first round.
I asked NFL Network draft guru Daniel Jeremiah which one he likes as a fit for the Patriots.
“I think Lance would be an incredible fit,” he said. “Big, strong, athletic, and smart. He has been in a complex system with a lot of responsibility on his plate. His competitiveness and toughness would be appreciated by Bill Belichick.”
Brady’s options are plentiful
A couple of Tom Brady notes:
▪ The Buccaneers may have more weapons than they know what to do with, and have to find the right balance for Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin. Evans, who has gone for 1,000 yards in all six NFL seasons, is on pace for 777 this season. In last week’s drubbing to the Saints, Evans had four catches for 64 yards, but all after the Buccaneers fell behind by four touchdowns.
“Mike was open a bunch in that ballgame,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He didn’t get targeted, that was all. Mike was open.”
It shows once again how Brady is much more demanding of his receivers than most quarterbacks — sometimes to his detriment.
Meanwhile, while Brady is not looking Evans’s way, Brown played 39 snaps in his debut. Arians might try to dial it back moving forward.
“His pitch count was a little higher than anticipated,” Arians said.
But does Brady want Brown to play less? Sounds like there could be a power struggle brewing between coach and quarterback.
▪ A new book by broadcaster Jim Gray, “Talking to Goats,” sheds some interesting light on Brady, who has been his friend and business partner for many years. Without giving too much away, Gray describes the scene of when Roger Goodell approached Brady immediately after Super Bowl LI, the same year that Goodell suspended Brady. Gray also writes that Brady broke down crying this past March on the night before he announced he was leaving the Patriots.
#TalkingToGOATs is officially out today! Thx you to everyone who has made this book possible and to all the athletes and world leaders who allowed me to share your stories over the past four decades. Head to https://t.co/6f9tfFGOxB to get your copy. I hope you enjoy the book. pic.twitter.com/eYZQ2Igapr— Jim Gray (@JimGrayOfficial) November 10, 2020
And Gray had a few nuggets on Brady’s free agency. He said the Bears were in Brady’s final three, along with the Buccaneers and Chargers. And Gray includes the Dolphins among the teams that reached out to Brady in free agency, along with the Raiders and 49ers.
Jackson’s latest target is Roman
Those black marks on the back of Greg Roman’s back this past week were tire tracks, as Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threw his offensive coordinator under the bus.
The Ravens' offense has struggled this year, as I detailed in a column on Thursday, and Jackson was not shy in pointing the finger at Roman, in not one but two interviews.
In Jackson’s Wednesday news conference, he answered a general question about how the passing game isn’t clicking this year with a shot at the team’s play-calling.
“We’ve got to call the right plays for those [receivers] to get the ball in their hands,” he said. “The first week, we played the Browns … we were throwing the ball downfield, and stuff like that. After that, it’s just like, we haven’t been doing that.”
And Jackson went on Rich Eisen’s show on Wednesday and said the Ravens' offense has been too predictable.
“They’re calling out our plays, stuff like that,” Jackson said. “They know what we’re doing. Sometimes, stuff won’t go our way, if they’re beating us to the punch.”
Jackson was asked again — other teams are calling out your plays?
“Yeah, they definitely do,” Jackson said. “Like ‘run’ and stuff like that. ‘Watch out for this; watch out for that.’ Sometimes that’s what’s going on.”
Jackson may be 100 percent correct. ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky did a lengthy segment on Friday pointing out instances in which the Ravens' play-calling has been predictable. But for Jackson to be vocalizing his displeasure reveals some trouble behind the scenes in Baltimore. Receiver Marquise Brown also sent out a frustrated tweet two weeks ago after a loss to the Steelers.
Harrison not holding back
A few thoughts on the 3-5 Patriots from Rodney Harrison, who will be a part of NBC’s Patriots-Ravens coverage on Sunday night:
▪ Harrison said he has been most disappointed with the Patriots' mental mistakes. The Patriots' clock management has been questionable in several end-of-half instances this year. The Patriots also are committing untimely turnovers, and are missing tackles and assignments.
“This is a really smart team, and that’s what they prided themselves on over two decades,” Harrison said. “And just to see the mistakes time and time again, it’s like, wow, the coaching staff has to do a better job. And that’s one of the things I was disappointed in, too. How many times has [Bill] Belichick said, ‘We did a terrible job of coaching?’ That’s happened a few times this year.”
▪ Harrison also is surprised that the secondary hasn’t quite been up to par.
“It’s like, man, I thought the secondary was going to be the strength of the defense,” Harrison said. “They’re giving up big plays, they’re missing tackles, guys aren’t disciplined.”
▪ Harrison said that the lack of an offseason and normal training camp has made it more difficult for Belichick to mold a young roster.
“The Patriot Way was always established in training camp and OTAs,” Harrison said. “But when you don’t have that opportunity to have your veteran players to interact with your younger players, they can’t really understand the Patriot Way.”
▪ Harrison is encouraged by Cam Newton’s play of late and believes the Patriots still believe in him. But they haven’t put enough talent around him.
“They like Cam,” Harrison said. “Cam brings a lot of positive energy, he’s a good guy, he’s shown a lot of maturity, and I still think he can play. The problem is they haven’t done a great job of providing him with weapons. Zero production from the tight end spot. They needed a No. 1 receiver and they never had one. You need productive, veteran players, and they haven’t had that.”
Robinson made a difference in draft
The Patriots' poor draft record has been getting a lot of press over the past couple of weeks since Belichick tried to blame the team’s roster woes on the salary cap. It’s interesting to note that New England’s draft record seems to have gone south since Jon Robinson, the director of college scouting from 2009-13, left to become the Titans' general manager in 2014.
Of course, he had his share of bad picks, but in his five-year tenure Robinson picked Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Patrick Chung, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Chandler Jones, Marcus Cannon, Shane Vereen, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon.
Since Robinson left, the Patriots' drafts have been loaded with busts: Dominique Easley, Malcom Brown, Jordan Richards, Cyrus Jones, Derek Rivers, and Duke Dawson, with Sony Michel and N’Keal Harry trending toward bust territory.
In what could be the NFL’s next great quarterback rivalry, Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins face Justin Herbert and the Chargers on Sunday in Miami. Similar to other tough quarterback choices — Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf; Eli Manning vs. Philip Rivers; Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III — Tagovailoa and Herbert are always going to be compared with each other. The Dolphins had the choice of the two with the No. 5 pick and went with Tagovailoa, leaving Herbert for the Chargers. Tagovailoa is 2-0 so far as the starter and had an impressive road win last week against Arizona. Herbert is only 2-5 as a starter, but he has been phenomenal, averaging 306 passing yards per game with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. “I have no animosity towards Justin Herbert and for me, it’s not even a competition between me and him,” Tagovailoa said … The Ravens and Patriots are two of three NFL teams that have run the ball more than they have passed this year. The Ravens have rushed on 52.9 percent of plays, the Vikings on 51.1 percent, and the Patriots on 50.7 percent … Road teams are 5-4 this year on Thursday night following the Colts' 34-17 drubbing of the Titans. Road teams went 8-9 last year and 4-13 in 2018. This is the ninth year of the NFL’s full Thursday schedule, and it appears that coaches and players have learned how to adjust … The NFL had 56 new COVID-19 cases between Nov. 1-7. The previous high was 26 cases in a week … Stephen Gostkowski looks like he’s in trouble in Tennessee. He missed a 43-yarder on Thursday night and has made only three of his last eight field goal attempts. For the season, Gostkowski is 12 for 20 on FGs. “We have to evaluate that position and make a decision,” coach Mike Vrabel said Friday … I won’t pretend to know what happened between the Texans and former PR director Amy Palcic, who was a rare midseason firing this past week because she wasn’t a “culture fit.” Palcic was professional and popular among her peers, and the Texans, ironically, created a bit of a PR mess for themselves by firing her abruptly. But I at least give credit to Texans president Jamey Rootes for taking responsibility for the decision. Most teams would cower behind a nebulous statement. “It was definitely my call,” he said. “I gave her the role a number of years ago and felt the need to make a change.” Palcic has reportedly hired a prominent employment attorney and is likely exploring her options.