A 20-year run that included six Super Bowl victories and 19 consecutive winning seasons, Brady cemented himself as the most decorated player in NFL history and perhaps the best to ever play. With the offseason looming, Brady appears set to enter free agency for the first time in his NFL career and it doesn’t look like another season in New England is likely.
It was a short and swift fall from grace for Brady and the Patriots, losing five of its final nine games in 2019 including their lone postseason contest against the Tennessee Titans. If Brady really is done in New England, as well as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, it could be a complete and total offensive rebuild for the Patriots next season.
But who will be at the helm of that? There are several quarterbacks hitting free agency this offseason that may fit in well with the Patriots system. Here’s who could wind up as the Patriots quarterback for the start of the 2020 season if Tom Brady doesn’t return.
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The incumbent candidate, Jarrett Stidham was drafted in 2019 as a potential candidate to replace Brady once he does depart New England. Throughout his rookie season, he didn’t see a ton of game action, but Stidham was routinely leading the first-team offense in practice while Brady was limited.
Stidham showed good poise in the preseason and has a year under his belt as a member of the Patriots. Already knowing the playbook and having a rapport with most offensive players gives him a leg up on the competition. But whether or not he’s ready to step into such a role is another question.
The long-time Los Angeles Chargers quarterback is a free agent this offseason and has repeatedly said retirement isn’t a possibility. With Rivers looking to play more football in the future, it would make sense for him to consider somewhere like New England where he can still compete for championships.
There is a solid base of young talent and with a new offensive coordinator likely in the mix. This means Rivers and the Patriots could start totally fresh while still being a favorite in the AFC East.
The big question with Rivers is how much he has left in the tank. The 38-year-old threw for just 23 touchdowns this season, his lowest mark since the 2007 season, along with the second-most interceptions in a single season of his career at 20.
Yes, he’s still under contract with the Saints, but the 2020 and 2021 seasons are voidable years, per Spotrac. The big question becomes whether the Patriots can find a way to bring Bridgewater to Foxborough from New Orleans, where he could be the eventual replacement for Drew Brees.
Bridgewater has starting experience and replaced Drew Brees earlier this season, meaning he understands what it takes to play in place of a legend. Over the span of nine games during the 2019 season, Bridgewater completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 1,384 yards with nine touchdown passes and two interceptions.
This is a longshot, but the Patriots may be smart to invest in an experienced quarterback looking to prove he can still be a big-time player in the NFL.
Another dual-threat quarterback, Mariota led the Titans to a playoff berth in 2017 but took a step back in his contract year this season. He was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill this season though he did feature in special offensive packages throughout the season.
Putting the struggles aside, Mariota has posted decent numbers throughout his NFL career. Over 63 games, he’s thrown for 13,207 yards with 76 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. He’s also shown upside as a strong runner, tallying 1,399 yards and 11 scores since his rookie season in 2015.
Mariota may be willing to take a pay cut and a short-term deal to prove he’s still capable of being an NFL starter and the New England offense could be a good place for him to do that. The 2019 season was the final year of Mariota’s deal, and he enters free agency with plenty of question marks surrounding him.
The Patriots will be drafting late in the first round, meaning the top three quarterbacks in Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert will likely be gone. But Washington Huskies junior signal-caller Jacob Eason may be on par with those three.
Eason completed 64.2 percent of his passes last season after transferring from Georgia and has some of the best field vision among draft-eligible quarterbacks. There’s concern he may have entered the draft a little too early but many believe he could be a legitimate NFL quarterback.
Along with Eason’s solid completion percentage, he threw for 23 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.