First in a position-by-position series
The train keeps on moving.
It’s a common refrain when NFL rosters change, whether it’s a major overhaul or just some minor tinkering. Passengers (a.k.a. players) hop on and hop off, but the train keeps on moving.
The big question at Patriots Junction: Who will be the offensive engineer for the 2021 season?
Cam Newton arrived as the new quarterback in July, and despite not having the benefit of an offseason program, he showed pretty early in training camp that he’d be the guy at the controls in 2020.
Newton struggled adapting to New England’s offense and acknowledged his mechanics needed refining and his decision-making (i.e. his internal clock) needed to be quicker.
Did he show enough for a return to New England? It’s possible. If the Patriots’ plan is to bridge to a younger quarterback, Newton could be the veteran leader to help groom the next franchise signal-caller.
Here’s a way-too-early look at some of the options available to the Patriots — excluding the draft, which will be addressed down the road.
The 2020 Patriots
Newton: His leadership and work ethic were unquestioned. He shined at times and faced the music when he didn’t. If Newton is looking for $20 million-$22 million, a reunion likely doesn’t make sense. However, if he’s willing to take less (say, 50 percent less), it’s worth considering.
Jarrett Stidham: He’ll get another chance to compete in camp, but the clock is ticking. He needs to embrace the competition and exude confidence to have a chance.
Brian Hoyer: An invaluable veteran presence, he likely doesn’t want to be third string at this point in his career.
The trade options
There are a ton of excellent veterans around the league who could be working in new outposts next season, including Deshaun Watson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, and Sam Darnold. All would be long shots to land at One Patriot Place, but all would be worth the look.
Watson: He is disgruntled, which hurts Houston’s leverage, though he’s also the one guy worth mortgaging the future for. It would take a boatload of draft capital to pry him away — and the optics would look horrendous for Nick Caserio if he sent the best player in franchise history to his old franchise. But this call needs to be made.
Garoppolo: The best option. He knows the organization and the offense. When healthy (and he’s been banged up plenty), Jimmy G is a top quarterback. The 49ers recently gave him a vote of confidence, though thoughts change quickly in the NFL.
Stafford: Speaking of being banged up, this guy has his own seat in the medical tent. Doesn’t matter. He’s tough as nails and plays through all of it. He’s smart and has a rocket for an arm. Will the new Lions front office want a fresh start? Not somebody you would mortgage the future for, but a home equity line of credit? Absolutely.
Wentz: He started the season with MVP mentions and ended it on the inactive list behind Nate Sudfeld. Firing coach Doug Pederson would seem to be a vote for Wentz, and his salary would seem to be prohibitive (the Eagles would absorb a $25 million hit if he’s traded), so he probably stays.
Ryan: Another cap problem — the Falcons would take a $9 million whack if they trade him — but not as devastating as Wentz. Ryan gives you a chance to win now while also serving as a potential mentor to a younger arm.
Darnold: The Jets have the No. 2 pick, which is one selection lower than Trevor Lawrence, the only QB in the draft better than Darnold. He likely stays in Gotham, but if he doesn’t, the Jets would never allow him to relocate to New England. Or would they?
The free agents
No shortage of options here, especially if the bridge option is the Patriots’ preferred method moving forward. Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, and Mitchell Trubisky are among the notables.
Prescott: Forget it. Cowboys fans might actually turn their back on the club if he’s allowed to leave. Additionally, he’s coming off a horrific injury and might need a year to get back to full strength.
Rivers: Unquestioned toughness and competitiveness, but at 39, it feels like if he’s coming back, it’s going to be another run in Indianapolis. Which brings us to …
Brissett: The Colts love him, and if Rivers retires, they will make a huge push to keep him. If Rivers returns, Brissett likely will leave for a chance to start. The Patriots also loved Brissett, but he was buried behind Tom Brady and Garoppolo here. Could he come back as the No. 1?
Fitzpatrick: Could he bring the magic to Foxborough and complete the AFC East tour? Fitzpatrick was a good soldier while being yo-yoed in Miami this season. At 38, he can still start in this league.
Winston: Feels like the man with the big arm will be back in the Big Easy to compete with Taysom Hill to be Drew Brees’s heir apparent.
Dalton: Lots of prognosticators had the Red Rifle aimed at New England last offseason. Didn’t happen. Likely won’t happen this offseason, either.
Trubisky: Lots of underachievers have been reborn in a Patriots uniform; could this former first-rounder be the first QB to do so? He has shown flashes but has been maddeningly inconsistent in Chicago. Perhaps Josh McDaniels can cure what’s been ailing Trubisky.
The wild card
And this is wild. Place a call to the 920 area code to find out what’s going on in Green Bay, Wis. Aaron Rodgers is in the middle of a superb season, yet there’s a first-round rookie (Jordan Love) waiting in the wings. If Packers coach Matt LaFleur loves Love, would he consider moving on from Rodgers (who is signed through 2023)? Yes, wild.