When the New England Patriots came on the clock with the 23rd pick of the 2020 NFL draft, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert had been selected at the quarterback position. But Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio had their pick of Jordan Love, Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm—players all ranked by expert draft analysts as potential top-50 selections.
Instead of drafting a quarterback, the Patriots traded the pick to the Los Angeles Chargers, opting to move out of the first round. With Tom Brady leaving Foxborough after 20 seasons for Tampa Bay, why did the Patriots not prioritize an heir apparent?
Two words—Jarrett Stidham.
"People around the league can't help but think of some great Patriots conspiracy that they'll trade up for a quarterback," an AFC pro scout said. "First it was Baker [Mayfield], then it was Tua. Spoiler alert: They really like Stidham."
Rumors started circling at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February that the Patriots were ready for life after Brady should he decide to walk in free agency, with one top agent telling me that he was trying to set up calls with New England to talk about his free agency or quarterback prospects in the draft.
Those calls, per the agent, came and went without a response from the Patriots. "They like the guy they have," he told me in a predraft call.
As soon as it was known Brady was leaving, the Patriots signed veteran Brian Hoyer, the type of backup who won't threaten Stidham's spot on the depth chart and has the experience to mentor a young player. Settling on Hoyer instead of spending on Marcus Mariota or trading for Nick Foles should have signaled to the NFL that New England was committed to the second-year passer from Auburn.
Every move the Patriots have made has pointed to turning the keys of the franchise over to No. 4. They franchise-tagged top guard Joe Thuney. They drafted two tight ends to make middle-of-the-field passing easier. They kept a veteran secondary together while letting expensive linebackers walk to get the salary cap healthy for free-agency runs in 2021 and 2022.
"They really believe in him," said another pro personnel scout. "The rumor was that Belichick, Caserio and Josh [McDaniels] think they can win with Stidham on a rookie contract."
But is Stidham good or just cheap?
Speaking to scouts pre- and post-draft this April, many believe that Stidham was better than Jordan Love as a prospect and would have ranked as the No. 3 or 4 quarterback in the 2020 class—behind only Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.
"Let's not forget that after his junior season the kid looked like a first-rounder, then Auburn ruined him in '18 with that terrible supporting cast," said an SEC area scout. And that's true—Stidham had a Round 1 grade on my scouting notes headed into his senior season, but the Auburn offense fell apart, and his stock went down with it.
Said the same scout, "If you need a reminder of what he can do, turn on the Auburn vs. Alabama game from 2017 and you'll see a first-round quarterback and a future franchise passer."
One of Bill Belichick's best friends in football? Nick Saban, the head coach Stidham beat that day with a 21-of-28 effort in which he added 51 rushing yards and a touchdown. It wasn't just that day, either. Stidham ended his college career on a high with a five-touchdown performance against Purdue and then dominated at the Senior Bowl and had a very good NFL Scouting Combine week.
The talent was there. His stock was just rocked by his struggles with a poor talent group around him in 2018. But the same case was made for Love and Herbert in this draft class.
Said the one Patriots staffer who would return a text for this piece, "Go ahead and get excited about him."
Why did the Patriots pass on every quarterback outside of the top three? Why didn't they package their stockpile of draft capital to move up for a quarterback?
Simple—it's because they already have their guy. This is Jarrett Stidham's team now.