Armchair GM: Finding the Patriots' next quarterback

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Welcome to The Armchair GM, where each week yours truly, a lifetime Foxboro fanboy, elevates from weekend warrior to sofa scout and shares his personnel thoughts, wants and wishes for his favorite football team. This offseason is the most important since Bill Belichick took over as HC of the NEP, and with the departure of his former right hand talent man, Nick Caserio, we figure he could use the extra set of eyes and evaluations. Plus, given how some of the recent drafts have gone could we pick much worse?

Every installment of AGM will focus on a position of need (there’s more than one!), offering up perspective and fanalysis on prospects that could be available via trade, free agency or the draft. We’ll offer dream scenarios, great fits, likely candidates and more, factoring in budget, system, history, the works. This way you’re as armed as ever for the rebuild and redevelopment of the Patriots without having to go behind a paywall or sift through a bunch of gridiron mumbo jumbo. Real talk from a real fan about real players he’d like to see on his team real bad.

And on this, the inaugural edition, we start right where it matters most: QB.

Ah quarterback - arguably the sexiest and most important position in all of professional sports. No one has more impact or influence on the game, its outcome or a team’s fortunes - save maybe a crooked ref or the weatherman - than the QB as evidenced in New England so gloriously the previous twenty years, and painfully so this past season.

While the free agent pantry is hardly stocked, the upcoming draft is loaded with talent - mobile, strong, experienced, fast, traditional - a sparkling showroom floor of brand new talent! “What’s it gonna take for me to get you to draft...?” While arguments will be made by many as to who’s the best fit following Newton’s Folly, no disagreement is likely to be found as to QB being New England’s biggest need. Then again, it’s 2021, and people argue over anything. Plus when we think the team needs to zig Belichick has a zag up his cut-off sleeve.

Prepare to fall in love over and over again, only to have your hopes dashed against the tackling sled when none of these players are taking snaps for the Pats this fall. But hey, a fan can dream, right?

Now, let’s familiarize ourselves with the upcoming class of FA QB’s shall we?

Seeing as the Pats have a sizable free agent war chest for a change, if Bill loves a guy he can make an offer. After watching the touchdown torpor of the 2020 Pats maybe a drastic change is in order. Fortune favors the bold, right? The division is more competitive than ever, so should Bill want to shake things up, add a spark, shock the league and lock up the position with a single paycheck then maybe throwing money at a proven commodity is the way to go. Hope you’re hungry for a bombshell right off the bat, straight no chaser.

FREE AGENTS

BIG MONEY SPLASH - Dak Prescott

Yes, he’s coming off a devastating injury where his ankle went as sideways as the Pats season once Cam got COVID. And yes, there are legit concerns that his rehab road could be long, and that Prescott’s mobility, one of his greater assets, could be hampered. But should he return to form (we’re banking yes), The Dak Attack presents a dynamic plug-and-play option for the Pats. He took the Cowboys to the playoffs in two of four healthy seasons, has a 2.5/1 TD to INT ratio, a strong arm, moves well* and plays fearlessly. Prescott was in his fifth year starting in Jerry World when he got hurt, playing on a franchise tag, as he and the Cowboys have been unable to get a long-term deal worked out. If Dak wants to remain a Cowboy he has all the leverage, even injured, and knows how badly the team missed him. But if Jerry cries poverty (the Cowboys are middle of the 2021 salary cap pack) and asks Dak to take a down home discount then insert the famous Belichick walking in meme!

Some might wonder if Belichick would make a splash at QB at all, let alone on an injured one, when he played hardball with Brady and doesn’t exactly have a Super Bowl ready roster. Fact remains elite starting QBs cost money, and if Bill doesn’t want to spend years developing a QB then here’s his chance to grab a ready made starter. Dallas did all the work for you, Bill! Dak has never played for a coach half as great as Bill, so there could be levels to his play yet unlocked. Personally, I enjoy watching Prescott play. He’s a gamer who brought Mississippi State to the national stage in college, started immediately when Romo had to bow out for the Cowboys and became an instant star. He’s tough and has enough of that IT factor, definitely better than someone who was a product of his surrounding talent. However unlikely Dakota-on-Foxboro would be if Bill wants a proven starter and is cool with paying a sticker price of $35 million AAV for four years, all while hearing “Why wouldn’t you just pay Brady what he deserved?”, then come on down!

WILD CARD - Jimmy Garoppolo

Here’s the thing; we don’t know Jimmy G’s 2021 status yet. Will he be back under center in Santa Clara? Will he be a free agent for the first time? Could he be available via trade? Uncertainty swirls in the Marine Layer as the Niners brass remains semi-committal to their handsome hurler. 49ers GM John Lynch has said he “has a lot of belief in Jimmy Garoppolo” and sees no reason to restructure his big contract, but some believe coach Kyle Shanahan might feel otherwise. If he does, and the Niners decide to save money and draft a QB at 12, or make a move for someone like Kirk Cousins or Matt Ryan, then San Francisco can walk away from Garoppolo for less than a $3 million hit. And should Jimmy G shake free whose arms do we think would be wide open for him?

Jimmy the GQB was Belichick’s succession plan that he had to cut loose because Brady outplayed expectations. Bill famously kept in touch with Garoppolo out west, and has always been effusive in his praise of Jimmy. While Garoppolo has been injury plagued the last three seasons, missing 21 starts overall, his fragility would likely not scare off Bill & Josh. He’d step right in with full command of the system. No adjustments. No learning curve. He’s my No. 1 choice for 2021 starter - as a FA if Bill gave him a Bridgewater in Carolina-esque three-year $63 million deal who says no? Money still left to shop and draft, and the gang would be reunited. Imagine if he came back and picked up where he famously left off vs Miami in 2016?

REALISTIC OPTION - Ryan Fitzpatrick

This could be the most likely of scenarios, giving the ageless gamer and bearded baller a chance to complete his AFC East all-star tour. Fitzpatrick has been more FitzMagic than FitzTragic as he’s gotten older surprisingly, but he could find himself on the market once again. Can’t imagine he’d want to sit behind Tua or another Dolphins starter for another year, especially if there’s another solid payday out there where he can do what he does best; start until the rookie behind him is ready. Case Keenum and Tyrod Taylor have also made a living at this, but Fitzpatrick is the niche GOAT here.

The analytically advanced and often reliable Pro Football Focus has Fitzy taking his talents to Foxboro on a one year deal. He’s made tens of millions over his fifteen year career as a starter, backup and mentor. Should the Pats draft an early round QB and not want to rush him to the wolves then this Fitzy thinks that Fitzy would be a perfect fit. If he comes in and plays well then maybe we can forgive him for handing Brady a loss in Tom’s final regular season start for the Pats. Maybe.

DISCOUNT BIN SPECIAL - Taylor Heinicke

Where were you on Taylor Heinicke Night? Sure, Tom Brady getting his 31st career playoff win was supposed to be the headline, but Heinicke, a five year journeyman and XFL 2.0 backup, who once had a cup of coffee on the 2017 Pats practice squad, came from out of nowhere, literally, to show out vs Tompa Bay on national TV. Heinicke had just the right mix of guts, strength and gung-ho to capture our attention. And while nobody is going to give him the keys to their franchise anytime soon it wouldn’t be crazy to see him get some interest in competing for a backup spot or maybe legit playing time. We’re probably making more of this because of the romantic nature to his story, but then again America loves a good comeback, plus after the Pats went 3.5 games without a touchdown in December we’re desperate for inspiration.

TRADE FRONT

DREAM SCENARIO - Deshaun Watson

Let’s be clear; there is a greater chance of Bill Belichick sitting down with Jim Gray to explain why he didn’t play Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl 52 than there is the Pats trading for Watson. Yes, we know he’s unhappy in Houston. Of course every team with QB uncertainty should be interested. And sure, his new GM worked for our coach for the past twenty years. But before you yell, “Hey Caserio, do Bill a solid and send Watson to Foxboro!” just think about how much it would cost in draft capital and players to even start the conversation. And do the Pats have enough to get Houston to unload their best player, a Top 5 NFL QB, guaranteeing Caserio supervillain status in south Texas for the foreseeable future? Probably not. Our own Rich Keefe put a likely trade of Watson to the Dolphins (yikes!) that’s all too plausible. The Mort Report stated Miami is a place Watson might waive his no-trade clause for...but would he consider playing for Darth Hoodie? At first it sounds ridiculous, but maybe he wouldn’t rule it out altogether, given that he did once like a tweet that joked about Belichick calling for him. Far from likely, but highly desirable. He’s the real deal, total package, all of it, and only 25. Instead of ruling it out completely I’ll just let you dream of him throwing touchdowns to beat the Chiefs in a future AFC Championship in Foxboro, allowing you to return to reality and possibly Cam Newton back in New England on your own time.

POSSIBLE TARGET - Marcus Mariota

Mariota may have played his way into the second half of his two year $17 million deal with the Raiders with his surprisingly excellent relief performance vs the Chargers last December. It was the best he’d looked since his days at Oregon, moving well and throwing with strength and accuracy. It was really fun to watch, actually. Might be fun to see him in New England if he could play like that consistently. Though it’s likely he plays Vegas backup in 2021, given Carr’s injury history. And yet there are some intriguing options here. Maybe the Raiders take a $2.5 million cap hit, let Carr walk and give Mariota the job. Or maybe they cash in the chip and take a call from a team, like the Pats (Belichick and Raiders GM Mike Mayock are buds) and swap him for a third. Pretty good ROI for a former second overall bust. Maybe Vegas is in the market for a new QB all together? Can’t hurt to make the call, right? And no, I don’t want to see the Pats take a chance on Trubisky ion a similar deal the way the Raiders did Mariota. All set, check please.

THE DRAFT

DRAFT CRUSH - Zach Wilson

I am a Zach Wilson stan and make no apologies for it. If I could have any QB of any and all options this Cougar is the one. Some say nobody had a better NFL audition in a bowl game than Justin Fields and his six touchdown spectacular vs Clemson in the College Football Semi-Final. But the first half five TD show Zach Wilson put on vs Central Florida was every bit as impressive. Sure, the opponent was far inferior, but the way Wilson flashed running and throwing, playmaking all over the field, I was sold. He’s six foot of fun to watch, and rose to prominence over night. But given his one year wonder-flight to Draft Crush City (there’s one every year), and how many teams are QB needy, Wilson could get snagged by one of many teams well before the Pats pick 15th (where you know they’ll take a D-lineman you’ve never heard of). To me he checks off every box you’d want and has intangibles to spare. So what if it wasn’t against the greatest of competition while playing for BYU? Sometimes you see somebody play and just know they have IT. Wilson, to me, has IT. And even if he’s a bit of a brat so what? there’s a special place off Route One that specializes in serving heaping loads of Humble Pie. To me he’s 85 cents on the Mahomes dollar, and by the way they’re the same size and Wilson is also known for running all over and pulling plays out of his rear with ill-advised holy s**t throws from any and everywhere. So, just saying ...

QUALITY OPTION - Mac Jones

Jones, fresh off a monster performance in the College Football Championship vs Ohio State, could be the latest prospect to resurface the age old question; are Alabama quarterbacks good or just the product of their surrounding talent? Jalen Hurts looks like a gamer, and the jury is still out on Tua, but most recent Crimson Tide QBs like AJ McCarron, Greg McElroy and John Parker Wilson haven’t exactly carved out a spot in Canton. Something about Jones feels different, though. He’s polished, mechanically sound and very accurate, though again maybe I’d look that way throwing to DeVonta Smith, too. His game is sound, he acts humble and looks pro-ready, but not in that dynamic Mahomes/Russell Wilson mode. Truth be told he doesn’t have the size or arm strength of Josh Allen, nor the speed of Ryan Tannehill...honestly he’s a tough one to comp out. To me he seems Garoppolo-esque; decisive, intelligent, good footwork and a quick release (much quicker than his idol growing up in Jacksonville, Tim Tebow). Heck, if he’s big box store brand Derek Carr I’ll take him. Plus he has a great QB name - Mac Jones - and the iconic ready-made nickname with chain restaurant tie-in apeal; Big Mac Attack.

Belichick loves getting draft advice from his coach buddies, and there’s no college coach he enjoys the company and counsel of more than Nick Saban. While nobody is booking AFC Championship hotel rooms if the Pats draft Jones, a plan of Fitzpatrick and Jones (sounds like a mid-market midday sports radio show) would offer potential stability and potential for years to come. And likely throw far fewer passes to receivers feet.

OTHER POTENTIAL DRAFTEES I WILL KEEP AN EYE ON OR WATCH THE SENIOR BOWL FOR - Ian Book (Notre Dame), Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), Kyle Trask (Florida), Sam Ehlinger (Texas)

Thanks for reading. Next week on the Armchair GM, another position of great Patriot need: Wide receivers!