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Dan Shaughnessy

Patriots quarterback situation hasn’t been this shaky since 1992

Cam Newton had a passer rating of 82.9 last season, which ranked 28th in the league.
Cam Newton had a passer rating of 82.9 last season, which ranked 28th in the league.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Cam Newton says he wants to return to the Patriots.

Thanks, Cam. We’re good.

Actually, we’re not good. The New England quarterback situation hasn’t been this shaky since 1992, when four QBs started in a 2-14 season.

The disaster of ’92 led to No. 1 pick Drew Bledsoe, which launched almost three decades of stability and excellence at the quarterback position in Foxborough. Bledsoe gave the Patriots eight solid seasons, then reluctantly made way for a kid named Tom Brady, who worked out quite well.

It all came apart last March when Brady left for the warmer temperatures, freedom, and fun of Tampa Bay. While Tom and Gronk enjoyed an excellent adventure, the Patriots stumbled to 7-9 with a broken-down Newton submitting abject chaos behind center almost weekly.


There were times when poor Cam looked like a lefthanded quarterback trying to play the position with his right arm. He threw 10 interceptions and only eight touchdown passes in 15 starts.

Former Patriot great Rodney Harrison told Tom E. Curran, “You have to find a quarterback. It would be a terrible mistake for Bill Belichick to bring Cam back because Cam can’t play football anymore. He just can’t play quarterback in the National Football League.”

Belichick evidently hasn’t closed the book on Cam, and on a Monday podcast, when Newton was asked if he wanted to return to the Patriots, the veteran answered, “Hell, yes. I’m getting tired of changing, bro. I’m getting to a point in my career where I know way more than I knew last year.”


Uncertainty at the quarterback position is deadly in the NFL, yet Belichick seems content to let ambiguity reign for a second consecutive offseason. Everyone around here is telling Bill it’s a mistake to bring back Cam, and in a weird way, this probably increases the chances of a Newton return. We all know Bill hates anyone telling him what to do.


Will Bill Belichick and Cam Newton be working together next season?
Will Bill Belichick and Cam Newton be working together next season?Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The official NFL year doesn’t start until St. Patrick’s Day, but Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, and Carson Wentz have already been traded to new teams, and the franchise-tag window is officially underway. Still crickets from the quarterbacks room in Foxborough.

It’s hard to believe that just a few short years ago, Belichick had Brady backed up by Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. Last year it was Cam, Jarrett Stidham, and Brian Hoyer. So the Hoodie went from three legit starters to . . . Tinker, Evers, and No Chance.

Why the rush to get a quarterback now?

“They need to know now so they can go get a tight end like a Hunter Henry or a receiver that wants to come here and compete,” said former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak. “Some of the good guys are going to start getting franchised. Then you’re down to picking in the middle of the receiver crews, but who is going to want to come play here?

“That would be my first question if I was a free agent skill guy getting recruited: Who’s the quarterback? And if you don’t have an answer, you have to grotesquely overpay. That’s the problem they’ve got now. Everybody else wanted to play with Tom, but now you have to overpay because you don’t have the Tom lure.

Scott Zolak stretches before a Patriots' practice in 1996.
Scott Zolak stretches before a Patriots' practice in 1996.LANDERS, Tom GLOBE STAFF

“If you let this go into the draft, then you’ve got a complete rebuild, and Bill doesn’t have time for a rebuild. He’s [68] years old. He said he didn’t want to be Marv Levy [coaching into his 70s]. If you let this go to draft, you’re three, four years away from competing.


“That’s why I think it’s Jimmy. Jimmy was groomed. Four years in the system with Josh [McDaniels]. He’s ready.”

Zolak was one of the four quarterbacks who started games in the chaotic ’92 campaign.

Coach Dick MacPherson opened the season with Hugh Millen calling signals. Millen turned the ball over five times in a season-opening loss to the Rams. When the Patriots got to 0-5, MacPherson gave Tommy Hodson a one-game shot, and Hodson lost to the Dolphins, 38-17. It was back to Millen, then back to Hodson, then finally MacPherson gave second-year man Zolak a chance.

In his first NFL start, Zo was named AFC Player of the Week, completing 20 of 29 passes and throwing a pair of touchdown passes in a 37-34 win over the Colts.

“I had never started a game and didn’t know what I was doing,” Zo recalled. “I could read Cover 2 and Cover 1.”

Zo Magic lasted one more week with a win against the Jets, but the future sports talk radio host was sent back to the bench after a blowout loss to the Falcons. MacPherson switched to Millen, then back to Zo, before Zo hurt his ankle in Kansas City. When Zo went down, MacPherson gave the immortal Jeff Carlson a two-game shot to end of the season, and the Patriots lost ‘em both.


“Carlson was a male model, I think,” Zo remembered. “He used to comb his eyebrows.

“It was an awful time. Welcome to hell. You don’t want that hell again.”

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.