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If Patriots Move On From Tom Brady, Bill Belichick Better Stick The Landing

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- "Spoiled" has become a very dirty word when it comes to describing sports fans in Boston, and understandably so. The negative connotation attached to the word would seemingly indicate that "spoiled" fans lack perspective on how life is and has been in other cities for years, decades and/or centuries.

Yet if the past few days of Mookie Madness in Boston have proven anything, it's that sports fans in Boston have certain ... expectations. And while those expectations are lofty, they only exist because of the results that the local teams have delivered year after year after year, ever since we all survived the Y2K scare.

The engineer of that train throughout the duration of the Boston Sports Renaissance has, of course, been one Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., first known to us as a very young man and now known to us as the old guy. The unprecedented-success-at-the-quarterback-position-from-age-39-to-42 old guy, but the old guy nonetheless.

And so, with Tom Brady no longer the young man who kicked off two decades of dominance, his future in Foxboro remains ... murky. National reporters and writers seem to believe there's no chance that Brady leaves New England. Local reporters and pundits seem to think he's on his way out.

The reality is, nobody knows. Not Brady. Not Bill Belichick. Not Robert Kraft. The bridge has not been crossed yet.

It's entirely possible that Brady and the Patriots manage to find common ground and extend their relationship for a 21st year. Sure. But it's equally possible that the goals and vision of Brady no longer align with those of Belichick, and that after 20 years of the single greatest coach-QB run in football history, the time has come for a seismic change -- both within the organization and for Brady himself.

And it's that latter scenario that, obviously, carries with it much more intrigue. The image of Brady donning a Raiders helmet, or suited up as a Charger, or bringing new quarterback hope to Miami, or wearing arguably the worst jersey in the NFL (Tennessee), it's a fascinating concept. How will Brady adapt to a new offense at age 43? How much will teams invest in him? What kind of dynamic play makers will he have at his disposal?

It'll all be interesting, and it'll make for some dynamite television viewing in the fall.

But for the sake of the Patriots, it won't really matter. Not much, anyway.

Sure, if Brady is lighting it up in an offense tailored to his abilities, the Patriots are sure to look somewhat foolish not only for cutting ties but also for being so ill-prepared offensively in the 2019 season.

Yet that is a minor, minor story compared to the one that will follow whoever and whatever constitutes the succession plan at quarterback for the post-Brady days. That is the story that will endure, and that is the story that Belichick better get right.

Thus far through Speculation SZN, there have been some names bandied about. None have been particularly inspiring.

Marcus Mariota.

Ryan Tannehill.

Andy Dalton.


Double Yikes.


There have been some others, though it's truly difficult to imagine the Patriots hitching their ship to Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, or Philip Rivers (whose arm did not really work last season). The concept of the Patriots getting Cam Newton at the height of his powers is an intriguing one, but it also doesn't seem possible.

In terms of more unknown entities, Jarrett Stidham is certainly interesting. He showed a command of the offense last August that is not always present in rookie QBs. With the obvious YEAH IT WAS ONLY PRESEASON caveat, Stidham completed 61 of 90 passes (67.8%) for 731 yards with four touchdowns and one pick, good for a 102.6 rating in four preseason games.

By comparison, boy wonder Jimmy Garoppolo completed just 58.2 percent of his passes for 618 yards as a rookie in the preseason, though he did throw five touchdowns and one pick for a 99.0 rating. Jacoby Brissett completed 67.9 percent of his rookie preseason passes for 387 yards with one touchdown and no picks. The Notorious Ryan Mallett had some weak preseason numbers (57.1% completion rate, 357 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) as a rookie; same with Danny Etling, same with Kevin O'Connell.

The point of that brief stroll down Memory Lane was this: Yeah, it's just preseason, but Stidham's summer success as a rookie is a rarity during the Brady era. It has to count for something.

But the stats can't mean too much for Belichick, whose evaluation on Stidham has to go much deeper. Taking over for the most successful quarterback in football history -- that is, replacing the actual GOAT -- is not a job for just anybody. The weight of being in that unprecedented position will be immense, and it's Belichick's job to rely upon the expertise gained in his 45 years as an NFL coach to try to predict who in the world might be capable of handling that responsibility.

Talk about a tall task.

Though far from apples to apples, Belichick has shown the evaluation ability before. Though it seems like an obvious move in retrospect, opting for the sixth-round pick with 224 career passing attempts over the three-time Pro Bowler who was largely credited with steering the franchise out of the abyss of the early '90s. Belichick also rightly surmised the Vinny Testaverde offered more to the Browns than local legend Bernie Kosar way back when in Cleveland. Assessing that which cannot be computed is part of what makes Belichick Belichick.

And Football Houdini's next trick may have to be his greatest.

That's a factor that absolutely has to be included in any and all discussions of a potential Brady replacement, should the situation call for one. A touchdown-to-interception ratio can only get you so far; is there someone out there who wouldn't shy away from filling the shoes of Brady? Is there someone out there who might thrive under such circumstances?

That's really the only question that matters in this seemingly ceaseless period of wonderment and mystery regarding the quarterbacking future in New England.

Is there someone out there who wants to take over for the GOAT? And is he capable of actually backing up that rare level of irrational confidence?

If Brady does move on, and that person is out there -- either in free agency, via trade, or even in the draft -- then Belichick better get it right. If the replacement ends up chucking interceptions and coughing up fumbles every other series, or if the replacement is simply named Andrew Gregory Dalton? The Patriots will appear to have been caught off guard by the departure of a quarterback at age 43 -- a departure essentially forced by their own negotiations over the past couple of years.

How Belichick answers that self-generated challenge? Whoa, buddy. Forget about Brady and all that comes with him for just one moment. That's the story right there.

Those aforementioned fans have a certain standard when it comes to quarterback play, and they haven't seen truly bad quarterback play in almost 30 years. Having mediocre or subpar quarterbacking return to Foxboro immediately after casting off a legend would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Replacing Brady may end up being the most difficult job for anyone in any sport. Belichick has put himself in a position where he simply cannot afford to get it wrong.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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