Officially, there is no quarterback competition on the New England Patriots.
Head coach Bill Belichick declared Cam Newton as New England’s starter after taking Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and the 2015 NFL MVP has received every starting rep when healthy during open organized team activities and minicamp practices.
But realistically, another quarterback on the Patriots’ roster could pass Newton on the depth chart during training camp and the preseason.
Newton signed another one-year prove-it deal this offseason, and New England selected a quarterback in the first round of the draft for the first time since 1993. If Jones doesn’t start in 2021, then he’s certainly the favorite to enter next season as the incumbent.
And Jarrett Stidham is doing a pretty good job of making sure people don’t forget about him, as well.
So far, if there is a battle, it’s been tight between the four quarterbacks through four open OTAs and minicamp sessions. Newton is 16-of-27 (59.3 percent) in somewhat limited team reps. He missed one practice and stopped throwing early in another session because of a hand injury. Jones is 29-of-42 (69 percent) while alternating between No. 2 and No. 3 QB duties and relying on check downs. Stidham is 34-of-46 (73.9 percent) and has probably been the Patriots’ most consistently solid option so far this spring. Veteran Brian Hoyer is 22-of-34 (64.7 percent) with an interception.
Despite Newton being on the roster and Jones coming in with a first-round pedigree, Stidham still hopes to emerge as New England’s top passer.
“My goal is to be the quarterback here and to start football games for a really long time in this league,” Stidham said Monday. “The mindset of that has never changed. It never will change. Like I said, I’m going to continue to work as hard as I possibly can to really improve and continue to do what I need to do in order to get better and help this team.”
At this point, the chances do seem slim for Stidham to attain that goal. Stidham led off quarterback reps while Newton was absent but was back down to the No. 3 option behind Jones in Newton’s return to practice Monday.
Newton started 15 of 16 games in 2020, missing just one — giving way to Hoyer — after testing positive for COVID-19. Stidham passed Hoyer as the Patriots’ backup when Newton returned but completed just 50 percent of his passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions in five games as a reserve. Even after the Patriots were out of the playoff hunt, Belichick wouldn’t turn to Stidham as New England’s starter.
Stidham was expected to be the Patriots’ top quarterback last season until New England signed Newton in early July. It was a disastrous offseason for Stidham — with no minicamp, OTAs or preseason — that saw the young QB suffer an injury early in a truncated training camp when he lost his footing on the starting and backup roles to Newton and Hoyer.
But he’s still around, and Stidham feels motivated after the Patriots drafted Jones.
“It definitely fires me up,” Stidham said. “Last year, bringing in Cam before training camp, that fired me up to continue to get better and continue to grow as a player. Definitely fired up to be competing against Mac, Hoy and Cam. It’s a great room. It’s a lot of fun to be in there, but yeah, definitely fired up to compete against those guys every day.”
Newton is the favorite to start Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, but anything can happen this offseason, and we’ve already seen the Patriots’ prospective starter deal with one injury this spring.
Stidham certainly needs to continue his strong showings in the final two days of minicamp, and he needs an excellent training camp and preseason for any hope to move up the depth chart in a meaningful way.