The season is over, and in the eyes of the New England Patriots it was a failure despite their 12-4 record. On special teams they were great as usual, and their defence was #1 on the year, but the offence was a disaster and they continuously struggled to move the ball, whether that was running or passing.
The previous year’s heroics from Sony Michel didn’t emerge, Rob Gronkowski‘s retirement wasn’t dealt with, and the lack of a downfield threat at wideout really narrowed the playbook, leaving opposing defences with a clear game plan: hassle Brady.
That game plan was significantly easier with a depleted offensive line, especially after losing David Andrews at the beginning of the season, plus Marcus Cannon, Isaiah Wynn, and Ted Karras at different times in the year. To fill those gaps they had Marshall Newhouse, who is, for lack of a better term; a human traffic cone.
The Patriots started the season with arguably the best wide receiver corps in the league with Antonio Brown being added in Week 2 after his spat with Oakland; Josh Gordon recently returned from being on the commissioner’s exempt list (again); Julian Edelman, Brady’s go-to target; new first round pick N’Keal Harry; plus Phillip Dorsett, and Demaryius Thomas, a long-term target of Bill Belichick.
Unfortunately, none of that lasted. Antonio Brown lasted all of one week where he caught four passes for fifty-six yards and a touchdown before being sent packing by the ownership after allegations we won’t go in to here. The Patriots had let Thomas leave after acquiring Brown where he signed with the Jets, so after Week 2, they were down two receivers. They did eventually trade for Mohamed Sanu, bolstering the corps, but he never really got going, leaving duties to undrafted rookies Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Meyers. Dorsett missed games, Edelman battled injury, and nothing got going. After a while and under a shroud of mystery, Gordon was dropped to waivers before being picked up by the Seahawks where he eventually got suspended again.
Tight End was another issue, with Benjamin Watson being suspended for the first four games, Matt LaCosse struggling against injury, and Ryan Izzo just not being very good before also succumbing to injury.
All of this coalesced into a wall the Patriots just could not overcome, but still, is all of this indicating the end of the Patriots dynasty as we know it? Honestly, who knows – there’s a lot to assess.
Firstly, we have to talk about Tom Brady.
New England’s knight in shining armour had his worst year since, well, ever. But was it down to him?
His accuracy was off sometimes but he was under more pressure than usual with the offensive line issues, and that was evident in his play, preferring to get rid of the ball quickly as opposed to holding on to it and taking a sack, and at 42 years of age who can blame him? Still, he didn’t look himself.
Yes, he did have an offensive line with all the density of a soft spreadable cheese, and he did have a group of receivers with hands made of the same, but he didn’t really ever get going. His frustration was visible even at 9-1. His mood in the post-game interviews was dour, laced with nigh on palpable suppressed anger at their inability to put points on the board, but there were times where I questioned whether Brady had finally given up the battle with Father Time despite him finishing the season with a respectable 4,057 yards for 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
He does have people in his corner, though, who do believe he will be back – maybe not with the Patriots but he will be back. Cris Collinsworth, Tony Romo, and Randy Moss all believe that Brady will be back next year, and that the only issue is that he needs help around him.
He’s not retiring, and I never expected him to. Did you really expect a person of Brady’s competitiveness to meekly walk off into retirement after his final passing play was a Wild Card round pick-six that cost them the game? Never. He will refuse to go out like that. He is, however, hitting free agency for the first time ever, and I don’t blame him. Despite everything he’s done for the franchise, the Patriots haven’t been great to him over the last few years.
If Brady does leave the Patriots, and with a number of other quarterbacks hitting free agency, who will lead the Patriots next year?
Andy Dalton – Cincinnati Bengals
With the Cincinnati Bengals finishing the season with the #1 pick in the Draft, they’d be stupid to pass up on the talents of Joe Burrow, who has had an outstanding season leading the LSU Tigers to the SEC Championship game where they absolutely dominated the Georgia Bulldogs. He threw for seven touchdowns in one half against the Sooners in the previous round, he has fifty-five touchdowns in 2019 and is playing at an elite level.
With that, Andy Dalton would become immediately available as no doubt they’d slot Burrow straight into the offence alongside talents such as Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd. According to Peter King of NBC Sports, Belichick has his eye on Dalton, saying, “I think Bill Belichick would really like to work with Andy Dalton because Andy Dalton is a football player, you know? I think Andy Dalton would be a very compelling guy to either be their quarterback for a while or to be their bridge guy to the next quarterback.”
Dalton didn’t have the best year, but it also wasn’t the worst considering the team he’s on, posting 3,494 passing yards and 16 touchdowns in 13 games.
He does have some playoff experience after leading the Bengals there multiple times, but he has never managed to pass the Wild Card Round – you’d have to think that with Belichick and Josh McDaniels (if he stays), he’d have a great shot at finally doing that.
Jarrett Stidham – New England Patriots
Possibly the least attractive choice for Patriots fans is Stidham, who has spent his rookie year playing backup to Brady. He shone in preseason, but whilst filling in for Brady in the blowout win against the Jets, he managed to throw a pick six. Still, the rumblings are that the coaching staff have been impressed with Stidham’s progress this year, so whilst we’ve not seen a lot of his work, he’s doing something right.
If he is given the keys to the starting quarterback role, I’d imagine Patriots fans will be feeling pretty edgy all offseason, but remember – there was a time when Tom Brady had to come on and cover for Drew Bledsoe, and that’s gone pretty well, hasn’t it?
Tua Tagovailoa – Alabama
This guy, whose full name is Tuanigamanuolepola Tagovailoa (yeah), just makes sense to me, and after him declaring for the 2020 Draft it just might happen.
He’s an unbelievable talent, but he’s also a product of Nick Saban, and we all know how close Saban and The Hoodie are so I wouldn’t rule this out despite the Miami Dolphins’ love of him. Tua has struggled a little with injuries hence him not being the #1 overall pick, but I don’t see that really stopping the Patriots investing should they be inclined to.
He would be very expensive, however, and New England would have to shell out a number of picks to even get near him. With Joe Burrow and Chase Young likely to be the first two quarterbacks off the board, this makes the third and fourth picks – that are owned by the Detroit Lions and the New York Giants respectively – very interesting as neither team needs a quarterback, so would they be willing to auction them off to another team?
Tagovailoa is extremely talented. He’s calm in the pocket, he’s excellent at navigating it whilst keeping his eyes downfield. He’s not the tallest but he’s tough, has great footwork and tremendous accuracy. He can also scramble when he needs to, although he’s definitely not considered a dual-threat.
In all likelihood he goes to Miami with the #5, but watch this space.
Teddy Bridgewater – New Orleans Saints
This is my favourite option, personally. I’ve always been a fan of Teddy, so this may be more personal than logical, although I think it does make logical sense…right?
Bridgewater was fantastic during his spell filling in for Drew Brees this season, leading the Saints to a 5-0 Brees-less record, and tallying 1,384 yards and 9 touchdowns.
His accuracy was up at 68%, too, which will no doubt appeal to the Patriots considering their well drawn up system reliant on the QB finding the target with regularity. Still, it may well come down to whether Drew Brees remains a Saints player or not. It would alleviate the Saints’ need to hit the market for a quarterback if he does decide to call it a day. I wouldn’t bet on that happening, though, as Drew loves him some football. The Patriots definitely have the draft capital to make this a worthy consideration.
Marcus Mariota – Tennessee Titans
Okay, as a Patriots fan myself, I am not in to this one after his play this year which was highlighted by what Ryan Tannehill was able to come in and achieve. Still, Mariota is only twenty-six years of age, there’s no denying he has talent, and he actually rarely turns the ball over which will be a selling point for him this offseason.
Another major upside is that he’d likely be very cheap with the Titans just looking to get him off their books and re-signing Tannehill. He does have lots of upside for minimal monetary risk, but… the idea of him under centre at Gillette in Patriots colours gives me the jitters.
Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
What about Cam lining up under centre at Gillette in Pats colours, eh? It’s a good image providing the guy can get healthy. When healthy, Cam is one of the most polarising players in the league – able to dominate with his size and power on the run, but also able to throw. He’s been dogged by injuries over the years, but he’s still a former league MVP and he still has that magic; it’s probably hung up in his locker next to his questionable post-game attire.
The Panthers seem to be moving in a new direction after the firing of Ron Rivera, so the next logical step in their rebuild is to move on from their injury-plagued quarterback. Bill Belichick and a healthy Cam Newton would be a force to be reckoned with, and you can bet Cam’s floral little bonnet that he’d be diving on that ball if he were a Patriot. You all know which play I mean.
Gardner Minshew – Jacksonville Jaguars
Is it time for Minshew Mania to hit the north east? Well, Jacksonville are in a bit of a tough situation now that they’ve got Minshew and a completely untradable Nick Foles. They need some picks, and Minshew might just be their best asset they can afford to lose. Minshew has been solid in 2019, too, showing accuracy, scrambling ability, the ability to come up clutch, and an all-powerful moustache.
Josh Rosen – Miami Dolphins
I wrote about this last year on the day he was traded that it wouldn’t work out in Miami for Rosen because he was going from dumpster fire to dumpster fire, and that a team could get a good young passer with need of nurturance at a steal. He has a good football brain but he’s not an “ideas guy”, he’s not an instinctive free-flowing player, but you don’t need to be when you have Bill Belichick.
The mantra of “do your job” fits Rosen well. Rosen is the kind of quarterback to know his reads, and read them well. He’s very formulaic, just like the Patriots organisation, and let’s be honest: the kid deserves a break.
Anyway, the likelihood is that New England gets Brady for another year, at least that’s what I’m hoping. I’d hate to see him in another team’s colours.
It’s going to be an exciting off-season…