Sooner rather than later, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are going to have to start communicating about the future. If the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the Patriots will have to find a replacement for the future Hall-of-Famer in the next few months.
One of the following four players could be the guy. Let’s rank them from the most likely to the biggest longshot, but still a possibility.
1. Jarrett Stidham
While he only threw four passes last year, Stidham was on the roster. Even if Brady returns, Stidham would be the No. 2 guy heading into training camp. The Patriots took him in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, so it’s clear they liked the 6’4″ 23-year-old coming out of Auburn.
Knowing Brady’s age and his impending free agency, you have to believe the team wouldn’t have invested a fourth-round pick in a guy they didn’t believe had the opportunity to potentially succeed Brady. Perhaps the time is now.
2. Andy Dalton
If the Patriots go the veteran route, Dalton has to be the top option. He had his ups and downs during a long career with the Cincinnati Bengals, but his experience and leadership would be attractive to the Pats if they aren’t looking to take a step backward under center.
Acquiring Dalton would require swinging a trade that might call for the team to absorb some of the veteran’s $17.7 million cap hit, but if he’s going to walk into a starting spot, that might not be a steep price to pay.
3. Jacob Eason
If the Patriots aren’t sold on handing the reins over to Stidham, but still want youth under center, they will likely turn to the draft to find Brady’s successor. Jacob Eason is anything but a Brady clone, but he does have his own qualities. He’s a solid athlete with a good arm who excels making plays outside of the pocket. If the Patriots also have a new offensive coordinator, provided Josh McDaniels takes a head coaching job, they may run an entirely different system.
If that’s the case, Eason might be a more natural fit, and what’s most attractive is the Pats probably wouldn’t have to exhaust any later-round assets to select him. Eason is likely to be on the board at No. 23 when the Pats are on the clock.
4. Marcus Mariota
Speaking of mobile guys who are almost the complete opposite of Brady, Mariota lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee but still has talent evaluators around the NFL who believe in him. Is Bill Belichick one of them? Perhaps. He’s just 26 years old, and he’s had a chance to start 60+ games in the NFL and experience some of the highs and lows that go with the position.
In New England, he’d have the opportunity for a fresh start, even though it would be under pressured circumstances replacing Brady. Still, there are worst options especially if Stidham is maintained and the team uses one of its draft picks on a QB.