New England

Pats Head Into Season With Jarrett Stidham as Brady's Lone Backup

What if the unthinkable arises and there's a No. 4 New England jersey running around in Foxboro that doesn't belong Adam Vinatieri? We take a look

Jarrett Stidham should only see game action in 2019 if the Patriots are in the midst of a blowout — ideally, one tilted in New England's favor.

You'd rather Stidham's debut doesn't come in a similar fashion to Jimmy Garoppolo's in 2014, when his first game action consisted of leading the Patriots on a touchdown drive to make it 41-14 in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs on an infamous Monday Night Football game.

You'd rather the fourth-round draft pick from Auburn doesn't enter a game for the first time due to injury, as was the case with Jacoby Brissett in 2016, when Garoppolo's shoulder slammed into the Gillette Stadium turf.

More than anything, you don't want Stidham to make the first start of his career in 2019 for an injured Tom Brady, a la Matt Cassel in 2008.

But what if the unthinkable arises and there's a No. 4 New England jersey running around in Foxboro that doesn't belong Adam Vinatieri?

Stidham had a very good preseason for the Patriots, completing 67.8 percent of his passes and committing only two turnovers. That's better than where Garoppolo was after his rookie preseason, and it goes without saying it's better than where quarterbacks of yesteryear such as Kevin O'Connell or Ryan Mallett were through one exhibition slate.

Even if it was against third- and fourth-stringers, Stidham seems to have a built-in chemistry from Jakobi Meyers earlier in the summer, not to mention Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon from last week's finale vs. the Giants.

"All players are different," Bill Belichick said of Stidham's development. "Jarrett has worked hard, he's made some progress but he's got a long way to go. We'll see how it goes."

Belichick clearly thought enough of Stidham's preseason campaign to risk letting Brian Hoyer get away as Brady's primary backup, whether the intention was there to ultimately bring Hoyer back or not.

"I thought both players played well in camp, and I liked both players," Belichick said on Sunday after roster cutdowns. "But in the end, there are a number of considerations that you have to make, so we did what we thought was best for the team. I still think Brian's a good player and it's a long season, so we'll see what happens."

The biggest difference between Hoyer and Stidham is that we know what Hoyer is: an average quarterback who somehow went 10-6 over two seasons with the Cleveland Browns in 2013-14, but is still 16-21 overall as a starter who's completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Stidham looks capable of at least that level of production, but it's far too soon to tell.

Belichick likely feels the difference between Hoyer and Stidham is negligible at this juncture, based on how he's handled the quarterback room dating back to Hoyer's first iteration with the Patriots.

During Hoyer's original stint in New England, which came to an end after training camp in 2012, the Patriots only actually kept three quarterbacks on the roster once. It was in 2011, when Hoyer was entering his third season and Mallett had just been selected in the third round of that year's draft.

There were a few factors at play that year: a lockout in the off-season limited Mallett's initial development, and once he was finally able to take the field, the results were less than inspiring. The Patriots weren't about to cut bait with a player they'd just drafted 74th overall (that's one spot earlier than Russell Wilson went a year later, for context), but they sure as heck weren't going to allow Mallett to take the reins from Brady if the worst-case scenario arose.

Since 2011, the Patriots haven't entered Week 1 with more than two quarterbacks on the roster. You'll remember three quarterbacks on the roster for much of 2016 — the "Wolfpack," consisting of Brady, Garoppolo and Brissett — but that was due to Brady's looming suspension for allegedly being generally aware of letting air pressure out of footballs.

The fact that Brady turned 42 last month and Belichick was still willing to roll with Stidham as his only backup is a good sign.

The Patriots roster is in a completely different place than that of, say, the Colts, who went from a Super Bowl contender to .500 fodder overnight with Andrew Luck's retirement. The conversation about Stidham emerging as Brady's heir apparent is another story for another time, but as far as 2019 is concerned, Stidham appears capable of keeping the ship on an even keel for New England.

Does that mean the Patriots could win Super Bowl LIV with Stidham under center? Probably not. Still, he's on the 53-man roster without any competition for his spot for a reason.

If all goes as planned, we won't have to find out.

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