The New England Patriots 2021 offseason will be one of the most intriguing offseasons in the team’s recent history. With the fifteenth overall pick and loads of cap space, the Patriots will have plenty of opportunities to fix some of the issues that plagued the 7-9 2020 season. Questions at wide receiver, tight end, defensive line, and linebacker will need to be addressed, but the most notable decision moving forward for Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ organization is the future of the quarterback position. Do they bring back Cam Newton as a bridge quarterback? What other veteran quarterbacks might they target via free agency and trade? Could they trade up in the draft for someone like Trey Lance? New England’s answer to these questions will be critical to the next chapter of Patriots football.
Below are five different realistic hypothetical Patriots’ quarterback scenarios for next season. Each scenario is ranked in order from the (1) best option to (5) worst option.
1.) Trade up for Top Rookie QB, Paired with Veteran Bridge QB if Necessary
The best way to find a franchise quarterback in the NFL is to draft one you like in the first round. Sure, there are outliers like Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Russell Wilson, but striking gold in the mid-rounds at the quarterback position in today’s NFL is very rare. When looking at this year’s quarterback class, there looks to be four quarterbacks worth early round one selections; Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance. Lawrence will be gone after pick one, and Fields and Wilson feel destined to be selected shortly after. That leaves Lance as the most realistic trade-up option. Trading up to the 7-10 range is do-able for the Patriots, who sit at pick 15.
Lance is a bit of a risky prospect coming from North Dakota State, but he’s got all the physical tools, whether it be his strong arm or his ability to run the football. Plus, he’s shown a knack for playing smart turnover-free football throughout his college career. Lance isn’t a perfect prospect, and maybe he or another top quarterback never reaches their full potential, but the reward of getting a good young quarterback on a rookie deal outweighs the risk of drafting a bust. At the end of the day, the Patriots would have to love Lance, or any other quarterback, to trade up and select them, but if they do it’s a no-brainer.
Additionally, Lance in New England would likely need to be supplemented with a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge/mentor. It’s unknown whether Newton wants that role or not but he could be an option. Other options include Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jacoby Brissett.
2.) Trade for Matthew Stafford
The Lions’ new GM/Head Coach combo could very well decide to run it back with Matthew Stafford at the helm for the Lions, but if they choose to move on the Patriots should be interested. Stafford is only 32 years old and his cap hit for an acquiring team is only $20 million in 2021 and $23 million in 2022. In comparison to other quarterbacks around the league that’s a very good deal. If New England can acquire Stafford for a package consisting of a second-round pick and another mid-round pick, they should pull the trigger.
Stafford has a reputation as being injury prone but last season he started all 16 games (he was out most of the game in Week 16). In fact, Stafford hasn’t missed many games at all outside of his first two years in the NFL. In the 2020 season, Stafford threw for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He was ranked the 12th best quarterback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus and his DVOA ranked 14th in the NFL. Throughout his career, Stafford has been plagued by coaching changes, little to no running game, and inconsistent offensive lines. A change of scenery could do him some good.
If the Patriots do trade for Stafford, they can then spend the draft and free agency focused on adding to the defense and surrounding Stafford with weapons. This scenario may be the best win-now option. Plus, with Stafford being 32, he probably has at least another five years left in the tank. This means Stafford would be more than just a bridge quarterback and more of a long-term solution.
3.) Acquire Veteran QB (Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett), Paired with Tier Two Rookie QB
This feels like the most realistic option of all the options listed. Jimmy Garoppolo and Marcus Mariota aren’t currently free agents but in the next coming months, both could find their way onto the market. If they do, they’ll get a look from the Patriots. Acquiring Garoppolo, Mariota, Newton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Jacoby Brissett gives New England a cost-efficient veteran quarterback. None of the quarterbacks listed feel like long-term solutions (yes, even Jimmy G), but they give you a chance to stay competitive while you search/develop the franchise guy.
That’s where part two of the plan, drafting a tier two rookie quarterback, comes in. Mac Jones would be my ideal option in this scenario. He doesn’t have the elite physical tools like a Trey Lance, but he’s an accurate passer with smart decision-making skills, although, the elite talent around him at Alabama makes him hard to evaluate. I wouldn’t take him at the fifteenth pick overall, but I would have no problem trading back into the late first round to pick Jones. As for Kyle Trask, he makes more sense in the second round. Either Jones or Trask can then come into New England with no pressure to play right away. This allows them to develop before being thrown into the fire.
4.) Trade for Matt Ryan
A Matt Ryan trade feels unlikely as it would have major cap ramifications for the Falcons, but if he was to be traded, the Patriots would probably have some interest. The issue comes with his age, being 35, and his contract, as he’s signed through the 2023 season. Although there is a potential out in his contract after the 2022 season. As noted with a potential Stafford trade, the Patriots get more of a long term option. With Ryan, it feels like a couple of seasons type deal. That’s not to say there isn’t any value in acquiring Ryan. He had a nice 2020 season throwing for 4,581 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Ryan ranked 15th in DVOA, one spot behind Stafford. That being said, I don’t really love this idea and it feels like a trade that delays the inevitable, which is finding a franchise quarterback.
5.) Running it Back with Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham, Paired with a Late-Round Flier at QB
The one thing the Patriots absolutely cannot do is run it back with the same disappointing quarterback room they had during the 2020 season. A combination of Newton, Jarrett Stidham, and a quarterback picked in the mid to late round range would be very uninspiring and it would leave the Patriots in the same situation next offseason. On the bright side, this scenario doesn’t feel likely. Bill Belichick is no dummy. The NFL is a quarterback’s league and he knows he needs to find one.
Wild Cards: Trade for Deshaun Watson, or Sign Dak Prescott
Acquiring Deshaun Watson or Dak Prescott feels unrealistic at the moment, as the Patriots don’t have a trade package strong enough to outbid a team like the Dolphins for Watson, and the Cowboys will likely franchise tag or re-sign Prescott. However, they’re worth mentioning in case those situations change. Both of these moves would immediately jump to my favorite scenarios at the quarterback position, especially a Watson trade.