It's hard to believe, but the Tom Brady era is over in New England. After 20 seasons, the six-time Super Bowl champion has signed with Tampa Bay. Brady announced on Twitter on Tuesday morning that he would be moving on, and now the Patriots find themselves in an unfamiliar place.
The last time Brady didn't suit up for the team was the 2008 season, when he missed all but the first game with a torn ACL. With backup Matt Cassel taking over, the Pats still won 11 games but missed the playoffs because of a tiebreaker. But the last season that didn't involve at least one Brady pass attempt was 1999.
Whoever replaces Brady will have massive shoes to fill, and the pressure will immediately be on. With the Bills' big offseason additions of Stefon Diggs and Josh Norman, the Patriots will likely no longer be prohibitive AFC East favorites.
Let's take a look at who could start for the Patriots this fall.
Right now, Stidham is atop the Patriots depth chart, so he's as good a bet as anyone. A fourth-round pick in 2019 out of Auburn, Stidham was not expected to step in and start this soon, but he has the potential to be a long-term starter. More than likely, the Patriots will bring in some competition and let Stidham develop for another year or two, but he has the opportunity to impress in camp and force the team's hand.
The Panthers are saying goodbye to their former MVP quarterback as they embark on a retooling, the question is now where he will land for next season. Perhaps Newton could be had for their third-round pick or a future second, as cheap as that sounds. DeAndre Hopkins was had for much cheaper. No quarterback on the market has an upside as high as Newton, and the Patriots should absolutely take a shot at him. Whether or not he's an upgrade over Brady in 2020, he'll certainly be better several years from now.
A mystery rookie
Bill Belichick hasn't been afraid to draft quarterbacks as potential Brady successors (think Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo, and three more in the past four years), but would he pick someone to be a Day One starter? The Patriots won't be able to land Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, or Justin Herbert, and Jordan Love looks increasingly out of reach. But there are plenty of other intriguing options that the Patriots could consider at No. 23 or later in the draft. One that sticks out is Jacob Eason, who has a massive arm and quite the pedigree as the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class.
Brissett was one of those quarterbacks the Patriots drafted as a possible Brady successor, but they dealt him to the Colts in 2019 when Andrew Luck went down with a shoulder injury. They could be in for a possible reunion since the Colts have been tied to Philip Rivers and, yes, Tom Brady, in free agent rumors. Brissett doesn't have the upside of other options on this list, but he should be available for cheap in a trade if the Colts replace him, and he does have age (27) on his side.
If the Patriots are looking for a stopgap option to bridge the Brady and Stidham (or Eason) eras, and he's probably still good enough to take them to a 12th straight division title. Although his interceptions have always been an issue, he continues to put up impressive numbers as the only quarterback to throw for at least 4,200 yards in each of the last seven seasons. He also posted a 66.0 percent completion rate and 7.8 yards per attempt last season, both of which were at or above his career averages.
[Editor's note: On Tuesday afternoon it was reported that Rivers had come to an agreement with Indianapolis on a one-year, $25 million contract.]
Dalton isn't exactly an exciting option, but he is available. With the Bengals locked in on Joe Burrow with the top pick, Dalton will likely not start another game in Cincinnati. Dalton has long been a replacement-level starter, one who you can win with but probably won't win because of. Is that what the Patriots are looking for? Patriots fans are certainly hoping for more.
Rosen has been terrible in his first two pro seasons, although he had little chance to succeed in Arizona or Miami with two terrible offensive lines and rookie coaches. It's easy to forget that he was a top-10 draft pick just two years ago and one of the most highly touted college quarterbacks at UCLA. Rosen is unlikely to lead to Pats to the playoffs in 2020, but he still has a chance to be a long-term starter, and the Patriots have an opportunity to pick up a recent top-10 pick for very cheap.
Now we're getting into the big stretches. Few players are as inconsistent as Winston, as his league-leading 5,109 passing yards and 30 interceptions show. Winston is only 26, but he has yet to show that he cares about ball security, and that makes him a bad fit with Bill Belichick. Still, perhaps New England thinks it can straighten him out and fulfill his No. 1 pick potential in a new home.
Foles is the reason Brady didn't win a seventh title in New England, and would he really have left town if he had won three straight Super Bowls and four in the last six years? It's hard to say. What is clear is that the Jaguars do not want Foles around anymore after Gardner Minshew II showed that he can be a starting quarterback for 32 times less salary. It may take some creative maneuvering to get New England to take on the $33.9 million in dead money remaining on his contract, but he would be a safer option than some on this list.
[Editor's note: On Wednesday, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded Foles to the Chicago Bears for a fourth-round draft pick.]
Former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota was considered an option to land in New England before he signed with the Raiders, so that could free Las Vegas to shop Carr. The soon-to-be-29-year-old hasn't lived up to expectations, and head coach Jon Gruden seems ready to move on, but Carr's 7.9 yards per attempt, 70.4 percent completion rate, and 100.8 passer rating are nothing to scoff at. It remains to be seen what he might cost in a trade.