Patriots learning NFL QB lesson the hard way

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This is not yet another Tom Brady column, per se.

Nope, Brady threw his intercepted final pass as a Patriot more than a year ago now. That’s a story that’s been well told and overanalyzed.

That’s water under the bridge, although it’s still choppy water New England fans will have to see bubbling to the surface this week as Brady leads his Buccaneers into Sunday’s Super Bowl LV battle with Patrick Mahomes’ defending champion Chiefs in, oh yes, Tampa Bay’s own Raymond James Stadium.

Nope, Brady moved on. Leaving the Patriots to fruitlessly and frustratedly fill the void under center in New England.

This my friends is a life-after-Brady story about clichés and living without a franchise quarterback in the National Football League.

Life is hard.

Life’s not fair.

The real world sucks. (Don’t we all know that!)

You don’t know what ya got till it’s gone.

Oh, and the fact that the NFL is broken down into two very distinct groups of teams: those that have a franchise QB and those who are looking for one. (The Texans make up a different group all their own, but that’s a different story for a different dumb-ass day in Houston.)

For nearly 30 years New England was the home of unquestioned quarterback stability. Drew Bledsoe arrived as the No. 1 overall pick in the spring of 1993 and took over the town as Bill Parcells’ wingman. It was his job.

Bledsoe was the man that the team would be and was indeed built around. The team still faced annual questions, but quarterback was never one of them.

Then, when the Patriots Dynasty was built in 2001 as Mo Lewis’ viciously knocked Bledsoe to the sideline, the Brady era began.

Through 19 years of crazy success, including the nine Super Bowl trips and six Lombardi Trophies, offseasons brought plenty questions and change. But not at quarterback. The Patriots were Brady’s team – always for the better – and everyone knew it.

But that stability came crashing down when last March 17 when Brady decided to test free agency and take his talents to Tampa, tossing the Patriots into the turmoil of teams without a franchise QB, a group that Bill Belichick’s own squad had been picking on and off for years.

From there, we all know that 2020 was a completely lost season at QB in New England. Jarrett Stidham was publicized as the young heir to the throne, until couldn’t-find-a-job Cam Newton arrived in late June to swiftly steal the starting spot. Newton would go on throw just eight touchdown passes in 15 starts, win a not-good-enough seven games and Stidham saw mere mop-up duty along the way.

As it turns out, finding good help at quarterback is hard these days, especially when the rest of the team isn’t all that great either.
Of course teams like the Dolphins, Bills, Jets, Browns and Jaguars could have told Belichick that. They’ve been searching for decades to find even representative stability at the position.

That land of Miami/Buffalo/New York/Cleveland/Jacksonville is an ugly world the Patriots now live in, an unfortunate reality made even clearer this week.

New England was reportedly interested in deposed Detroit franchise passer Matthew Stafford, the former No. 1 overall pick with a grand total of zero playoff wins in his dozen NFL seasons.

He’s no Brady, but maybe he’s good enough to be the guy for the foreseeable future at least, right?

Wrong. Two major problems.

First, according to NBC Sports Boston, Stafford wanted no part of the Patriots. Maybe that’s simply because his former Lions coach Matt Patricia is back on Belichick’s staff. Or, maybe it’s also because with his eyes wide open he sees New England as a non-playoff team with almost no offensive weapons to speak of, one that might be even more of a challenge to win with than Detroit as he embarks on the back-nine of his NFL career.

Oh, and the second issue, while the Patriots were sniffing around Stafford on the trade market the Rams pounced. L.A. sent a pair of first-round picks as well as its own young former No. 1 overall pick starting quarterback Jared Goff to the Lions in exchange for Stafford, a guy with a losing record in eight of his 12 NFL seasons.

As it turns out, the market for quarterbacks, even talented ones who don’t necessarily win, is ultra-competitive.

So the rudderless search continues for the Patriots through the rough waters that is life without a franchise quarterback.

Maybe there will be a top draft pick that entices Belichick and Co. Of course getting a guy to build around usually requires a pick higher than the No. 15 slot New England currently holds and moving up in the draft for a top prospect is a costly, un-Belichickian proposition.

Maybe Jimmy Garoppolo will be a cost-effective addition, either via trade or if he’ cut. Of course that means he’s getting dumped by a 49ers squad he helped guide to a Super Bowl just a year ago, at least in part because he’s guy who’s played in more than six games in a season just once in his career. It feels like a cheap shot to call Garoppolo F-R-A-G-I-L-E, but he is Italian and it is what it is.

Maybe there will be some other trade addition – No, we’re not realistically talking about Deshaun Watson! – or veteran free agent signing. Maybe there will be a mid- or –late-round diamond in the rough. Did you know that Brady was a sixth-round pick himself????!!!!!

There are plenty of good quarterbacks available in what could be the most interesting offseason of transactions at the position in the history of the game.

But are there many (any?) great options available? And will the Patriots have what it takes – literally and figuratively – to go get one?

If recent history in New England and long-term history across the league is any indication, probably not.

One more cliché for ya – all good things must come to an end.

New England had one of the most stable quarterback situations in the NFL from 1993-2019. But not anymore. It’s 2021. And the reality of life without a franchise QB has settled into New England. It’s taken its coat off. It feels like it might stay awhile.

As former failed Celtics coach Rick Pitino might say, Tom Brady’s not walking through that door.

And if you expect him to walk through that door, well, he’ll be handsome and old, playing for another team, leading his Bucs into Foxborough next regular season to take on the Patriots. Maybe even coming off another Super Bowl win.

Meanwhile, New England continues to search for his replacement. And so far that search isn’t going very well.