Unless Jarrett Stidham shows that he's not your average fourth-round pick, the New England Patriots don't have a long, or short-term answer at quarterback in the wake of Tom Brady's move south. There were a few different avenues the franchise could have chosen to take this offseason (trading for Andy Dalton or taking a flier on a free agent like Jameis Winston), but instead the team chose to essentially stand pat and only brought back journeyman Brian Hoyer to help with depth at the position.
However, if the last two decades have taught us anything, it's to doubt Bill Belichick at your own peril. After a 20-year reign as the team to beat in the NFL, we're all safely assuming he has some kind of plan that will prevent the Patriots from sliding back into the dark days of yore. Back before Brady and even Drew Bledsoe, when the team was a laughingstock more seasons than not.
Right now, it's somewhat difficult to see what that plan looks like. Colin Cowherd thought he'd take a stab at it today, suggesting the Patriots kept their quarterback room as is because they're looking to earn a top draft pick next April for the opportunity to draft Trevor Lawrence.
The crux of Cowherd's argument is that New England would have traded for Dalton if it was planning on doing anything other than losing throughout the year while playing hard, à la the 2019 Miami Dolphins. The roster is barren at the skill positions and Belichick, a man who always has a plan, recognizes that using this year as a bridge to a brighter future is the best path forward.
And maybe it is! But even if Belichick agrees, it's extremely difficult to see him tanking a season for just the chance to take a high-level QB prospect. Belichick doesn't care about 2021. He's focused on 2020 and solely on 2020. The man's mantra is looking at the next snap, the next play, not what could happen in 13 months.
It seems far more probable that Belichick didn't trade for Dalton because he feels the value of whatever he would have to give up wouldn't be equal to Dalton's impact. He's never been in the business of doing something because he feels like he has to. It goes against Belichick's very ethos to not do everything in his power to win games, and not trading for Dalton is in no way an indication that has changed. None of this is to even mention the fact that the Patriots' roster is filled with NFL veterans who would be displeased if the organization decided to waste a year of their careers for a long-term plan.
Taking a step back on whether or not Belichick would actually do it, tanking for one prospect is an extremely risky move in football anyway. It isn't basketball, where a team could go from the bottom of the standings to the playoffs because they landed one elite talent. With only 10 players on the floor, the NBA is well-suited to having rookies come in and make an immediate impact. There have only been a handful (if that) of those types of players selected at the top of the draft this century. Banking on Lawrence to be one of the few special cases with a full season of football to play leaves the door open for all sorts of pitfalls. Lawrence could get injured. The Patriots could lose out on a top selection because of one or two fluky plays down the stretch. Stidham could actually be good!
Those are just some of the variables that come into play when thinking about this, and you can bet the house that Belichick has thought about all of them and more. If New England plays hard, Belichick pulls out all the stops, and the team still still finds itself selecting first overall, that's one thing. But a premeditated strategy to lose football games just isn't Belichick's style. With the little we do know about the man, I'd bet that he'd much rather go 8-8 and pick a defensive tackle with the 12th pick next year then lose games on purpose to get the chance to select a good QB prospect.
Getting "Clever For Trevor" is the easy answer for Pats fans looking for some comfort in this time of transition. But there are no easy answers in football, just as in life. Belichick would be the first to tell you that.