It never ends. The Patriots nightmare just keeps getting worse. While some New England fans were able to cope with their team’s failures by jumping ship (so to speak) and cheering for Tom Brady’s Buccaneers last season, it’s unlikely that many within the Patriots organization were able to participate in such escapism. Instead, they’re tasked with figuring out how to halt the franchise’s downward spiral into mediocrity and finding a way to return to prominence.
Perhaps the success of their former quarterback will serve as an excellent motivator as they head into the 2021 offseason. While the 2020 season was without question a disappointment for New England, they don’t have to improve all that much to be respectable in 2021. If they can manage to improve by a measly two or three wins next season, it should be enough to get them into the playoffs (or at least firmly into the hunt going into the final weeks of the season). However, there’s a lot to sort out between now and Week 1. Namely, the wide receiving core, the tight end position and the starting quarterback.
As far as the latter is concerned, names like Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers are undoubtedly enticing, but in all likelihood, each is nothing more than a pipe dream for the Patriots. Such all-time greats are hard to get your hands on. If you’re lucky enough to ever land a guy like that, you’d be foolish to let him go…
Here are the realistic options for New England at quarterback this offseason:
No two individuals in the NFL better embody the “star-crossed lovers” trope than Bill Belichick and Jimmy Garoppolo. This Valentine’s Day, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see these two love birds reunite? Wouldn’t it? It was hard to miss Belichick’s affinity for Garoppolo during (and after) his time in New England and he showed flashes while with the Patriots of being a player who could thrive in Josh McDaniels’ offense, but he’s far from perfect.
Garoppolo’s durability is perhaps the biggest concern. He’s missed 23 games over the last three seasons. His turnover rate isn’t exactly promising either, posting a career touchdown to interception ratio of less than 2:1. However, during his career with the Patriots, he didn’t throw a single interception in his 97 regular season pass attempts to five touchdown passes. And hey, who am I to stand in the way of true love?
Speaking of reunions, there’s another former Patriots quarterback on the market this offseason that is sure to draw some attention. On the surface, Brissett isn’t all that appealing. The Colts didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity to upgrade to Philip Rivers last offseason and don’t appear all that keen on the idea of making him their starter next season as they continue to such for other options.
However, there are some things to like about Brissett. He isn’t the most athletic quarterback, but he did rush for 4 touchdowns in 2019 and Indianapolis used him quite a bit in short yardage situations in 2020. As a result, Brissett nearly matched his rushing touchdown total from 2019 with 3 rushing touchdowns last season despite his limited usage.
Brissett also posted 18 touchdowns to just six interceptions in 15 games during his only season as a starter. The ratio is great, but the touchdown total is a bit underwhelming. Brissett could be a nice fall back option, but he shouldn’t be Plan A or B for the Patriots this offseason.
Newton had a bad season, but not nearly as bad as it was made out to be. A 7-9 record given his lack of experience in the Patriots system, lack of weapons and lack of practice time due to COVID-19 isn’t all that bad. Before you cite similar circumstances for Tom Brady, let’s all remember we’re talking about the greatest quarterback of all-time and Cam Newton. One is clearly going to be better in adverse situations.
Newton did set a Patriots franchise record in rushing yards by a quarterback and tied the Patriots franchise rushing touchdown record by a QB. If Newton can improve at all with one year of experience in the Patriots offense under his belt and (hopefully) better pass catching weapons, the Patriots could make the playoffs with him at the helm.
Mariota impressed onlookers when he filled in for Derek Carr on Thrusday Night Football. He threw for over 200 yards, rushed for another 88 and a managed two touchdowns (one rushing and one passing). However, it’s worth noting that Darren Waller was responsible for over half of Mariota’s passing yards in that game and Mariota also threw a soul-crushing interception that ultimately lost the game for the Raiders. It’s also hard to ignore what Mariota’s former team has morphed into without him.
Even still, perhaps the former #2 overall pick deserves one more chance to prove he has what it takes to start in the NFL. His rushing ability would surely help the Patriots if they fail to add the necessary weapons to aid their ailing passing game.
On the surface, Smith looks like the perfect Patriot. He’s always favored the short passing game, which would seemingly align with New England’s offensive philosophy. He also led Washington to a 5-1 record in 2020 in his 6 starts. Unfortunately, while Smith’s return to the NFL has been inspiring, his numbers aren’t quite as impressive. Smith threw six touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. He’s just not a quality NFL starter anymore. His story is amazing, but his time as a starting quarterback is probably over.
If Dallas doesn’t place the franchise tag on Dak Prescott for a second straight year (which is possible given the lofty price tag and Prescott’s ankle injury), he could become an option for the Patriots. Even if Dallas does franchise tag Prescott, there’s a good chance they could look to trade him, and he shouldn’t cost as much as Desahun Watson or Matthew Stafford given the uncertain nature of his health.
It’s hard to know how much of Prescott’s success has been the result of a being surrounded by one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, one of the best running backs in the NFL and a pretty good receiving core to boot. Dallas certainly struggled without him, but they were missing more than just Prescott. Star offensive lineman Zach Martin and Tyron Smith both missed significant time (6 and 14 games, respectively) and star center Travis Frederick retired last offseason. Prescott still has a lot to prove, but it’s hard to imagine any better options being available for the Patriots in 2021.
Fitzpatrick could be another solid fall back options if the Patriots don’t land any of their top choices. He could serve as a solid mentor to any potential draftee and has proven in the past that he will handle the situation professionally if he is benched. His 4-3 record as the Dolphins starter last season is nothing to write home about, but it’s not bad for a 38-year old journeyman. We’re not talking about a Hall of Famer here. And his 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions isn’t great, but again, we’re talking about a last resort of sorts. If anything, there’s a comedic element to Fitzpatrick completing his journey through the AFC East that is sure to result in some great jokes for years to come.
If the Jets draft or trade for a quarterback using the 2nd overall pick, Darnold will almost certainly be on the move. Darnold’s dealt with some serious ups and downs in New York, so perhaps the stability afforded him in Foxborough will be exactly what he needs to get back to being the player so many coveted out of high school. He’s in serious need of a soft landing, which means the Patriots would need to do some significant spending in order to get the weapons Darnold would need if he’s going to be comfortable.
Of all the options mentioned so far, none are as young as Darnold. If a change of scenery is all he needs to become the franchise quarterback many though he could be coming out of college, then the Patriots have their starter for the next 10-15 years, which has to be a significant part of the appeal. If it only costs approximately a 2nd round pick or something of similar value, it could be well worth the risk.
With Trevor Lawrence bound for Jacksonville, Minshew’s name could find its way into trade rumors rather quickly for quarterback needy teams. He didn’t manage to lead the Jaguars to many wins last season, but he did boast 6-6 as a rookie. He also has a fairly solid career touchdown to interception ratio of 37 to 11. Minshew’s endearing and polarizing personality would be a welcome sight for a New England team in desperate need of a player who can re-energize a demoralized fanbase.
I wrote at length about the idea of drafting a quarterback here. If the Patriots want to draft one, it should be in the first round or the second round at the latest. If you want to know more on why, you can read the linked article.
Photo: (Isaac Brekken – AP Photo)
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