While the departure of Tom Brady from Foxboro has drawn ongoing headlines since last spring, the backstory of Bill Belichick’s attempt to replace the future Canton-bound quarterback has undergone a drastic trial of error, despite just a single attempt. Criticism has come in waves following Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their second Super Bowl title, ultimately escorting in a critical 2021 campaign for the New England Patriots with a trio of signal-callers eyeing Belichick’s Week 1 nod.
As the 2020 season saw New England record just seven wins, their worst total since Belichick took over head coaching duties in 2000, it’s inherently ushered in a welcomed battle for snaps at quarterback—as the Patriots used their 15th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft on former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones to pair with Cam Newton in what was originally looked upon as a two-man battle for the start.
While the addition of Newton last year looked initially as an attempt by Belichick to catch lightning in a bottle—that ultimately backfired—the selection of Jones without having to invest future draft capital was a dream come true. Jones, the leader of a dominant Crimson Tide program in2020, molds similarly to Brady when he initially entered the league—a major positive for Belichick who will attempt to rejuvenate a roster with fresh faces aplenty.
As much as the arrival of early summer has denounced the rookie (Jones) and former NFL MVP (Newton) as the de facto 1-2 on New England’s depth chart, a sway of affairs has occurred with the development and progression of third-year man Jarrett Stidham.
Stidham, a fourth-round selection in 2019 with just 48 career passing attempts as a pro, has opened eyes in Foxboro following the June injury of Newton and underwhelming performance of Jones as recently as just a week ago.
Following “notable missed throws that might have made one wonder if Mac [Jones] is ready for primetime,” Stidham’s play with the starting unit became the focus of practice as the former Auburn standout led the 1s throughout the session.
While it could be just a flash in the pan, it would be dismissive to believe Stidham, a career 7,000-plus yard passer during his time in the SEC, would be that inept under center with an impressive group of talent around him. Behind an experienced offensive line, eyeing Stidham’s potential projection to last year’s performance of Newton, who recorded just eight touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions in 15 starts, looks to be on an exponential track, if granted the opportunity.
That’s what it all comes down to.
Entering the spring and the selection of Jones, it was an afterthought to believe Stidham was anything more than a body to fill in as a thrower in practice alongside long-time backup Brian Hoyer. While Jones and Newton still remain the cream of the crop when projecting the Patriots’ final 53-man roster, if any bench boss were to surprise in his process of finding his future under center, it could be Belichick. Newton is now on the home stretch of his career with growing injury concerns, and while Jones is an uber-talented visionary with pinpoint accuracy, he’s inexperienced, and in turn, just not ready… yet.
With all things considered, including the off-kilter shopping spree to acquire the likes of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor to boost a rather unimpressive group of talent on the outside, Belichick has shown his hand this offseason, and it could be his last attempt at reestablishing glory in New England.
Jones is the future in Foxboro—you don’t have to be a whiz to figure that out—but for a Patriots team on the fringe of falling victim to the rapid improvement of their inter-division rivals in the coming seasons, don’t disregard Stidham—the soft-spoken talent who now enters his third campaign under the tutelage of Belichick, who just now could be working his way out of the shadows to prove he indeed belongs.