One year ago, Patriots fans weren’t too worried about who would succeed Tom Brady at quarterback. The Patriots at the time rostered, not one but two young NFL winning quarterbacks in Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. Even as Garoppolo approached the final year of his rookie deal, fans mulled ways the Pats could hold onto him and Brady. The worst-case scenario was Garoppolo leaving, but fans were comforted that Brissett was in the wings. Brissett’s trade at the end of preseason renewed hope that the Pats would find a way to keep both Brady and Garoppolo, but these hopes were dashed when Brady’s heir apparent was dealt to the 49ers in a series of transactions which brought Brian Hoyer in as the backup quarterback.
The 2018 NFL draft season was filled with speculation who the Patriots would grab. Would they trade up for Baker Mayfield, or pick Lamar Jackson at the bottom of the first? Kyle Lauletta? Mason Rudolph? In the end, the pick would come in the seventh round when the drafted Danny Etling, but no one is confident that Etling is the answer to the Patriots succession question. This spring, the Patriots kicked the tires on a few NFL rejects in Johnny Manziel and Christian Hackenberg. Tom Brady will be 41 years old when the season begins, and no matter how much avocado ice cream he eats, he cannot play forever.
The feeling is next year’s draft class isn’t a strong one for quarterbacks; there is a reason teams were moving up to get their quarterbacks this year. Will Brady still be the starting quarterback when the season starts in two years at age 43? Odds and history both say no. I have reviewed the current quarterback landscape and I think Brady’s successor is already in the NFL, and curiously enough could already be playing in the AFC East. When surveying the candidates, I looked for quarterbacks who were accurate, had some NFL success, and had contracts that would fit in with the Patriots philosophy of not paying top dollar. Hear are three candidates who could succeed Brady in New England.
Teddy Bridgewater, New York Jets
Teddy Bridgewater was on his way to a promising career in Minnesota until a knee injury derailed him. Bridgewater spent 2016 and 2017 rehabbing his injury, making a token appearance in Week 17. With Minnesota winning the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes, Bridgewater signed with the Jets in the offseason. The Jets drafted Sam Darnold in the first round, making the Jets’ quarterback room even more crowded. Either McCown or Bridgewater could be the odd man out when final cuts are made in August.
Bridgewater makes sense as he is a very accurate passer, career completion percentage is 64.7% ,and which is mandatory to succeed in a Patriots offense that relies on quick inside slants and back shoulder throws towards the sidelines . The two drawbacks to the Bridgewater plan are: the Jets wouldn’t deal him straight out to the Patriots and Bridgewater does have a bit of a turnover issue, 33 turnovers in 30 games. Regardless, if he ends up on the waiver wire in August, the Patriots should take a shot.
Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Jacoby Brissett makes a lot of sense as the next Patriots starter. To start with, the Patriots liked him enough to draft him once. Sure, they traded him, but at the time they may have thought retaining Garapollo was plausible. Brissett was smart enough to pick up enough of the playbook his rookie season to start a win in Week 3. Despite being traded to Indianapolis just before Week 1, he would play all 16 games for the Colts, becoming the starter in Week 2. The timing also works, as Brissett’s rookie contract will be up in two years.
The drawback to Brissett is that we know Brady is intent on playing this year, but does he have the will to play two more years?
A.J. McCarron, Buffalo Bills
A.J. McCarron spent four years holding the clipboard for the Bengals before winning his release and signing to start in Buffalo. Like the Jets, the Bills would draft their quarterback of the future in the first round. McCarron’s contract is relatively cheap, so the Bills would not need to move him, but two offseason pieces of news could prompt Buffalo to sever ties. The first is that Nathan Peterman, he of all the interceptions, has apparently had an incredible offseason with Buffalo and was receiving first team reps in OTAs. The second piece of news is the allegation made on Instagram against running back LeSean McCoy. Supposing the NFL suspends McCoy for a lengthy amount of time, there would be a void at running back in Buffalo. The Patriots currently have former Bills running back Mike Gillislee, who has fallen out of favor and might welcome a return to Buffalo. Perhaps New England and Buffalo could make a swap that could benefit both sides. McCarron has two years left on his contract, which would line up well with a Brady succession plan, while McCarron and Gillislee’s contract numbers are close.
The drawback with an intra-division trade of course is if Buffalo would be willing to help a team that has maintained dominance since 2000.
There are of course other potential candidates in the league: Sam Bradford, the loser of the QB2 battle with the Giants (Lauletta or Webb) or someone like Nick Foles. Despite the Patriots not having a viable candidate on the roster, they have already started their succession planning. It is no coincidence that they have started investing in running back, after years of using retreads. A first round pick on Sony Michel and a new contract for Rex Burkhead suggest that in the Patriots’ new world, the running back will be king. While it seems so long ago, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl with the Patriots pounding the rock with Antowain Smith and Brady managing the game, hitting Troy Brown in slant routes. If we have learned anything from the Patriots, it is that head coach Bill Belichick will adapt. They don’t necessarily need a quarterback to throw for 40 touchdowns, they will win in other ways.
Tom Brady has maintained he wants to play until he is 45, but that is just not feasible in this NFL. Brady did not participate in OTAs this year, a first, and already seems to have an eye on his exit from the league. Fantasy players should be keeping eyes on the players above to try and preemptively grab the next QB of a typically high scoring offense. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is one of the more innovative coordinators on the league. He has been able to win with Garoppolo and Brissett in relief, while Belichick also was able to get ten wins out of Matt Cassell. Draft Danny Etling in leagues with taxi squads or 30+ man rosters should be made by all Brady owners, just in case, Belichick once again found late round magic.