No matter how the season turns out, it seems likely that Cam Newton was just a brief stopgap at the helm of the Patriots offense.
As a result, the 2021 offseason will begin with the same question as last; Who will be the Patriots quarterback next season?
It’s a question that Patriots brass isn’t accustomed to anymore, as almost the entirety of the century saw the same signal-caller on Opening Day. Since 2001, only three seasons have opened with someone not named Tom Brady under center (Bledsoe, 2001; Garoppolo, 2014; Newton, 2020). If you want to broaden the data to quarterbacks other than Tom Brady to start since 2001, it only reaches six quarterbacks (Cassel, 15; Newton, seven; Bledsoe, two; Garoppolo, two; Brissett, two; Hoyer, one).
So it’s safe to say that the need to search for a franchise quarterback has become foreign territory to Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick for the better part of two decades. However, 2020 has opened plenty of eyes of executives around the league. Quarterbacks once thought to be a team’s future now face incredible uncertainty.
Not to mention the NFL Draft that promises to be a special one for quarterback talent––potentially five projected to go in the first round.
So who are some potential solutions going forward for this New England Patriots team?
Newton has had a real boom-or-bust start to his Patriots career. He’s had three impressive showings in seven starts, three dreadful showings, and one so-so performance.
Though Cam Newton has been through hell and back during his fall from NFL superstardom, as inconsistent weapons, injuries, surgeries, and constant system changes have been a significant deterrent for the former Heisman Trophy winner and MVP.
And, at times, the Patriots offense has looked sharp with Newton. Other times? Not so much. He has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,417 yards (plus 314 rushing yards), ten total touchdowns, and seven interceptions: some good, some bad.
But the offense is such an imperfect science; plenty of stars struggle from the get-go to gain a grasp on the offense. As important as the quarterback is, it grows increasingly more apparent by the snap that Newton could benefit from a standard offseason with this offense.
Injuries and inconsistent play have plagued the former Patriots prospect for a few seasons now in San Francisco. Sure, the Niners are 22-8 when he starts, but that’s thanks in large part to a suffocating defense and elite run game.
Garoppolo has been fine but incredibly turnover prone. Couple that with his ongoing injury history, and you have a potential lame-duck quarterback in the Bay Area.
Should he be made available, the likelihood of reuniting with Bill Belichick seems almost too perfect to not happen. In 2020, he is 48-for-67 (71.6 percent) for 426 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception, throwing between zero and nine yards of the scrimmage line. On passes that connect behind the line, he’s 26-for-28 (92.9 percent) for 240 yards and one touchdown.
For years, the Patriots offense relied on the ability to dink-and-dunk, something Cam Newton hasn’t had to do for much of his career.
Should he be released at season’s end, a Garoppolo reunion in New England makes the most sense.
The former first-round pick for Washington has been relegated to QB3 after a boom-or-bust start to his career.
Through 13 games (11 starts), his team is 3-8-0, and he has completed 59.6 percent of his passes for 2,304 yards. He also has just 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Even though he was a mid-first-round pick, that kind of production early on is grounds for being given up on.
All signs point to him being a trade piece in the offseason––and one of his suitors should be the New England Patriots.
Yes, his career has been plagued with inconsistencies from the get-go. However, a first-round, raw talent falling into your lap is hard to come by. He still has oodles of potential, and his early struggles shouldn’t deter a team from taking a flier on him.
The BYU product has come out of nowhere to blossom into a top-four quarterback prospect this season.
Wilson completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,960 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions through his first two collegiate seasons. This season he has become a star, completing 75 percent of his passes for 2,511 yards, 21 touchdowns, and just two interceptions.
While normally quarterbacks who come out of nowhere to thoroughly dominate collegiate play could be a red flag, recent examples like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert make it harder to ignore Wilson’s development.
Especially considering the plethora of NFL-type throws from the junior out Draper, Utah.
The Patriots are likely headed for a top 10 pick barring a sudden resurrection of their season. However, Wilson’s play very well could make him a top-five selection––top-three quarterback. New England is going to have to do a lot more losing to secure this one.
Trask has been an early Heisman candidate this year for the Florida Gators. The senior has completed 68.7 percent of his passes through five games for 1,815 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just three interceptions.
Like Wilson, he has shown the ability to fit the ball into tight windows––which should translate well to the NFL.
He’s also the first quarterback in SEC history to throw four touchdown passes in five consecutive games, accomplishing that in the first half of Nov. 7’s game against Georgia.
He has an incredibly strong arm, great footwork in the pocket, and has excellent leadership capabilities.
If the Patriots aren’t in a spot to land Fields, Lance, or Wilson, Kyle Trask is likely the next best thing. Plus, he’s a senior, and Belichick is a big fan of mature guys both as football players and within their bodies.
Should the Patriots miss out on the top four or five QBs in the draft, Sam Ehlinger presents an interesting case in the later rounds.
Though he has never truly exploded at the collegiate level, Ehlinger has emerged as one of the nation’s best leaders. Once spring practices were shut down due to COVID-19, Ehlinger made sure his teammates got their workouts in before diving into their new offensive game plan under coordinator Mike Yurcich.
Speaking of the pandemic, Ehlinger followed the lead of Clemson’s star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, and created a GoFundMe to help those most affected by the coronavirus.
The impact the 22-year-old has had on the community, and the Texas locker room, are qualities Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick look for in their quarterback.
The player, however, hasn’t exactly panned out entirely. His 58.8 percent completion rate is a bit deceiving because he throws the ball down the field a lot, but he hasn’t precisely flashed the brilliance needed to be a successful NFL quarterback. He is typically proficient in taking control of the ball when he throws it––just a 1.9 percent interception rate––but he holds the ball too long and leaves himself prone to taking unnecessary hits. At the NFL, that quality could lead to injuries, giveaways, and many more preventable sacks.
If he can stop holding the ball too long, he could reach untapped potential. Does that come out in the NFL? That remains to be seen, as he could return to Texas as a fifth-year senior. However, should he declare for the draft, the Patriots could be a suitable environment for him in the middle-to-late rounds.