The New England Patriots answered one major offseason question Friday when they retained Cam Newton for the 2021 season.
But it’s also fair to wonder what’s next for New England at quarterback since Newton is only back on board for one year.
While it’s possible that the Patriots could turn around and acquire another mid-priced veteran quarterback to compete with Newton for the starting job, adding a player like Jimmy Garoppolo, Marcus Mariota or Teddy Bridgewater ultimately is a pipe dream. It wouldn’t make a ton of financial sense to re-sign Newton and then spend even more money at the position by bringing on a high-priced retread who might not even be better than the quarterback who was retained. That money is better spent improving the rest of the team around the signal-caller New England chose Friday.
But the Patriots should keep adding at the position this offseason, and the most sensible way to do that is through the draft. There are five or six QB prospects worthy of a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Alabama’s Mac Jones and some include Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, as well. Beyond those six players, Florida’s Kyle Trask, Stanford’s Davis Mills and Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman also have garnered interest as potential Day 2 or 3 picks.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Fields, Lance or Jones could fall to the Patriots at No. 15 overall. The last time five quarterbacks were taken in the top 15 picks was in 1999. If all five do go before the Patriots are picking, New England could wind up with a major steal at wide receiver, tight end or on defense.
If the Patriots don’t want to wait around for fear of missing out, they could also move up to take one of those passers. If they elect against that, they absolutely should still spend a Day 2 pick on a quarterback for the first time in five years.
Jacoby Brissett was the last QB taken by New England over the first three rounds of the draft, and he was selected in 2016. The Patriots previously took quarterbacks in the first three rounds with regularity: Kevin O’Connell in 2008, Ryan Mallett in 2011 and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014. Since drafting Brissett, the Patriots spent a seventh-round pick on Danny Etling in 2018 and a fourth on Jarrett Stidham in 2019. It’s time to go back to that well.
One other option to fill out the quarterback room would be to find an inexpensive veteran to compete with Newton. Brissett could be a possibility depending on his market as a free agent. If the Jacksonville Jaguars acquire a veteran quarterback to groom their rookie, that could shake Gardner Minshew free for a trade.
Unless Stidham takes a major leap forward or New England locks up Newton long-term, the Patriots will be back on the quarterback hunt at this time next year if they don’t tack on another QB with some potential. They need some certainty. They need a plan. Signing Newton is Step 1 and he’ll almost certainly be New England’s starter in 2021. But they need to figure out who might be starting in 2022 and beyond.