After a brutal loss to a 2-7 Texans team coming off a rather large win against the Ravens, it is going to take a miracle for the Patriots to make a playoff push.
Winning out to finish the season at 10-6 wouldn’t even guarantee them spot in the playoffs as it currently stands and with the up-and-down nature of this team, I wouldn’t quite expect them to do so anyways.
That being said, it is probably time to ask the hard-hitting question; what does the future look like for the Patriots at the QB position?
I took a look at the three most-likely options for the Patriots going in to next season and evaluated what I think the best outcome would be for all parties involved.
Before I get into each option, let’s start with some background.
As it currently stands, the Patriots would be picking 12th in the 2021 NFL draft, their highest selection in quite some time. Taking a look at their rest-of-season schedule, they could potentially be selecting even higher than that.
New England is projected to have the fifth-most cap space of any NFL team in 2021 at around 70 million dollars. In addition, they have 42 players under contract for next year which is the most of any team in the top-five for projected cap space in 2021.
Basically, what that means is that they can spend big on less guys instead of spending less on more guys – which is a good thing.
Now, who do they spend it on? There are a couple of big names currently rostered that will be free agents after this season. They are as follows:
- CB – J.C. Jackson
- LG – Joe Thuney
- RB – James White
- DL – Lawrence Guy
- DL – Adam Butler
- CB – Jason McCourty
- OLB – John Simon
- WR – Damiere Byrd
By my estimations factoring in age, talent level and similar players contracts I believe it would cost around 54M to bring all of these guys back next season. Here’s what I would do:
This may be controversial but I would give J.C. Jackson all the money he wants. He is a true shutdown CB that hasn’t garnered the respect of one as he has been overshadowed by Stephon Gilmore (rightly so). Gilmore isn’t getting any younger and this defense is fueled by elite players secondary play. We have seen the results when the Patriots have had shutdown corners like Ty Law, Darrelle Revis and Stephon Gilmore who all won Super Bowls with New England. As well as the contrary, which can get ugly. I think Jackson would cost somewhere in the Byron Jones range as opposed to the Jalen Ramsey range, which would be around 15-18M per year. I would get the deal done yesterday.
Personally, I would let Joe Thuney walk (that hurts to say) as you don’t want to be paying two OG’s top-of-the market contracts, and you have Mike Onwenu who looks like a stud already.
I also can see them letting Jason McCourty walk as he is getting up there in age and they have 2019 second round CB Joejuan Williams buried on the depth chart – need to see what they have with him.
I would absolutely re-sign Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler as they are the lone bright spots on that interior DL this year, and you can’t replace what they bring to the table with an overnight haul.
The rest of the guys I can see coming back on team-friendly (1-2M per year) deals. They are familiar with the system already and would cost next to nothing to retain.
I get that all of that doesn’t seem important when talking about the QB position, but the point is you are going to want to have cap flexibility so that you can weigh all of the QB options I am about to put forward.
Here are how I view the QB options going forward.
(1) Re-sign Cam Newton to a long-term deal
This move would essentially be the Patriots saying, “We have a good enough roster to win a Super Bowl as it stands, and Cam Newton is the guy to lead us there.”
Per spotrac, the estimated market value for 31 year old Cam Newton is a four year, 126 million dollar deal coming out to about 31.5 million per year.
I actually don’t hate this move as Cam has been much better than some people are giving him credit for. In fact, when you compare him to the 2019 version of Tom Brady he is actually playing slightly better in this offense. He has a lower bad throw percentage (16.1% Newton / 20.6% Brady) despite being pressured at a slightly higher rate and has a much higher completion percentage (68% Newton / 61% Brady). I could pick and choose more statistics but you get the point.
Newton has undoubtedly had a tough year, but you can expect growing pains from a QB coming off a season-ending injury with a new team and no offseason program. Despite all this, he is still playing at a high level.
If you take his last four games as a Patriot and extrapolate that over a 16-game season, he would amass these stats:
- 324 completions / 468 attempts (69.2% completion percentage)
- 3724 pass yards
- 8 passing TDs
- 0 INTs
- 98.6 Passer rating (would be on par with Tom Brady’s PR this year)
- 132 rush attempts
- 388 rush yards
- 16 rushing touchdowns
These stats don’t jump off the page, but in this run-first offensive system he doesn’t need to have gaudy numbers for this team to win.
This next tweet shows how valuable Cam Newton is to this offense much more than the stat sheet will.
This tweet sums it up perfectly. Without that October skid this team is one of the best passing offenses in the league, without Julian Edelman! I don’t know about you, but as good as they have been the WR corps aren’t the ones lifting up Cam Newton, but rather it is the other way around.
I could go on and on about the unfair Cam Newton slander, but I digress.
The Patriots could use their early first-rounder to grab a player that can help them win now, and use the rest of their cash to fill holes with veteran free agents.
(2) Let Cam Newton walk and draft QB of the future
This move would tell the rest of the team that they are in a rebuilding phase whether they like it or not. Rookie QBs drafted in the first round in 2020 have a combined record of 7-15-1 this year, and that trend holds true dating all the way back to the culmination of the league. The last QB drafted in the first half of round one that amassed more than seven wins their rookie year was Andrew Luck in 2012.
The Patriots already are pretty much out of contention for the first three picks, so it is highly unlikely they will land Trevor Lawrence, the only QB that I think is on par with Andrew Luck as a prospect.
I identified six QBs that have their name buzzing in the first round of the 2021 draft at the moment:
- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
- Justin Fields, Ohio State
- Zach Wilson, BYU
- Trey Lance, North Dakota State
- Kyle Trask, Florida
- Mac Jones, Alabama
With QB-needy teams like the Jets, Jaguars, Football Team, and possibly the Falcons and the Lions picking in front of them, I’m not sure that what they will be left with can be good enough to get this roster to the playoffs.
In a Belichick-ian system that doesn’t put rookies on the field too often, it is hard for me to see a scenario where they roll out a rookie QB for a full season while still trying to win games.
I think the roster has a lot of good pieces in place, and wasting their primes while taking time to develop a rookie starting QB will put New England in a tough spot for the next couple of years, which segues perfectly into my last option.
(3) Re-sign Cam Newton AND draft QB of the future
It sounds crazy, but it really isn’t as far fetched as the surface value will tell you. In fact, the last time a seven-plus win team drafted a QB in the top-half of the first round, it worked out pretty well for them. If you’ve ever heard the name Patrick Mahomes, that is exactly who I am talking about. The Chiefs had made a playoff push with QB Alex Smith at the helm four out of his five years there and they still moved up in the draft to select Mahomes in 2017.
After sitting for one year behind Smith, Mahomes now has an MVP and a Super Bowl ring and MVP in two seasons as a starter. I’m not insinuating that exact same scenario would happen with the Patriots should they choose to go this route, but it’s a relatively proven strategy.
Step one of this option would be to give Newton a front-loaded contract. This means that most of his guaranteed money would come in the first two years of the deal. This gives the Patriots the ability to trade or cut him (if they feel the need to) after year two of his contract and retain a lot of less dead cap.
Given the Patriots cap space compared to the rest of the QB-needy teams in the league, I don’t think Newton could turn down an offer like that at this stage in his career.
Then, with their first rounder in 2021 they take one of the top quarterbacks I mentioned before – most likely someone like Zach Wilson or Trey Lance. This will give the rookie time to learn behind a great mentor in Newton, while being able adjust to the NFL (and being coached by Belichick) without being thrown into the fire too soon.
For whatever my two cents is worth, I think this is the best option going forward. It allows the Patriots to stay competitive with above-average QB play from Newton on a relatively complete roster while also cooking up a potential storm for after Newton is gone.
In a perfect world that’s what I would like to see as a Patriots fan, but Belichick isn’t one to always go with the grain.
Regardless of what happens in this offseason, I just hope it results in better football. Rooting for a losing football team for the first time in my life doesn’t sting as much now due to the crude and surreal nature of 2020, but it will hurt a lot more once things get back to normal.
Let’s (not) finish the season strong!