The New England Patriots will know by the time the 2020 NFL Draft begins whether they’ll have Tom Brady playing quarterback for them in the upcoming season. But they still might use that first pick in an attempt to find the legend’s replacement.

Brady’s free agency is the No. 1 storyline of the NFL offseason for obvious reasons, but head coach Bill Belichick also must plan for the future. Even if Brady returns, the Patriots need a long-term plan for the most important position in sports, and ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. thinks the Patriots waste no time addressing that need.

In his latest mock draft, Kiper has the Patriots selecting quarterback Jacob Eason out of Washington with the No. 23 pick in April’s draft.

“Even if the 42-year-old free agent (Brady) returns on a short-term deal, the Patriots have to address the position on the first two days of the draft, so why not do it now? I like 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham’s potential, but I’m not sold on him as a long-term starter,” Kiper wrote.

According to Kiper, Eason has generated “a lot of buzz from people I talk to in the NFL lately,” noting the Huskies QB has the best arm of anyone in this class.

“It’d be ideal if he got a year or two to sit behind Brady, but he has a much higher ceiling than Stidham,” Kiper added.

Safety and linebacker are also potential targets for the Patriots, according to Kiper, who in his first mock draft had the Patriots taking Alabama safety Xavier McKinney. New England is also waiting on the free-agent decision of safety Devin McCourty, who will test the market next month, too. If he leaves, then perhaps New England looks to find his replacement.

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