NFL: Preseason-Carolina Panthers at New England Patriots

Patriots QB Jarrett Stidham looks for a receiver during an exhibition game last August.

Wanted: Elite-level NFL quarterback to succeed Tom Brady.

Prior to the opening round of the first-ever virtual NFL Draft, no one was quite sure who was going to have the unenviable task of following the GOAT.

It's been tough getting a handle on the next one, or the true heir to Brady.

But now, there's a major clue on the board.

For those thinking Jarrett Stidham is going to be the successor going forward, what transpired Thursday night pretty much backed the notion. Stidham will lead the offense in the immediate future, with Brian Hoyer as his safety net.

The tip-off?

With the 23rd pick, from his basement, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the Patriots' move: A trade with the Chargers.

The Pats moved back out of the first round, got a high pick in the second (No. 37) and one in the third (No. 71).

This was a moment of truth. Had the Patriots selected another quarterback in the first round, it would have cast plenty of doubts about their faith Stidham could carry the load, and be the quarterback of the future. Instead, this is a confidence-booster. It's a significant reflection of how the former Auburn quarterback, taken by the Pats in the fourth round last year, is viewed by the brain trust.

There were plenty of whispers of a move up the board for Tua Tagovailoa, the former Alabama quarterback who might have been the first quarterback off the board, save for undergoing hip surgery last year. There were also rumors about Oregon's Justin Herbert, as well as Utah State's Jordan Love.

The Dolphins took Tua at No. 5. He didn't go tumbling down the board into the awaiting arms of Bill Belichick, as some had forecast. He landed exactly where he was supposed to go. So much for all the suspense of a dramatic fall.

Hip surgery and Tua's so-called penchant for injuries didn't scare the Fins as much as anticipated. They might have intentionally created a smokescreen of ambiguity. But Tua was their guy all along.

Naturally, the Chargers grabbed Herbert immediately after, so the best three quarterbacks, including LSU's Joe Burrow, who went first overall to the Bengals, were gone six picks in. Love went later, after the Patriots traded out of the round. The Packers moved up to No. 26 to take the Utah State quarterback.

So Belichick, maneuvering the draft from his Nantucket home, resisted the temptation to fly up the board, and surrender most of his draft assets for any of the top guns.


Stid the Kid is his man.

Belichick had thought highly enough of Stidham to dump Hoyer, and give him the No. 2 job behind Brady last year. He was Belichick's choice to back up a 42-year-old quarterback.

Naturally, the Patriots aren't openly anointing anyone. They're not going to say Stidham is the starter. They want to make Stidham compete and earn the job.

Had the Patriots moved up for Tua, or anyone else, it would have been hard to sell a legitimate open competition, especially making that type of investment.

Perhaps the Patriots will still take a quarterback on Day 2, or beyond. But it's not quite the same as going all-in with a first round pick.

Grabbing Georgia's Jake Fromm or Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts in the second or third rounds shouldn't impact Stidham this year. Both of those quarterbacks would need time to develop, and even more so with an offseason disrupted by a global pandemic, with no early camps.

Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio seemed to think there were good quarterbacks left on the board if the team wanted to add a third to the roster behind Stidham and Hoyer.

"There's still good players littered throughout the draft," he said on a video conference call after round one was complete. "Everyone just has to figure out what makes the most sense for their particular situation on their team, which is what we're trying to do."

If Stidham flops, adding on in the coming rounds will allow them to have someone else in the system to develop. But with no Tua, no Herbert, no Love, and no five-year investment with a first-round quarterback, Stid the Kid will be the quarterback under center if there's an NFL season.

Of course, they could still sign a veteran free agent, such as Cam Newton. But that's doubtful at this point.

They're bullish on Stidham. That's what the Patriots taking a pass told us.