Baker Mayfield broke out in first season with the Buccaneers, and he’s become a marquee free agent who should be on the New England Patriots’ radar.

The 2018 No. 1 pick’s career seemed to be over after the Cleveland Browns unceremoniously kicked him out for Deshaun Watson. Mayfield failed to showcase his talents in 2022 with the Carolina Panthers and Rams, though he did show flashes in his short stint in Los Angeles. However, a season under offensive coordinator Dave Canales and reuniting with former Texas A&M teammate Mike Evans proved to be exactly what Mayfield needed as he led Tampa Bay to another NFC South crown and an upset win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round.

Mayfield signed a prove-it deal with the Buccaneers, who will try to re-sign him. But there will be competition for the 28-year-old, and the Patriots should be part of that pursuit.

New England failed to come up with an actual succession plan, and in the first season without Tom Brady, it signed Cam Newton, who had a fine season in 2020. Mac Jones was supposed to be the quarterback of the future, in Robert Kraft’s eyes at least, but he failed, which leaves the Patriots going back to the drawing board. There are a lot of needs outside of quarterback, and that’s why there’s been much debate over whether or not New England should take a QB with the No. 3 pick.

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If the Patriots don’t plan on taking a signal-caller in the first round, Mayfield could be an option for the next four or five years. Spotrac projects Mayfield’s contract to command a $27.1 million average salary. That cements him into the tier two of quarterbacks in the league, but it also gives the Patriots a known commodity. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt worked with Mayfield in Cleveland and familiarity will help keep the sixth-year quarterback progressing during his prime years. He was 11th in combined EPA and completion percentage over expected in 2023, and an efficient passing game mixed with a strong run game can keep the Patriots competitive as long as the defense maintains its top-10 production.

Signing Mayfield wouldn’t be a complete rebuild as drafting a quarterback at No. 3 would be nor would it be going the full veteran route like signing Russell Wilson or Kirk Cousins would be. Mayfield is young enough to be a franchise guy to get you in the playoffs that Kraft so desperately wants for the Patriots.

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New England also could follow the Jared Goff plan.

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Goff’s career path took multiple directions after the Rams traded him to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. General manager Brad Holmes assembled a talented squad that accelerated the team’s timeline to where they made the NFC Championship Game in 2023. It’s likely they’re going to keep Goff, but since the 2021 trade, the Lions always have been linked to a quarterback in the draft for Goff to be a bridge option. The closest Detriot came to that situation was Hendon Hooker in last year’s draft, but he was recovering from an ACL injury.

What this means for Mayfield is the Patriots could sign him to a mid-tier contract and wait on a quarterback in the draft if they aren’t infatuated with this year’s class. The 2025 quarterback doesn’t look great in early spring this year, but that could change depending on how the college football season plays out.

The Patriots essentially would be having one door in on a franchise QB with Mayfield and having one foot outside of the door for whoever falls into their lap. It could be a scenario the franchise goes with if the Krafts simply want a team that competes every week and consistently makes the postseason.

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