As the NFL offseason heads toward free agency and the draft, all 32 teams must assess their own talent before they begin anew the roster-building process. With that in mind, WEEI.com is taking a position-by-position look at the state of the Patriots roster as the team embarks one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.
Returning players (GS/GP, 2020 play time): Jarrett Stidham (0/5, 8%), Jake Dolegala (practice squad/futures contract)
Free agents: Cam Newton (15/15, 87%), Brian Hoyer (1/1, 5%)
2020 recap: The first season in two decades without Tom Brady as the starting quarterback in New England was, to be blunt, a disaster.
The late signing of Newton brought a big-name former NFL MVP to the depth chart. He was the clear alpha, snaring the starting job and a leadership role as captain. Unfortunately he led the team to just seven wins while throwing a miniscule eight touchdown passes compared to 10 interceptions and was among the least productive passers in the game. Newton struggled with is reads, his accuracy and his throwing motion. It was ugly, even with him rushing for a franchise QB-record 12 touchdowns. Stidham – perceived as the Brady heir for a time last spring – did little in his sophomore season. The former fourth-round pick had a minor injury in training camp, opened the season third on the depth chart and never saw more than mop-up duty despite Newton’s significant struggles. Little more is known about Stidham’s long term potential today than when the year began. The journeyman veteran backup Hoyer started in Newton’s COVID absence in Kansas City but struggled and was replaced by Stidham for the second half of that contest before being demoted to No. 3 on the depth chart for the rest of the season. With Brady putting up big numbers and winning performances in Tampa Bay, there was extremely limited efficiency and production at the quarterback position in back in New England, leading to the Patriots first playoff-less winter since the 2008 season.
2021 projection: There is nothing but continued uncertainty at the quarterback position in New England these days. It would seem likely that Stidham would be back to compete for a job and role this summer, considering he’s really the only guy under contract, his inexpensive rookie deal. Beyond that? Bill Belichick and the Patriots have the 15th pick in the draft and a projected $60 million or so of salary cap space to rebuild the roster, including obviously targeting the quarterback position. Could the search lead to a high draft pick, say Trey Lance? Maybe. Could there be a trade for a guy like Jimmy Garoppolo? Anything is possible! A veteran free agent signing like Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick? Can’t be ruled out. How it plays out, not even Belichick could possibly know that at this point. What we do know is that Stidham can’t possibly remain the only guy penciled in on the 2021 quarterback depth chart, as is the case right now.
Draft/free agency need – Extremely High: As unlikely as it would seem, Stidham technically could still be the QB future in Foxborough. Certainly there is also at least a slim shot Newton could be brought back as a bridge for another year. Beyond those unlikely thoughts, the Patriots probably need to add multiple quarterbacks to the depth chart this offseason. The ideal would be a franchise passer or at least potential franchise passer. That could either come in the first-round of the draft, via a trade or with a splash free agent signing. Or, in some combination of the three. Its uncharted waters and unlimited options. Regardless of the plan – a year after New England didn’t seem to have much of a post-Brady plan at the position – Belichick and his staff must aggressively pursue quarterback talent in a league where the position is as critical as ever, as shown this postseason that was basically built around teams with either future Hall of Fame passers or budding first-round talents.