There is one quarterback decision we’re not talking a great deal about this offseason, despite the fact that it will end up being the most significant. This is not to insult Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson, but unless either of them is going to a team like the 49ers, who are legitimately one transcendent superstar away from winning the Super Bowl, it will likely generate more in terms of media attention and uniform sales than anything else. (Wilson’s agent recently listed the Cowboys, Saints, Bears and Raiders as preferred destinations; of the teams on that list that could even facilitate a trade involving multiple first-round picks, are any of them just one Russell Wilson away from a Super Bowl?)
The Patriots are without a quarterback at a fascinating time. The Cam Newton era, which, in another world and at another place in Newton’s career arc, might have been the perfect bridge to a new brand of football beyond Tom Brady, was not enough to propel New England into the postseason. Their “down” year consisted of a 7–9 record with wins over a handful of good teams and their first missed playoff berth in more than a decade. It seems they are now on the lookout for another option.
Bill Belichick is presumably getting more of his defensive starters back alongside a great deal of cap space and one of the highest draft picks he’s had as a head coach in New England. Who he picks to operate under center, or who picks him, will speak volumes about where the rest of the NFL is headed for a few reasons.
While I would never argue that Brady’s Super Bowl championship in Tampa legitimized the idea that he was the brains behind the Patriot Way in New England, we all heard former Patriots during Super Bowl week echo that idea. It may not be a correct perception, but it is now a perception that exists in the NFL’s collective psyche. How does that impact, if at all, Belichick’s ability to continue luring premium talent on affordable deals with the idea that he can magically hoist them into the playoffs with his sheer force of brain power? Does Brady’s success elsewhere lower his old team on the totem pole for a prospective free agent or player with a no-trade clause who can effectively force his way out of town? While it’s not surprising that the Patriots were not on anyone’s leaked list of preferred trade destinations (Matt Stafford, reportedly, specifically asked not to be traded to New England), it is notable so far. This ties into the fact that Patriots assistants and executives have been leaping off the bandwagon for some time now and raises questions about how they might feel about the state of things.
If Belichick manages to score a top quarterback on the market—betting service PointsBet recently listed Marcus Mariota as the odds-on favorite, followed by Newton, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jarrett Stidham, Andy Dalton, collegiate quarterbacks Mac Jones and Trey Lance, and Derek Carr—how does a rebirth of the Patriots’ machine affect the plans and expectations of everyone else in and around football? For example, there is a good chance the Bills are going for it this offseason while Josh Allen is still on his rookie contract and coordinators Brian Daboll and Leslie Frasier are still in town. There’s a good chance the Jets are looking at drafting a rookie quarterback or trying to formulate a presence in the Watson sweepstakes. There’s a good chance the Dolphins view themselves as one or two key pieces away from lording over this division for some time.
Belichick’s reestablishing the fact that he is the greatest head coach in modern NFL history and attaining a quarterback befitting of that notion—something that would not only affect the AFC East, but our thoughts on the future of the Chiefs’ potential dynasty and beyond—will almost certainly matter more in the lives of the lay NFL fan than one of these other superstar quarterbacks moving to a new place that has sacrificed so much draft capital to attain them that it will somewhat negate the quarterback’s presence in the first place.
Belichick’s failure to do so would also speak volumes about what the NFL will look like over the next decade.