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Addressing QB position will dominate Patriots' offseason once again

Mark Daniels
The Providence Journal
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham warm up before taking on the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 28 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

The New England Patriots head into the 2021 offseason with a gaping hole at quarterback. Cam Newton, 31, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for Brian Hoyer, 35. It would be a surprise if either player returns, although crazier things have happened.

The Patriots don’t have a lot invested in this ever-important position. Jarrett Stidham, 24, enters 2021 in the third year of his four-year rookie contract. He’s affordable, accounting for a $1,008,423 cap hit. That number rises to around $1.123 million in 2022.

The only other quarterback on the roster is Jacob Dolegala, 24, who spent last season on the practice squad. He signed a futures deal. He’ll be an $850,000 cap hit in 2021 – if he makes the 53-man roster. He would then be a restricted free agent in 2022.

2020 review

Simply put, it was ugly and a big reason why the Patriots finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

No one said replacing Tom Brady was going to be easy. The first season in 20 years without Brady under center was problematic. Even after he signed with Tampa Bay, the Pats had little cap space. They entered the summer with Stidham and Hoyer at quarterback before bringing in Newton before training camp.

Newton won the starting job quickly. He brought a different style of quarterbacking to New England as he set Patriots franchise records at the position with 12 rushing touchdowns and 592 rushing yards.

The bad was when he had to throw the ball. Newton finished with 2,657 passing yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged a career-low 177.1 passing yards per game. There were 33 quarterbacks in the NFL who averaged more passing yards per game than Newton and had more touchdown passes. He threw for over 300 yards in two games, but failed to reach 100 yards in four contests.

Newton may have been throwing to the worst group of receivers and tight ends in the NFL, so that didn’t help. However, his play was inconsistent. Newton lost momentum early in the season when he tested positive for COVID-19. That led to the Patriots starting Hoyer in Week 4 before replacing him with Stidham in a loss to the Chiefs.

Stidham and Hoyer had rough seasons. Stidham didn’t play well at all in training camp, which is why he started the season third on the depth chart. Hoyer’s start in K.C. was disastrous. He completed 15-of-24 passes for 130 yards to go with an interception and a fumble. He wasn’t active for a game again after that. Stidham appeared in five games last season, completing 50% of his passes (22 of 44) for 256 yards to go with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

The future

For the second year in a row, the quarterback position will dominate New England's offseason.

The Patriots will undoubtedly look to upgrade from what they had last season. By the end of 2020, it seemed like both Newton and the Pats should go their separate ways. He wasn’t a great fit in this style of offense. The Patriots would also benefit from a more efficient passer. Of course, never say never. If the quarterback market is out of control, the Pats could bring back Newton and then draft a quarterback.

What the Pats do in March, in either free agency or the trade market, will likely affect what they will do in the draft. If they bring in a bridge quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett or Marcus Mariota, don’t be shocked if they still draft a quarterback in the first or second round. If they spend a lot of money on a quarterback through free agency or trade (Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Deshaun Watson, etc.), it wouldn’t make sense to draft another one.  Another name to watch is the 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady's former backup in New England. If traded, he’ll average more than $25 million over the next two seasons.