After having their bid for back-to-back Super Bowl titles thwarted by the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots have some questions to answer.
Before the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off later this month, marking the unofficial start of the NFL offseason, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Patriots’ roster. We’ll examine which players stood out in 2017, which ones have some work to do this offseason and which ones could be leaving town.
First up: the quarterbacks.
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
No contest here. Brady took home NFL MVP honors this season at age 40, and there hasn’t been the slightest whisper of a quarterback controversy since the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers in October.
Brady started all 16 games for New England, playing through shoulder, Achilles and hand injuries. He led the NFL in passing yards and ranked in the top five in completion percentage (fifth), touchdown passes (third), yards per attempt (fifth) and passer rating (third).
Brady capped his 18th pro season by putting together one of the best performances ever by a quarterback in a Super Bowl — albeit one that came in a losing effort. He completed 28 of 48 passes for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions as the Patriots fell to the Eagles 41-33 in Super Bowl LII.
The quarterback depth chart really is the only option here. The veteran Hoyer is the ideal backup QB, but he’s not a candidate to eventually take over for Brady as the starter. The Patriots need to find someone who is. Which brings us to …
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINE
How early will the Patriots draft a quarterback?
Brady repeatedly has stated his desire to play until his mid-40s, and after the season he just turned in, there’s absolutely no reason to think about phasing him out. But his legendary career will end at some point within the next few years, and New England must begin preparing for that moment now.
The decisions to trade Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in 2017 left the Patriots’ roster without any potential “quarterback of the future,” making drafting one this year a must. The only question is when.
The Patriots likely won’t have a shot at selecting Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield unless they trade into the top 15, but there are other intriguing prospects beyond that top quartet, including Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Washington State’s Luke Falk and Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta.
Expect to see Lauletta, Senior Bowl MVP and a former high school lacrosse player, linked to the Patriots often in the pre-draft process.
New England currently owns five picks in this year’s draft — including three in the top 63 — and could receive more once compensatory selections are doled out. (The second-round pick they acquired from the 49ers for Garoppolo will be either No. 41 or No. 43, pending the result of a coin toss.)
BY THE NUMBERS
Nine: The number of quarterbacks the Patriots drafted during the Bill Belichick era: Brady (sixth round, 2000), Rohan Davey (fourth round, 2002), Kliff Kingsbury (sixth round, 2003), Matt Cassel (seventh round, 2005), Kevin O’Connell (third round, 2008), Zac Robinson (seventh round, 2010), Ryan Mallett (third round, 2011), Garoppolo (second round, 2014) and Brissett (third round, 2016).
44 years, 279 days: The age of the oldest quarterback ever to start an NFL game (Steve DeBerg, Atlanta Falcons, 1998). For Brady to break that record, he’d need to play until the 2022 season.