Between some not-so-subtle hints, and lack of names on the depth chart, Jarrett Stidham figures to be the starter at quarterback, and successor to Tom Brady whenever the season starts. He’s the obvious choice.
But is he the right choice to assume that mantle at the outset?
There has been some debate recently about Bill Belichick’s mindset with regard to his opening-day starter. While Stid the Kid appears to be the man to take the baton, Belichick might be inclined to start Brian Hoyer out of the gate.
He might want to ease in Stidham, and have Hoyer, a veteran, absorb that initial wave with a partially rebuilt 2020 roster, and whatever that may entail.
Unlike with Stidham, it’s not the first rodeo for Hoyer. He’s 34, heading into his 12th NFL season. His confidence won’t be shattered or broken with losses, or poor performances. He won’t be daunted by the thought of following Brady, or if the fans are cranky and restless if the Patriots start off slowly.
Hoyer is a pro. He would take it all in stride, at least in theory.
That’s the million-dollar question. While he has plenty of physical gifts, it’s hard to know if he’s mentally ready for the job, and everything that comes with it. Can the kid truly handle it with just one year as a backup under his belt?
That’s the debate in a nutshell.
To me, it’s really no contest. Stid the Kid should be under center against the Dolphins in Week 1 for many reasons. He is absolutely the right choice.
For starters, our best barometer on the subject is Belichick. Based on the actions of the head coach and de facto general manager, the answer doesn’t appear so complicated.
Given how Belichick has handled the offseason, it’s pretty easy to surmise he believes Stidham is ready.
The biggest clues?
Beyond bringing back a quarterback in Hoyer who knows the offense inside and out, which takes on more significance given the pandemic, Belichick has passed on the rest.
He didn’t draft any of the top-tier quarterbacks, and didn’t add any free agents who might have given the Patriots a better shot than Hoyer. At least, not yet.
Cam Newton is still out there. The former Panthers quarterback might have created more buzz in the post-Brady world, and lowered the number of games oddsmakers project the Patriots as the underdog, which is seven, according to BetOnline.ag.
Whether Belichick or offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wanted to take on a quarterback with a reputation for having a diva personality isn’t the issue. In Foxborough, since Belichick took over in 2000, it’s always been about winning.
In that way, he’s put Stidham front and center. Given the lack of moves at the position in the wake of Brady’s departure, it sends out the message Belichick believes Stidham is their best shot to win.
That’s why he better be out there, starting in the opener on Sept. 13 at Gillette. Unless Belichick has something else up his sleeve, a mystery starter to be named later, Stidham needs to be the face of the quarterback room.
If he’s not, that means Belichick, the most prepared coach on the planet, a decision-maker who is always 10 steps ahead of the rest, didn’t really have a plan for Brady leaving.
If Stidham is on the sidelines holding the clipboard, it gives the appearance Belichick is winging it with the most important position on the field.
While the opening four games aren’t going to be a picnic with road trips to Seattle and Kansas City during Weeks 2 and 4, the Dolphins aren’t a juggernaut. Not yet anyway. It would serve as a good starter for Stidham, before dealing with the two powerhouses. There’s no need to run Hoyer out there and play it safe.
If Stidham’s not there Week 1, what’s the point?
As it is, the pandemic has altered the course of preparation for everyone. But that doesn’t necessarily give the edge to Hoyer because he’s a veteran. Both quarterbacks know the offense, and most of the offensive personnel. Both will be trying to get on the same page with the newcomers, be it Damiere Byrd, Marqise Lee and the two rookie tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. If anything, Stidham has a leg up with Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, having worked with them all of last season.
No one is suggesting it’s going to be easy. Replacing a six-time Super Bowl winning quarterback is daunting. But let’s not make it about preserving a precious ego. That’s never been Belichick’s style.
Either Stidham has it, or he doesn’t.
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, speaking with the Herald at the scouting combine in February, attempted to put the job in perspective.
“You’re going to have to be mentally strong, not only to just handle what it’s like to be a quarterback in the NFL, but to be able to handle that scrutiny,” Warner said with respect to following Brady. “That’s going to be the hard part, whether you have a young guy, or somebody else step in. Not only do you have to play well, but the expectations are so above and beyond. Man, I don’t know, it’s going to be interesting.”
Warner thought a veteran might be better able to handle the post-Brady repercussions, take those bullets, and bridge the gap, but no matter who it is, there really isn’t a perfect solution for handling the initial phase.
“The problem is, we have no patience in this league. We have no patience with coaches, with organizations and quarterbacks,” he said. “So, not only do you have to replace Tom Brady, but people are going to expect it to happen next week. They’re going to expect you to come in and have to win, and that’s going to be a really hard thing to do for anybody.”
Putting Hoyer in there, however, is almost like throwing in the towel. There won’t be expectations, because everyone knows what he is, what he’s been, and what’s in store.
No disrespect to Hoyer, but his primary role during his time in the league has been as a backup. Sure, let him “compete” for the starter’s job, but Stidham should beat him out based on Belichick’s support, not to mention the backing he’s already received from many of his teammates. He’s the one with the so-called upside and potential, all of which won’t be realized on the bench.
If the decision is to ease Stidham into it, protect him from the slings and arrows, how is that going to be any better for his confidence? How does that inspire the team’s belief in him, or his belief in himself?
Maybe having him come on in relief at some point to save the day has its appeal to some, but if he’s the man, treat him like the man.
Being babied is for losers.