New England Must Sacrifice Jarret Stidham for the Greater Good
The fans of New England and their management as an organization are no strangers to sacrifice. While with New England, Tom Brady regularly took pay cuts to give his additional team cap space. As a team, they gave up three Super Bowls to keep fans engaged by appearing beatable. Bill Belichick sacrificed an HC job with the Jets (and his soul) to become the Patriots HC and the greatest professional football coach in the history of the game. These have all been short-term losses for long-term gains. This season, that sacrifice will have to come on the field.
Jarett Stidham: The Sacrificial Lamb
Barring a sudden signing of Cam Newton, New England is set to enter the 2020 season with Bryan Hoyer and Jarett Stidham vying for the starting role under center. Neither player looks likely to lead them to another deep run in the postseason. Stidham is a fourth-round passer who somehow got benched from mop-up duty last year after throwing a pick-six. Hoyer is a career backup whose biggest asset is having previously played for New England. If the Patriots do well in 20202, it will be despite their quarterback play, not because of it.
They can even win in this fashion. They went 10-5 with Matt Cassel under center in 2008. In 2019, their defense added 165.8 expected points, nearly double that of the No. 2 team in the league, Pittsburgh. However, historic defenses are often fleeting (See Jaguars, Jacksonville and Bears, Chicago) and even a great defense is not enough to topple the powerful offenses. New England faced four top-10 offenses and lost to all but Dallas. Baltimore, Tennessee, and Kansas City all had the firepower to overcome New England's defense. In the modern NFL, winning starts on offense. That means the long-term goal of every franchise should be to build a successful offense. That starts with a good quarterback.
The Quarterback Store
The draft is the easiest and almost the only way to acquire a talented passer. Add in the affordable nature of rookie contracts versus that of a veteran and it's the only realistic way to purchase the keystone of a franchise. Necessarily, this means New England will have to lose a lot for one year if they want to win indefinitely once again. Their best way to do this is to trot out Jarett Stidham for all 16 games.
It's Unlikely He's Any Good
As a fourth-round passer, the odds are heavily stacked against Stidham. There have been 26 quarterbacks taken in Round 4 since the year 2000 and two of them (Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott) have been to multiple Pro Bowls. This isn't the greatest measure of a player's value but that's largely because of the low bar to secure a Pro Bowl nod. Only seven of the 26 have more than a season's worth of starts in their career.
Stidham is likely to fail but that's okay. After Week 3, the Patriots face four consecutive top-10 defenses from 2019. Either Stidham is crushed under the weight of edge rushers or he is hardened by the fire. If the latter is true, then New England has stumbled into another franchise passer from Day 3 of the draft. Learning that early in the season is also a great outcome.
The best part of throwing Stidham to the wolves is that it also gives New England the largest set of data to work with when judging him. If Hoyer holds the starting gig for eight games, are the other eight a large enough sample to make an informed decision on Stidham's future.
The worst scenario for New England would be using Hoyer for any more than a game or two. Hoyer has a career 7.0 yards per attempt and knows the New England offense, having been with the team twice already. He won't carry the offense but he's likely a more stable option than Stidham. If he plays a significant amount of games, New England learns little about a potential future with Stidham but could eke out enough wins to push them away from a top passer via the draft.
A Drop in the Bucket
New England doesn't sacrifice much by starting Stidham. They have traded a number of their backups over the years but the value they get is typically what they paid.
Matt Cassell: Drafted in the seventh and traded for a second.
Ryan Mallet: Drafted in the third and traded for a seventh.
Jacoby Brissett: Drafted in the third and traded for Phillip Dorsett
Jimmy Garopolo: Drafted and traded for a second.
They run almost exactly breakeven on their quarterback trades. Sacrificing Stidham is punting a fourth-round pick; a worthy sacrifice in search of a star passer. These picks generally have low hit rates and studies have shown that no team is more likely to hit on their specific picks than other teams. Drafting is hard and teams are as good and as bad as each other on average.
On top of all of this, playing with Belichick and behind Brady doesn't make their backups special either. Of the backup bunch, only Garopolo went on to post a winning record.
Patriots backups are like any other backups, neither reliably good nor predictably valuable.
But It's Unethical
It is conceivable that intentionally putting a younger player in a position he's destined to fail in is morally questionable. But has that ever stopped the Patriots before?
The 2019 Dolphins: A Case Study
This exact dilemma was played out last year. Miami saw that Josh Rosen was an awful passer and turned to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Rosen went 0-3 while all five of the Dolphins' wins came under Fitzpatrick. Their goal of immediate wins likely cost them a phenomenal quarterback prospect in Joe Burrow (but it did give fans an incredible victory in Week 17 over New England). If Tua Tagavailoa's injury issues derail his career, the choice to start Fitzpatrick could alter the course of Miami as a franchise.
New England is in the same division and saw firsthand how a team's impulses can hurt their long-term outlook. Fans of the Patriots should be concerned that they'll make the same mistake.