With Tom Brady deciding to leave the New England Patriots after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl championships to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Head Coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots find themselves in uncharted territory. For two decades, players and coaches have come and gone in New England, but two things have always remained the same: Belichick and Brady. Now, as the Patriots begin to plan for the 2020 season and an offseason disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak, they face a unique challenge: what is going to happen at the quarterback position?
Enter Jarret Stidham.
The 23-year old fourth-round pick out of Auburn is in line for the biggest challenge of a professional athlete’s career, which is succeeding arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time. Obviously, there is no replacing the production and legacy of Brady, but the Patriots need a quarterback who can preserve the standard of success and discipline that the Patriots organization has spent decades building, and Stidham is just the man for the job.
Anyone who enters the Patriots’ system will be faced with adversity, and the mark of a Patriot is how he is able to overcome the challenges of a grueling season. Stidham certainly has experience in this area.
After Stidham’s successful freshman year at Baylor was cut short due to an ankle injury, the football program was rocked by sexual assault allegations that led to firing Head Coach Art Briles. Following Briles’ firing, Stidham left Baylor and took a season off in which he played scout team quarterback for a local Texas high school to stay sharp, and then he transferred to Auburn.
His journey to the NFL has been anything but easy, and in New England, his experience with overcoming adversity will serve him well.
Stidham has a strong arm and can flourish in a pass-heavy offense. More importantly, he has the intangibles that lead to success in New England. Everyone knows about Brady’s embarrassingly slow 40-yard dash time at the combine, or his doughy physique as an NFL rookie. He was never mistaken as the poster child for athleticism, but his preparation, decision making and competitive spirit propelled him to on-field success.
While Stidham may be slightly more athletic than Brady (certainly faster), that is less important to a Belichick-led team than his preparedness and decision-making. While the results have been mixed, especially in a garbage time appearance against the Jets in 2019, Stidham has spent a year learning the Patriots system under Brady and Belichick. In October of last year, Belichick even went so far as to credit Stidham being able to handle “everything [the organization] has thrown at him,” which, for Belichick, is about as good as you are going to get.
This brings me to what I believe to be the most overlooked advantage Stidham has. He is not a rookie. With rumors (and maybe hopes) of the Patriots trading draft picks for Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Oregon’s Justin Herbert or even Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, analysts and fans overlook the most valuable intangible of all: Stidham’s experience learning under Tom Brady.
For an entire season, Stidham witnessed the greatest quarterback in history go about his daily routine and prepare for games at the highest level. Jarret Stidham learned how to be a quarterback in the NFL while studying the Patriots’ offense under Brady. Does anyone really believe a rookie quarterback with no professional experience, or a free agent unfamiliar with the Patriots’ system, is more prepared than Stidham to take the reins? I certainly do not, and I would suspect that Bill Belichick does not either.
As with any young quarterback, there will be hiccups, failures and teaching moments. Stidham will not be perfect, and no one can replace Brady. Even with the odds seemingly stacked against him, Stidham has the makings of a solid quarterback in the NFL. With the right pieces around him, he can win games at the highest level. Tom Brady is gone, and a new era of successful Patriots football is beginning. This time, with Jarret Stidham under center.