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Hurley: Patriots' Quarterback Situation Is Entering Unacceptable Territory

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The new sports radio station in town, 98.5 The Sports Hub, opened for business in the summer of 2009. By Boston sports standards, this was roughly five million years ago.

I'll always remember that the station was born in 2009, because I'll never forget hearing one of the first callers suggest that the Patriots had made a grave mistake by trading away Matt Cassel. The Patriots, this caller argued, would have been wise to get rid of Tom Brady, who was on the wrong side of 30 and was coming off a major knee surgery that had some complications.

This caller was ... misguided.

This story is not to dunk on a sports radio caller from more than a decade ago, no. (I do hope he feels very badly about this take, though.) It is merely to show just how long the region has been considering a world where the Patriots exist without Tom Brady as their quarterback. Dating back to the early Bill Belichick days, when Lawyer Milloy and Drew Bledsoe and Ty Law and Adam Vinatieri were all shown the door without much fanfare, it was established early on that almost no Patriots are able to go out on their own terms. And even though Brady was on a track for unparalleled greatness compared to the rest, there was no reason to believe that he'd be able to avoid the same unceremonious ending to his Patriots tenure. His dad said it often, and he himself acknowledged it was a very real possibility.

Or, long story short: Everybody's assumed for a long time that Brady would not finish his career as a Patriot. Understood.

It's just ... there's a second element to that story, one that is assumed if not spoken. The idea is that Belichick and the Patriots would one day move on from Brady because Belichick and the Patriots would have a better, younger, cheaper option that would keep them as viable title contenders for a longer period of time.

Yet ... here we are.

It's March 2021. Brady's been gone for a full year. And the Patriots remain as mystified as ever regarding their plans at the most important position in professional sports.

What is going on?

Most recently, there's this from the Globe's Ben Volin: Belichick absolutely loves Cam Newton but harbors some serious concerns about ... the quarterback's throwing shoulder. Nevertheless, the Pats would likely love to have Newton back in 2021 ... so long as he's willing to work for extremely short money.

The kicker, really, in Volin's reporting, was this singular quote: "I think the expectation is that the Patriots aren't going to spend money on a quarterback again."


That the Patriots were left somewhat in the lurch a year ago when Brady finally got the gusto to say enough is enough and leave a bad situation, that's somewhat understandable. Somewhat. One might make an argument that a team should have some plan in place before forcing out the greatest quarterback in history. But that's not what this current predicament is about.

Currently, the Patriots saw how the other half of the NFL lives and experienced it firsthand in 2020. With the Cam Comeback Tour, The Brian Hoyer Still Exists Experience, and The Summer Hype Train Jarrett Stidham manning the QB spot, the Patriots had some issues moving the football through the air last season. And that's putting it politely.

The Patriots ranked 30th in passing yards.

They were tied for dead last in passing touchdowns.

They were 27th in passer rating.

They were one of just two teams with more interceptions than passing touchdowns.

When it came to throwing the football in 2020, the Patriots were as bad as bad gets. They were Jets and Giants level bad. One might imagine that such an experience would inspire a massive shift in philosophy for the upcoming season. But at least according to one report, the plan may just be to do it all over again.

What's that saying about "the definition of insanity" again?

Of course, we must wait. The league year doesn't officially start until the middle of the month. The draft will begin at the end of April. A lot can shake out between now and then that would make a full-on teardown of the most successful franchise in the salary cap era end up looking premature and foolish. So until and if the Patriots enter camp with a Newton-Hoyer-Stidham trio once again or something comparable, we can hold off on letting loose the full artillery of derision.

But for now? For right now, it doesn't look good.

Maybe they bring Cam back for short money, despite concerns that he can't throw the ball very well anymore.

Maybe they'll be lucky enough to pounce if the 49ers give up on the quarterback they not long ago considered to be their franchise cornerstone but now consider expendable.

Maybe they'll move on from Newton in favor of another available veteran ... like Ryan Fitzpatrick. Or Alex Smith. Or Mitchell Trusbisky. Or ... Andrew Gregory Dalton.

Perhaps they'll have what it takes to pull of a trade for ... Marcus Mariota. Or Gardner Minshew. Or ... Nicholas Edward Foles?

It's not great. Not at all.

For now, it appears as though the Patriots don't really have a plan.

It would have been ideal to have one before nudging Brady out the door. But that didn't happen.

It would have been good to establish one at some point during the trying 2020 season. Didn't happen.

Now it would probably be wise to figure out a plan for 2021 that looks nothing like the situation from 2020. And it doesn't seem like that's happening, either.

To be sure, moving on from a 43-year-old quarterback was not an insane course of action. The fact that Brady -- again, the undisputed GOAT -- didn't garner a whole lot of interest as a free agent shows that few teams were willing to believe in that fairy tale lasting through 2020. It did, and he won the Super Bowl MVP, which speaks more to his greatness and drive than it necessarily does about the Patriots' course of action.

Really, it's the complete lack of a succession plan that was baffling in the moment, was baffling in the summer, and was baffling throughout the fall and winter. Now at the dawn of spring, the master plan appears to be ... to simply stay the course.

If it ends up improving, then so be it. That'll be a major positive for the 2021 Patriots, and it'll prove arguments like this one to have been a waste of time, air, and space. But if the reports are true, and if it's an offseason of homeostasis after a wasted season? Then the Patriots' quarterback situation will make the move from being inexplicable to unacceptable.

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

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