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Why the Patriots aren’t rushing to replace Tom Brady with a proven quarterback

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick must pick a new quarterback. (Nick Wass/AP)
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It has been more than a week since Tom Brady let New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft know that he wanted to meet, then went to Kraft’s home and told his boss of two decades that he was moving on. The Patriots have had that long to transform themselves into a landing spot in the NFL-wide game of musical chairs being played by prominent quarterbacks and to make a headline-grabbing move to put Brady’s successor in place.

They haven’t done it. They stood by and watched while Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Foles and Philip Rivers went elsewhere. They haven’t traded for Andy Dalton or Cam Newton. They haven’t jumped into the free agent fray to sign Jameis Winston. They haven’t made themselves the next destination for Joe Flacco.

The Patriots did make a quarterback move March 22, agreeing to a contract with Brian Hoyer after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts. Hoyer had multiple stints as Brady’s backup and now returns to New England on the heels of the six-time Super Bowl winner’s exit. Brady had his deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers essentially in place by March 17 and officially signed the two-year, $50 million contract March 20. The post-Brady Patriots now have Hoyer on the roster alongside fellow quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler.

Could that be it? Would Coach Bill Belichick really go into the 2020 season with Stidham, a fourth-round draft choice last year who had four regular season passing attempts as Brady’s rookie understudy, or Hoyer as the Patriots’ starter?

Perhaps.

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The Patriots “probably” are done at quarterback, according to one person familiar with the team’s planning. That plan could be flexible, according to that person, who added that it depends on which quarterbacks might become available in the future because the team is always looking to upgrade if the value is right.

If that indeed is the case, that might rule out Winston, who has been available on the unrestricted free agent market and was replaced by Brady in Tampa Bay. Winston threw for 33 touchdowns and 5,109 yards last season in Coach Bruce Arians’s “no risk it, no biscuit” Buccaneers offense. But there were those unsightly 30 interceptions, and perhaps Belichick believes that not even he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels can fix such carelessness with the football.

It also could rule out Dalton, who seemingly has been available in a potential trade with the Cincinnati Bengals as they prepare to make Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner from LSU, the presumptive top selection in next month’s draft. It also could rule out Flacco, the former Super Bowl MVP for the Baltimore Ravens who was released last week by the Denver Broncos.

It would not necessarily rule out Newton, the former league MVP for the Carolina Panthers, who has been released and might be willing to sign a modest contract. And it would not rule out the Patriots taking a quarterback in the draft.

Meet Jarrett Stidham, Tom Brady’s possible successor. He’s already on the quarterback’s diet.

But for now, at least, Belichick seems willing to take his chances with Stidham or Hoyer. Both are familiar with New England’s offense, a potentially key consideration during an offseason in which teams’ programs have been suspended indefinitely amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Many will use the 2020 season as a referendum on whether Belichick or Brady was more responsible for the Patriots’ dynastic success over the past two decades. It’s not necessarily valid, but it’s probably unavoidable. Who will fare better without the other?

Brady launches the post-Patriots portion of his career playing for a coach, Arians, known as a quarterback guru and with abundant talent around him on offense. He turns 43 in August, however, and won’t have the benefit of many — or any — offseason practices before training camp to adjust to his new offense and teammates. But he is, after all, Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback ever.

Belichick’s first post-Brady Patriots team will be coming off an opening-round playoff defeat to the Tennessee Titans. The roster has suffered key losses in free agency — linebackers Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts are among those who have departed — and salary cap space is tight. But he is, after all, Bill Belichick, arguably the greatest coach ever.

The Patriots, remember, went 11-5 (but just missed the playoffs) in 2008, with Matt Cassel at quarterback after Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. They went 3-1, recall, with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback while Brady served his four-game Deflategate suspension to open the 2016 season.

And if Belichick can win next season with Stidham or Hoyer at quarterback, it just might be his greatest coaching feat yet.

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