Tom Brady is no longer a New England Patriot. As of writing, he hasn't decided where he's going to go next, but after releasing a statement this morning thanking the Patriots for the last two decades, he's clearly decided where he will not go. It's stunning that this actually happened after nearly a year of speculation, but it did, and now the Patriots find themselves uncertain about their quarterback position for the first time in a very long time.
There will be a lot of speculation in the coming days and weeks about what New England's plan will be going forward. But, for 2020 at least, they only have one realistic option: 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham. Brady's departure will result in a $13.5 million cap hit for a New England team that didn't have a lot of space to begin with. They won't win any bidding war for any prospective free agent quarterback like Philip Rivers or Teddy Bridgewater. Cap space can always be created, but in marginal quantities. No amount of Bill Belichick cap wizardry will create enough space to make a competitive offer to any of the starting-level free agent quarterbacks.
A trade is always in the cards, and Andy Dalton comes to mind as the most likely trade target, given he's on an expiring contract and the Bengals have no reason to keep him around. But with the significant downgrade coming at quarterback (regardless of who it eventually is), draft picks will become only more valuable. Sure, the likelihood of New England finding an impact contributor with a fourth or fifth-round pick (the likely cost for a replacement-level QB like Dalton) is quite low, but just the chance is enough to justify keeping the picks. The rest of the roster will be picking up the slack.
Unless Belichick decides to completely change his ways and put together a big package of picks to trade up in April and land Jordan Love or a falling Justin Herbert, the Patriots aren't going to find their Brady successor in this draft. The team seems to like Stidham, and there's not really a downside to starting him this year. Nobody expects Stidham to come close to filling Brady's shoes. That's an impossible task for anybody, much less a sophomore mid-round pick. If Stidham can step up and give the Patriots average QB play, that's a win. Maybe he shows enough that he can be a long-term solution. But if not, the Patriots will have more flexibility in the draft and free agency next year.
To underestimate Bill Belichick is a fool's errand, and he can always pull something out of his hat. But from where I'm sitting, New England's best bet is to reload via the draft and roll into next year with the guy they have in-house who knows the offense and earned some modicum of trust from the coaching staff after a year in the building. Stidham is the guy now, even if it may not be for very long.