The New England Patriots enter the 2021 NFL offseason with major questions at quarterback.
Will Cam Newton be back after his subpar debut season? If not, who takes over? A lower-level bridge starter like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Jacoby Brissett? Or a bigger splash like Jimmy Garoppolo or Matthew Stafford?
And then there’s the draft. With Jarrett Stidham showing little “quarterback of the future” potential this season, should the Patriots target another QB prospect? If so, how high?
As the Patriots ponder these questions ahead of the most important offseason of the Bill Belichick era, we took a look at the 14 teams competing in this year’s postseason to see where they found their QBs:
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
Drafted: First round, 10th overall, 2017
2. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen
Drafted: First round, seventh overall, 2018
3. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
Drafted: First round, 11th overall, 2004
4. Tennessee Titans: Ryan Tannehill
Drafted: First round, eighth overall, 2012
Acquired: Trade (2019)
5. Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson
Drafted: First round, 32nd overall, 2018
6. Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield
Drafted: First round, first overall, 2018
7. Indianapolis Colts: Philip Rivers
Drafted: First round, fourth overall, 2004
Acquired: Free agency (2020)
1. Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Drafted: First round, 24th overall, 2005
2. New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees
Drafted: Second round, 32nd overall, 2001
Acquired: Free agency (2006)
3. Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson
Drafted: Third round, 75th overall, 2012
4. Washington Football Team: Alex Smith
Drafted: First round, first overall, 2005
Acquired: Trade (2018)
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady
Drafted: Sixth round, 199th overall, 2000
Acquired: Free agency (2020)
6. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff
Drafted: First round, first overall, 2016
7. Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky
Drafted: First round, second overall, 2017
— Twelve of the 14 playoff quarterbacks were drafted within the first 32 picks, including all seven AFC QBs. (Brees was the first pick in the second round back when the NFL only had 31 teams.) The only exceptions are two generational talents: Wilson (third round) and Brady (sixth round). Eight were top-10 picks, and another went 11th. Three — Mayfield, Smith and Goff — went first overall.
Is it possible to find starting-caliber signal-callers outside of the first round? Yes. But it’s significantly more difficult.
The Patriots currently own the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, which could put them out of reach of elite QB prospects Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. Alabama’s Mac Jones is one possibility but could be a reach at that spot.
— Tannehill and Smith were acquired via trade. Brady, Brees and Rivers signed in free agency. The other nine teams found their quarterback through the draft.
— Having a talented young quarterback on an affordable rookie contract is a tremendous roster-building asset, as it gives a team extra salary cap space to devote to other positions.
Each of the last three Super Bowls featured one team with a QB on a rookie deal: Kansas City’s Mahomes last year, the Rams’ Goff in 2018 and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz in 2017 (who missed the game due to injury). Having Wilson on a rookie contract also helped Seattle to build teams that reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013 and 2014.
While that streak could continue, those teams are in the minority in this year’s postseason. Just four 2020 playoff teams have their top QB on a rookie deal: Buffalo, Baltimore, Chicago and Cleveland.
— Nine of the 14 playoff QBs carried a salary cap hit of more than $20 million this season. Four were at $25 million or above:
Wilson: $31 million
Goff: $28.8 million
Brady: $26.6 million
Rivers: $25 million
Roethlisberger: $23.8 million
Brees: $23.7 million
Tannehill: $22.5 million
Rodgers: $21.6 million
Smith: $21.4 million
Trubisky: $9.3 million
Mayfield: $9 million
Allen: $5.9 million
Mahomes: $5.3 million
Jackson: $2.6 million
Mahomes signed a monster 10-year, $450 million contract with the Chiefs last offseason, but the structure of the deal gave him a modest cap hit for 2020. That number will balloon to $24.8 million in 2021, $31.4 million in 2022 and $42.5 million in 2023.
The Colts devoted more cap space to the quarterback position than any other team in the NFL, with backup Jacoby Brissett also carrying a cap hit of $21.4 million.