Training Camp Positional Battle Preview: Quarterback
Undoubtedly the biggest question moving forward with the New England Patriots will be the name of their starting quarterback come Week 1 of the 2020. It has been a long time since the Patriots last had a question in that category.
There were times in Brady's long reign with the Patriots where the front office brought in quarterbacks that put pressure on TB12 to improve and perform even better. Jimmy Garoppolo is obviously the most notable. However, even then, the position was never really being evaluated. Garoppolo was more being groomed to become Brady's heir apparent. After those plans went south, Jarrett Stidham was another player who lurked in the shadows, learning from arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.
Then, Brady himself literally went south, almost giving Stidham the starting job by default. However, after the late offseason signing of Cam Newton, Stidham went from being the clear cut starter to a man in a two man race. A race to the home opener against the Miami Dolphins to begin this 2020 NFL season.
That's why the quarterback position is the first positional battle we will review just ahead of training camp. Let's go through the ins and outs of what's at stake at QB for the Patriots this upcoming season.
Brady's Successor: Stidham or Newton?
A lot of debate has already been had on the topic and many have different views on the situation. At the end of the day, the person to win this race will be the guy most ready to handle the Patriots offense.
Being the starting quarterback that immediately succeeds Brady is no easy task. The spotlight will be bright, expectations will be high, and mistakes will likely be amplified by a thousand. Preparing to be the successor to Brady is seemingly an impossible task, as no one prepares for games better than Brady himself.
However, both Stidham and Newton will be competing to be the next man up, which will happen on a shortened offseason with lots roster turnover, coaching changes, and possible playbook adjustments.
On top of that, both players have glaring red flags about their potential ability to play the game at a high level. Newton has found himself ladened with injuries over the last couple seasons, including a foot injury that sidelined him for 14 games last season. On the flip side, Stidham has yet to prove anything at all on a pro stage and couldn't even be a consistent passer at the college level.
High Stakes, Big Pressure, All or Nothing
The adversity and expectations are high, however, another point to make is that Newton and Stidham are in unique points in their career, which makes the starting job a little difficult to project. Both players are playing with high stakes.
For Newton, not only is he on a revenge tour to prove teams wrong and eventually earn some real money after his outrageously inexpensive one-year deal with New England, but a failure to impress would likely cripple his career as we know it and prevent him from meeting his incentives on top of that. Failing to best a young, inexperienced player like Stidham would not be a glowing addition to his resume and it would become even tougher to find a squad to play for.
It was tough enough for Newton already as the Patriots were one of the few teams to truly express real interest. Losing this battle would effectively write-off Newton as a has-been quarterback to many around the league. A quarterback who could have excelled and had long-term success, but instead durability crippling that possibility.
For Stidham, a quarterback who New England likes a ton, he has an opportunity to prove himself and show he is capable of being a starting quarterback in the league. After sitting his first year behind Brady, he has developed a ton behind the scenes. However, his lack of experience on a true stage and his previous consistency issues could land him on the bench, behind Newton this season. While it seems rather insignificant now, Newton could impress in his first year with the Patriots and get franchise tagged by the team the following year, maybe even sign an extension. Stidham, once deemed the heir apparent to Brady, could end up spending half (or even more) of his rookie deal, on the bench.
As Stidham gets older he might be learning all kinds of things on the sideline. But, he isn't in the game, learning from mistakes, developing and growing as an athlete, player, and starting quarterback. Stidham could end up making his first start at 25 or 26 years old, will still have a learning curve to adjust to, and have his rookie contract expire one, two, or three years later, while in the meantime, he still has not proved much of anything in the league. While it's not necessarily "do or die" for Stidham, Newton starting could have a lot of fallout on his potential career as a starter.
What Both Players Will Need to Do This Summer
Both Jarrett Stidham and Cam Newton will be taking first team reps at some point during this summer, and they will both try to shake off their previously mentioned red flags.
For Newton, a positive result from his physical will be a big step in the right direction. From every video he has posted on social media, he hasn't really shown any evidence of injury and his body appears to be in top physical shape. However, sometimes highlight tapes can be deceiving.
If Newton can have a positive physical and then go through camp without any of his body parts holding back his movement or throwing motion, the job would likely be his to lose, in dramatic fashion too. A healthy Newton likely blows Stidham out of the water in training camp.
The only other thing that could hold back Newton from the starting job is learning a new playbook through all the adversity that was previously described. Newton already described New England's playbook as 'calculus' in a social media post recently.
Newton's adjustment time is very limited, and whether he can build trust and relationships with his teammates and coaches is something to keep an eye on. Those important factors are part of that preparedness that Belichick looks for.
This might be one way in which Stidham has an edge. Stidham has a year of familiarity in the Patriots offense, he knows the defensive tendencies of the team, and is more acclimated to the players, system, and everyday demands of the six-time Super Bowl champions.
Stidham will need to make the most of training camp to prove he can consistently string together promising performances against good competition. Otherwise, Newton's lack of experience in the New England system will be a wash to Stidham's lack of overall NFL experience.
Stidham will have to be extremely convincing against a healthy Newton, as there are likely plans in the making to put in play designs solely for a healthy and mobile Newton. Stidham would have to be very, very good during the summer for Josh McDaniels and company to abandon those blueprints and side with him as opposed to Newton.
Verdict on the Starter
Both players are very hard to project, as the most recent film on both are hard to sum up and draw conclusions off of. That being said, from what is known and concrete, a healthy Newton has a leg up and should win this quarterback battle. Unless Newton can't seem to click in the system, he should be the starter.
However, with the Patriots really liking Stidham a lot, Belichick and McDaniels are going to make this a competition and try to give Stidham every chance he can get to upset a healthy Newton. By giving Stidham ample chances, the hope will not so much be that Stidham unseats Newton as the day one starter, but instead it will more be to create a high-pressure battle that forces both players to put their best foot forward every day.
At the end of the day, I personally think that a healthy Cam Newton does a lot of things that Stidham, Hoyer and Brady can't do. The different ways in which McDaniels and the coaching staff can craft up ways for Newton to succeed are endless. That very idea, the idea that a healthy Newton can change the way in which New England plays the game, would be too intriguing to an offensive coaching staff to just abandon and hand the job to a more traditional QB like Jarrett Stidham.