By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Perhaps you have heard this on the local news once or twice, but the Patriots’ quarterback situation? It is not resolved. It is very much tentative, at least as far as we outsiders know.
Sure, it is possible that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady worked out a handshake deal months ago in some darkened maintenance closet at Gillette Stadium, cackling maniacally while picturing the firestorm of hysterics that would ensue if Brady finished the 2019 season without a new contract inked. If that were the case, well, then that’s an outstanding work of performance art, and we should all doff our caps.
Update: That was not the case.
Moooooore likely, though, is the reality that the Patriots are figuring out their plan at the quarterback position, both for 2020 and well beyond. Considering Brady will turn 43 before Week 1, the “well beyond” part really can’t apply to him. He’s stated time and time (and time and time and time) again that he wants to play at least until age 45. (It makes national headlines every time he says that, too, even if he had just said it a week prior. It’s a great system we’ve got here.) Given the way he physically performed last year (physically; not statistically), he may be capable of achieving that goal. He could still move in the pocket, he could still deliver strikes all over the field, and in an offense with a capable tight end, some slightly better blocking in both the run and pass game, and a reliable receiver to get to the sticks and keep drives alive, it’s not at all difficult to envision Brady leading a top-eight or so offense in 2020.
Whether that offense can be in New England or not remains unknown. And even if both the Patriots and Brady decide to keep the party going for another year or two, Belichick is still likely planning for a future without Brady, whenever that may come.
While Jarrett Stidham showed promise in his rookie preseason (61-for-90, 731 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, plus 88 rushing yards on 17 attempts), that was the preseason. In one of this two only regular-season appearance, he threw a pick-six and got yanked from the game immediately.
To say that Stidham will be great or will be terrible would be based on very little evidence either way.
So while it is possible that the Patriots loved what they saw from Stidham on the practice field every day this season and thus envision him as the “QB OF THE FUTURE,” it’s equally possible that they were unimpressed and thus may want to look to April’s draft to take another kick at the quarterbacking can.
If they do, here are some options that might be available to them. As a reminder, the Patriots own the 23rd overall pick in the first round, they do not currently own a second-round pick (but they do have Mohamed Sanu!), and they have three picks in the third round.
OUT OF THE QUESTION
Joe Burrow, LSU
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Burrow will be the first overall pick and will summarily get ruined by the Bengals organization. Sad. Herbert is expected to go in the top 10, and while no potential Bill Belichick move on draft day should ever be ruled out … trading up to get into the top 10 to draft a QB should be.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tua’s stats are absurd. He threw 87 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. He also rushed for nine touchdowns, came off the bench to win a national championship game, and finished second in Heisman voting as a sophomore. Had he finished the 2019 season healthy, he’d be a top-five pick.
Alas, he did not. And though the early reports on his hip injury and prognosis are positive, the injury situation could lead to some first-round slippage for Tagovailoa, who’s dealt with ankle injuries in consecutive seasons. (He also might still go in the top five anyway.)
If he were to be available in the teens and the Patriots were interested, they could package their first-round pick with one of their thirds to move up a few spots and select him.
Considering the Bill Belichick-Nick Saban bromance, the Patriots’ head coach would be making an informed decision if he made that move. It would also add quite a bit of spice to the Patriots’ offseason, as Tua’s hip injury would likely leave him in a position to be unable to play NFL football this spring and summer, so he could be a perfect candidate to sit and learn for a year, either as a backup or on IR.
(One more unknown on Tua: He’s a lefty. The NFL has gradually gotten rid of left-handed passers, with Kellen Moore and Tim Tebow the last lefties to throw in the NFL. If ever there was a case to restart the lefty movement, it would be with a healthy Tua.)
GUYS YOU DEFINITELY KNOW
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Even the most casual college football watcher is familiar with the work of these two, as both have appeared in the College Football Playoff in recent years.
Hurts, who of course lost his job to Tagovailoa before transferring to Oklahoma, is an interesting prospect. He made the most of his Oklahoma opportunity, throwing 32 touchdowns with eight picks while rushing for almost 1,300 yards and 20 touchdowns in his 14 games. He also caught a touchdown for good measure. That is a lot of touchdowns. Though his accuracy wasn’t particularly great at Alabama, he completed 69.7 percent of his passes last year.
Fromm’s numbers took a big dip in his junior season, as his completion percentage dropped from 67.4 in 2018 to 60.8 in 2019. He also went from 30 touchdowns and six picks in 2018 to 24 touchdowns and five picks in 2019. Overall, the Bulldogs had tremendous success during Fromm’s tenure, going 36-7 and reaching the national championship in 2017.
Where these guys get drafted is not exactly known. Early projections have him going anywhere from rounds one through three. Hurts’ projections have him going later in the draft, but his high profile could lead to an earlier draft spot.
USA Today had Fromm going to the Patriots at 23: “Fromm’s arm isn’t strong — his speed will underwhelm. Still, he’s calm in the pocket. He’s very accurate, he’s a good decision-maker, he’s cerebral and he’s a hard worker.”
Draft forecasting is an inexact science, to say the least. Nevertheless, Fromm and Hurts certainly would represent two of the more well-known QBs to be taken in April.
Jacob Eason, Washington
Anthony Gordon, Washington State
Tyler Huntley, Utah
Jordan Love, Utah State
Shea Patterson, Michigan
Bryce Perkins, Virginia
This may not be the complete pool of QBs from which the Patriots would theoretically be picking, but it’s nevertheless thorough.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler mocked the Patriots picking Jordan Love at No. 23. That would be seemingly quite surprising, as Love just threw 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his junior season. Those 17 picks were most in the country. His accuracy, at 61.9 percent, wasn’t great, and he averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt. (Love did throw 40 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions in his first wo seasons.) Spending the 23rd overall pick on Love would seem like a case of an overspend. Bill Belichick does not like interceptions. The Patriots threw the fewest interceptions this past decade, so starting the 2020s by drafting a QB with a near-1-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio would be an odd course of action.
The prospect of adding a QB named Eason to the Patriots would be intriguing for fans who have been around long before Lombardi Trophies were sprinkled around Foxboro. Though Jacob Eason‘s father is named Tony, it’s not the same Tony Eason who took a beating as the Patriots’ quarterback in the ’80s. This Eason transferred to Washington from Georgia after losing his job to Fromm, and he threw a modest 23 touchdowns with eight picks while leading the Huskies to an 8-5 record. He sure is tall at 6-foot-6, and at 227 pounds, he looks the part of an NFL quarterback. His unassuming stats could put him in line to enter the league and hone his skills as a backup to start his career.
Anthony Gordon finished second in the nation this year in passing yards, behind only Burrow, with 5,579. He also ranked second in the nation with 48 touchdowns. But he ranked second in the nation with 16 interceptions, too. Yet with a 71.6 percent completion rate, Gordon can clearly sling it. At the same time, Luke Falk posted monster numbers for Mike Leach at Washington State … and he’s just Luke Falk. So the numbers could be misleading. (Gardner Minshew’s NFL ascent this season could change that perspective, though.)
At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, Utah’s Tyler Huntley isn’t the prototypical pocket passer the Patriots have generally drafted, but trends do change. In 14 games as a senior, Huntley threw 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions while averaging over 10 yards per attempt. He also ran for over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He may be more of a late-round pick, but his experience could make him appealing.
Virginia’s Bryce Perkins elevated his spotlight with a 323-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Orange Bowl, albeit in a losing effort against Florida. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound QB didn’t put up huge yardage numbers in his two years with the Cavaliers, but he threw for 47 touchdowns and 21 picks while rushing for 1,692 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Iowa’s Nathan Stanley may not have posted eye-popping numbers (42 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while averaging 7.3 yards per attempt over the past two seasons), but he’s absolutely enormous at 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds. That size, combined with Iowa’s color scheme, is going to lead to a lot of Ben Roethlisberger comparisons over the coming weeks and months.
Michigan’s Shea Patterson has a wealth of collegiate experience, having played at Ole Miss in 2016 and ’17 before transferring to Ann Arbor for the past two seasons. As a Wolverine, he threw 45 touchdowns and 15 picks while averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, though his completion percentage dipped dramatically from 64.6 in 2018 to 56.2 in 2019. This has nothing to do with anything, but Patterson was the quarterback at Michigan, and he was also drafted by an MLB team out of high school. The Patriots have had some major success drafting QBs with the same profile.
Jarrett Stidham, New England Patriots
Everybody loves new and shiny toys, and the college hype videos are always fun, but the Patriots did spend a fourth-rounder on Stidham a year ago. It’s possible (or likely?) that the team likes him better than any of the 2020 prospects.
To be sure, some other quarterbacks could be there for the taking in the later rounds. Some of the aforementioned QBs could move down on draft boards in the coming months, and some QBs who didn’t make this list could move up.
But in terms of the top talent, in terms of guys who appear from the outside to be potential franchise cornerstones, the nine players listed here figure to be the top candidates as draft season gets fully underway in the coming weeks.