Curran: Your guide to Patriots' quarterback options for 2021


Will the Patriots run it back with Cam Newton next season or scour the market for another quarterback? That depends on what the QB market looks like. Tom E. Curran has you covered with a comprehensive look at QB options for 2021.

16 photos

Earlier this week, I wrote that one year of Cam Newton in New England was probably enough. Some folks agreed. Some disagreed. But all asked the same question in response to my stance. “If not him, then who?”

Obviously, drafting a quarterback is a possibility. And the team still has Jarrett Stidham under contract for next year. But when the 2021 league year begins March 17 and free agency opens, there will be a handful of Newton-type options hitting the market.

In addition to the players with expiring contracts, speculation is rife that there’s a handful of others that could be released or traded. So here’s some one-stop shopping for you on possible fits for 2021 – Cam included. The player’s current situation, what has to happen for him to land in New England and whether or not he seems like a fit – it's all there.

Enjoy. Feedback is embraced.


Age: 32

Current situation: Mired in perpetual awful with the Lions who will reboot again with a new coach and GM after this year. They'll likely have a top-10 pick if they want a QB. He’s still a very good player but injuries and fatigue of wearing Honolulu Blue for more than a decade are setting in.

The Path to Foxboro: He’s got two years left on his deal and the Lions will take almost a $20 million hit in dead money if they trade or release him but they’d save $62M. If the Patriots traded for him, they would assume his salaries of $9.5M in 2021 and $12.5M in 2022.  

The fit? Poor. If he’s released and gets to pick his destination, the Patriots are not an attractive spot with their best wideout being 34-year-old Julian Edelman and no proven tight ends. Also, if Josh McDaniels leaves for a head coaching gig, who’s Stafford working with? A fairly new OC in Jedd Fisch?

For New England, there are less expensive options with more upside out there. Although if they did make a trade for him, the salaries are so modest he might immediately ask for a new deal.


Age: 23

Current situation: Quarterback for the winless Jets who are headed directly for a winless season and the No. 1 overall pick where the newest anointed one, Trevor Lawrence, awaits. Darnold, of course, was semi-anointed in 2018 when he was the No. 3 overall pick.

The Path to Foxboro: If the Jets decide there’s only room for one sheriff in their quarterback room, Darnold becomes expendable. The Jets would never release him. And they wouldn’t trade him until the draft in case something bizarre befalls Lawrence.

When he's dealt, the Jets will take about a $9.5M cap hit but should be able to get at least a second-rounder back. Would the Jets deal him within the division to Bill Belichick? That’s a helluva life preserver to hand to a guy who actively detests everything about your franchise.

The fit? Great! The Patriots could pick up his fifth-year option, have him under their control for two years and have the spot solved. The only team stupid enough to do this would be … the Jets. So hope springs eternal.


Age: 35

Current situation: Halfway through a megadeal with the Falcons. The Falcons would take an almost $40M cap hit if they dealt or released him. Forty. Million. To have a good player not play for them and – by extension – tie their hands to improve the team elsewhere.

The Path to Foxboro: None. Ryan’s included here only because his name frequently pops up in “What about…?” quarterback conversations. If he were traded, the Patriots would have to give up at least a second-rounder and assume Ryan’s salaries (beginning with $23M in 2021). It would be financial suicide for Atlanta to move him.

The fit? Aside from all the financial reasons it won’t happen, he’s going to be 36. Belichick was tethered to an excellent and aging quarterback not too long ago and couldn’t WAIT to move on from him. Do it again? Yeah. No.


Age: 29

Current situation: He just. Keeps. Getting. Hurt. And it’s very clear Kyle Shanahan regards Jimmy at quarterback like you and I would regard a five-year-old wielding a chainsaw. Dangerous. He’s got two years left on the $137M deal he signed after being dealt to San Fran. But the Niners can get out of his deal and save $24M in cap space if they release or trade him before June 1. He’s got a clause in his deal that says he has to agree to a trade destination

The Path to Foxboro: San Fran hatches a plan for a suitable successor then releases Garoppolo. He then strikes a deal with the Patriots for at least $20M annually (he has to make at least what Teddy Bridgewater is making in Carolina) and Belichick gets his Brady successor after all.

Or (less likely), the Patriots trade for him. That means Garoppolo has to agree to come back, the Patriots have to give something up and then they have to either pay him the salary he’s on the books for or renegotiate.  

The fit? This is your guy right here. The Patriots would be on the hook for his 2021 and 2022 salaries ($24M) at heights they wouldn’t go to for Tom Brady and with a dropping cap. But the devotion to Garoppolo that Belichick’s shown makes me think he might do it.

Would Garoppolo see this as the best fit for him? Even if Josh McDaniels leaves? Even if there’s no one to throw to? Imagine the heartbreak if the Patriots cleared the decks for him only to hear, “Sorry. You’ve changed.”


Age: 36

Current situation: He’s starting and playing pretty well in Washington after almost losing his leg. He’s got two more years left on his deal there at salaries of $18M and $20M. The cap hit to Football Team if they release or trade him is about $15M. The level of play and leadership along with the reasonable price tag have Washington leaning toward keeping him.

The Path to Foxboro: It’s murky. Washington wants him. And they should. Better shot at the other quarterbacks on their roster.

The fit? He’s a good player and an upgrade over Cam Newton on the field but he’s older and more expensive. Even if he were to wriggle free from Washington, he’d be a temp here and age/health/cost would probably leave the Patriots saying, “Let’s just keep Cam.”


Age: 28

Current situation: A high-priced backup in Indianapolis watching Philip Rivers play. His two-year, $30M deal with the Colts is up at the end of this year and he’ll be a free agent. He’s thrown seven passes this year. Last year, he went 7-8 as Indy's starter with 18 TDs and six picks.

The Path to Foxboro: Simple. He just re-signs here after his four-year sabbatical with the opportunity to compete for the starting job against Jarrett Stidham. A competition that Brissett would probably win.

The fit? Outstanding? Could I go that far? He throws it better than Newton. He doesn’t turn it over (even when getting sacked 52 times and going 4-11 in relief of Andrew Luck in 2017 he had 13 TDs and 7 picks). He can run if necessary and move the pocket.

Bring him in at the going rate for a backup – Marcus Mariota money, which is $7M – and see what transpires. You can still draft a QB early and have Brissett caretake the spot and you wouldn’t feel beholden to him as you might with Newton.


Age: 38

Current situation: Watching with a broken, bearded heart as Tua Tagovailoa starts over him in Miami. But making $8M to do so. He’s up at the end of this season.

The Path to Foxboro: If Fitz wanted to complete his sweep of the AFC East, the Patriots are the last logo to add to his suitcase.

The fit? A little too loose with the football for Belichick’s tastes and – on an offense with limited players who can win 1-on-1 battles – he’s going to be whipping into some tight windows. Probably a little too free-spirited and independent-thinking at this juncture for the Patriots, too. Fitz is gonna do what Fitz is gonna do.


Age: 33

Current situation: Current starter for the Cowboys since Dak Prescott’s gone for the year. Scuffling along with five touchdowns and five picks but truth be told, when you watch the games, you could do much worse.

The Path to Foxboro: He’s a free agent at the end of the year. Easy path. Just sign here.

The fit? Would you rather have Dalton right now or Newton? I’d say Newton by a whisker because of the ability to make plays with his thunderous feet. But Dalton is a superior passer and can move a little as well.

He would have no illusions about being the long-term starter but you could do worse in terms of a placeholder. He’s a higher-level Brian Hoyer. But he is from Texas and may want to stay there.


Age: 31

Current situation: Toiling behind rookie Justin Herbert in Los Angeles, his run as Chargers’ starter ended when a team physician punctured his lung with a painkiller shot before a game. He’s making $5M to watch and his deal is up at the end of the season.

The Path to Foxboro: Come on back to the AFC East and pick up somewhat where Newton left off in 2020.

The fit? A subpar thrower. He’s not nearly as prone to picks as Cam has been this year. He’s also a reliable dual-threat runner though he’s much smaller than Newton and you don’t want to put Taylor through the same punishment Newton’s taking because Taylor will break.

He’s a highly-respected leader and competitor but he’d be a step down from Newton because he wouldn’t give the same running threat.


Age: 31

Current situation: Making about a million bucks for one season in New England. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the year and he – and the rest of the league – will have a decision to make. Is he still someone’s “answer” at quarterback? Is he a bridge guy? A backup? Has his time here helped or hurt his cause in the eyes of other teams?

The Path to Foxboro: He’s already here!

The fit? His inability to throw with accuracy (and don’t talk to me about completion percentage; inaccurate throws sometimes get caught) hurts the undermanned offense. His ability to run makes up for the harm he does.

Would he be better with an offseason, mini-camps and training camp? How much more will he want to be paid after the Patriots got him for pennies on the dollar? Will there be a market for his services anywhere else? Would he be OK mentoring if the Patriots drafted a quarterback early? Would he want to stay if McDaniels leaves? Lots to answer.

If the Patriots are smart, they’ll slow-play Cam and ask him to keep them in the loop as free agency begins.


Perry: Pats' path to .500 lies in a gambler's approach

Age: 35

Current situation: Playing for the minimum with the New York Football Jets. Free agent at the end of the season. Has six touchdowns and three picks in relief of Darnold while completing 55 percent of his passes. He’s pretty much done.

The Path to Foxboro: If he wants to keep playing, all he has to do is sign. But that would be again for the minimum.

The fit? Better arm than Hoyer. No shot at being a regular starter and probably not a better option than Newton but would have use as a backup. So not a horrible fit if he never, ever sees the field.


Age: 23

Current situation: After being drafted No. 15 overall in 2019, Haskins was benched and relegated to third on the depth chart four games into this season. The Washington Football Team was reportedly willing to take a Day 3 draft pick for Haskins around the trade deadline.

The Path to Foxboro: Washington actually takes a pretty good cap hit if they cut him before June 1 ($8.518M) and half of that if they trade him ($4.25M).

The fit? He’s a project. He only had one year as a starter at Ohio State and his rawness has shown. He’s not going to be starting for anyone in 2021 either but it’s worth wondering if he’s a better prospect currently than fellow 2019 alum Jarrett Stidham.


Age: 23

Current situation: Rosen – the  No. 10 overall pick in 2018 – is on his third team in three years. He went from Arizona to Miami to Tampa Bay. He’s on the Bucs practice squad making $142,000 this year.

The Path to Foxboro: All the Patriots have to do is go get him. And, unless they are absolutely positive he can’t play a lick, why not?

The fit? Just do me a favor and watch this. I’m sure there are twice as many plays that could be cued up to produce a Rosen lowlights tape but it’s absolutely ludicrous that an arm like this can’t find an NFL team that can put him on the field.


Age: 26

Current situation: Fourth year in the league and he’s kinda been given up on. He’s been benched in favor of Nick Foles. Foles got hurt, Trubisky went back in and reminded everyone why he’d been benched. He’ll be a free agent after the season.

The Path to Foxboro: The Patriots have to conclude he’s salvageable and then convince the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 to take a reclamation-level contract. And that’s not comparable to a Mariota-like $7M deal. That’s Taylor-level $5M. On the high side.

The fit? Belichick doesn’t like error-repeaters? That’s what Trubisky has been. He just doesn’t seem to improve. Now, maybe the Trubisky Belichick saw in the lead-up to the Bears game in 2018 still has some sparkle. Because Belichick thought that Trubisky was really good then. He ran for 81 yards that day and almost beat the Patriots with a Hail Mary in Chicago.

The Bears are 26-19 in games he started. He’s thrown 57 touchdowns and 34 picks. He’ll get a job somewhere.


Age: 25

Current situation: Standing in for Garoppolo for the struggling Niners. He’s got six touchdowns and seven picks in the five games he’s started and San Fran is 2-3. He’s a free agent at the end of the year. Even though he’s undrafted, at this point, it’s arguable he’d be a better guy on the depth chart than the completely buried Stidham.

The Path to Foxboro: Simple. Free agent. Just sign here if the Patriots believe he’s worth having in the mix to compete.

The fit? Probably not great. He’s on the smaller side at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and while he might have been a decent developmental prospect, if the Patriots are looking for an answer or a bridge quarterback until they draft someone, he hasn’t shown enough to make them think he could lead them back to levels they can’t attain with a more experienced player.

Contact Us