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 New England Patriots’ roster. We’ll examine which players stood out in 2018, which ones have some work to do this offseason and which ones could be leaving town.
First up: the quarterbacks.
Danny Etling (practice squad)
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
Gotta be Etling. You guys saw that touchdown run he had last summer, right?
OK, this honor obviously goes to Brady, who further cemented his status as the greatest quarterback of all time by winning his sixth Super Bowl title. But Brady, who will be 42 when the 2019 season begins, was not the statistical marvel he was during his 2017 MVP campaign. In fact, his numbers declined in nearly every category. He ranked 18th in completion percentage and 12th in passer rating and threw double-digit interceptions (11) for the first time since 2013.
The knee injury Brady suffered in Week 10 didn’t help matters — he lacked his usual pocket presence in the weeks that followed — but the surefire Hall of Famer also made more questionable decisions than he had in previous years, resulting in several picks, sacks and fumbles.
In the playoffs, Brady threw more interceptions (three) than touchdown passes (two, by far his fewest in any three-game postseason since 2001) and wasn’t among the four or five players that deserved consideration for the Super Bowl MVP award that ultimately went to Julian Edelman.
That’s not to say Brady was bad, though. He most certainly was not. At times, he was very, very good, like in the fourth quarter and overtime of the AFC Championship Game. And even a slightly diminished Tom Brady still is better than the vast majority of NFL quarterbacks.
It’s hard to single out anyone here. The 33-year-old Hoyer is no QB of the future, but he’s everything a team would want in a backup. Defensive players raved about his work with the scout team this season. And Etling didn’t look great last summer, but that’s to be expected from a player drafted in the seventh round. The LSU product was heavily involved with the team this year despite being on the practice squad, so it’ll be interesting to see what his game looks like come spring.
TOP OFFSEASON STORYLINES
1. Will Brady sign an extension? That seems extremely likely after comments Brady and team owner Robert Kraft made during Super Bowl week. Brady reaffirmed his desire to play until he’s 45, and Kraft said he “would be quite surprised if (Brady) didn’t continue for quite a while as our quarterback.” Brady is entering the final year of his contract and currently is set to take up $27 million in salary cap space — a number the Patriots can lower by extending him.
2. Will the Patriots draft a QB? And if so, how high? This question was debated ad nauseam ahead of last year’s draft, and New England surprised everyone by waiting until the seventh round to select Etling. Now, Brady is one year older, and the Patriots still don’t have an obvious successor on their roster.
The 2019 draft is thought to have less top-end QB talent than 2018, which saw a whopping five signal-callers go in the first round, but there are a few intriguing names out there. Duke’s Daniel Jones, in particular, has been mentioned as a potential Patriots fit if they look to address this need in the first few rounds.
3. What do the Patriots have in Etling? As mentioned above, Etling didn’t look ready for the NFL stage in his first training camp and preseason, struggling mightily with accuracy on short and intermediate passes. The team liked him enough to bring him along on all 10 road trips during the season, however, and his responsibilities were much greater than those of a typical practice squadder. He’ll certainly be a player to watch once offseason practices begin.
Patriots offseason preview: Running backs (Feb. 12) | Tight ends (Feb. 13) | Wide receivers (Feb. 14) | Offensive line (Feb. 15) | Defensive line/ends (Feb. 18) | Linebackers (Feb. 19) | Cornerbacks (Feb. 20) | Safeties (Feb. 21) | Specialists (Feb. 22)