For the past two decades, the New England Patriots were one of, if not the first team you talked about when speaking on potential Super Bowl contenders for the upcoming season. Now, that conversation has changed following Tom Brady’s decision to leave the franchise in free agency and has taken them from a near slam dunk to reach the AFC Championship on a given year to now questioning whether or not they’ll even make the playoffs.
The 2020 season will be one of the most difficult campaigns that Bill Belichick has faced in quite some time as he’s now looking at the prospects of heading into a regular-season without the quarterback he’s won all six of his Super Bowl titles as a head coach with. That said, the hoodie is considered to be the greatest head coach of all-time for a reason and won’t bow out without a fight. But he can’t do it alone.
Below, you’ll see three steps for the Patriots to remain in Super Bowl contention for the upcoming year. Those steps include making some personnel decisions under center, holding off on a potential trade, and making a rather big splash in free agency. It’s certainly a new day in New England, but here’s a way for the good times to keep on rolling.
Name Jarrett Stidham the starter over Brian Hoyer
When talking about the potential success (or failure) of the 2020 New England Patriots, you have to start at the quarterback position. For the first time in forever, there’s a massive question mark as to what kind of production the club will get under center. With the initial waves of free agency along with the 2020 draft coming and going and the Patriots doing nothing significant at the quarterback position, it appears like we’re looking at an upcoming battle between veteran Brian Hoyer, who is on his third stint with the club, and second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
First, let me say that there is a case to be made for Hoyer to be the starting quarterback for New England in 2020. As I mentioned, he’s entering his third stint with the Patriots and has spent five-ish seasons with the club prior to returning this offseason. He knows the system arguably better than any other quarterback that’s not named Tom Brady and has previous experience (38 games) starting in the NFL with other franchises. Despite losing pieces on defense, New England’s defense is still poised to be one of the better units in the league next year and Hoyer should be able to manage the offense enough to win games.
With all that said, this article is about competing and potentially winning the Super Bowl, not simply keeping the ship over .500. While the floor may be higher with Hoyer, the Patriots’ ceiling with him doesn’t reach Lombardi levels. If Hoyer were able to take a franchise to that tier, the eleven-year veteran wouldn’t be duking it out with the likes of Jarrett Stidham later this summer and would be established elsewhere already.
By making the call to start Jarrett Stidham, you open up the possibility for the young quarterback to take you to that next level. Of course, none of us have any idea how Stidham’s career will ultimately unfold, which does lower New England’s floor with him as QB1. That unknown, however, simply presents an opportunity for him to ascend, which I feel is a legit possibility. It’s a roll of the dice, no doubt, but the unknown of Stidham is far more intriguing for this discussion than the known commodity in Hoyer.
Keep Joe Thuney for 2020, even without an extension
The Patriots made the surprising move of hitting starting left guard Joe Thuney with the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Belichick has seldom used the tag over the course of his two-decade-long tenure as the Patriots head coach deploying it just nine times prior to Thuney. Former kicker Stephen Gostkowski was the last to receive it back in 2015 before he was given a four-year extension.
At the time of the tag, the Patriots announced their intention of signing Thuney to a long term extension. To this point, that hasn’t materialized and Thuney has since signed his tag, positioning himself to play under it in 2020. Because an extension hasn’t been reached, there’s a school of thought to potentially seek a trade partner for Thuney, gain assets in return, and trim down the near $14.8 million cap hit.
If it’s the Patriots’ goal to contend for a Super Bowl next year, however, it’s in the club’s best interest to hang onto the All-Pro guard. Thuney has been a mainstay along the offensive line for New England’s two most recent Super Bowl titles and the offensive line as a whole was especially dominant en-route to the Patriots’ victory over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
With New England poised to have a first-year starter at quarterback in 2020, having a guy like Thuney protecting him is vital. He was the fifth highest-graded offensive guard in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and has been a durable piece to the O-line, starting in all 64 games since coming into the league.
Not only will Thuney help in pass protection, but having him — along with the return of starting center David Andrews — should help the run game be much more efficient in 2020, which will only help in Stidham’s development and keep the offense humming.
Sign Jadeveon Clowney to a one-year deal
This is the big swing for New England and admittedly the least likely in this three-step-plan to get them that seventh title, but it’s a door they should at least knock on to see if anyone answers. While the secondary has largely remained intact this offseason, the Patriots front seven did lose a couple of key figures, including linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins along with defensive tackle Danny Shelton. Now there are players (Chase Winovich and Ja’Whaun Bentley along with rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings) who could come in and help cushion the blow of those losses, but adding a player as talented as Clowney would make New England’s defense that much more lethal.
Would Clowney actually come to New England? That’s a very real question. Prior to landing with the Seahawks, he reportedly nixed a trade to the Miami Dolphins because he didn’t want to play for another Bill Belichick disciple like Brian Flores after spending his days with Bill O’Brien in Houston. Would Clowney change is mind if, instead of getting the store-brand version of Belichick, he actually got the real thing? Who knows.
Clowney has expressed his desire to play for a Super Bowl contender wherever his next stop in the NFL is and, even without Tom Brady, I think Belichick could make an interesting pitch that New England is still a place to do that going forward, especially if he signs on to join this defense.
As for the contract, Clowney doesn’t seem to be getting what he wants on the open market, so Belichick could try and coax him to come to Foxborough on a one-year deal, ball out and hit the market again next offseason with a potential Super Bowl ring to add to his résumé. The Patriots would have to do some cap gymnastics to fit Clowney in, but he’d unquestionably raise the talent level on defense, make life easier on the offense, thus raising New England’s Super Bowl ceiling that much higher.