After trading Jimmy Garoppolo, Patriots in search of developmental QB

With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the New England Patriots:

2018 cap hits of top returnees:

Tom Brady: $22 million

Brian Hoyer: $915,000

Pending free agents: None. Both Brady and Hoyer are signed through 2019.

Key stat: Since 2009, the Patriots have kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster just twice, as the preference has been two quarterbacks, which opens up a roster spot elsewhere. The seasons when the Patriots have kept three quarterbacks were when they had a third-round draft pick -- 2011 with Ryan Mallett and 2016 with Jacoby Brissett -- as the No. 3 option. From a performance standpoint, the 40-year-old Brady still showed that he is performing at an elite level by earning his third NFL Most Valuable Player Award in 2017.

Money matters: Brady's contract, which has been extended in past years with two years remaining on it (the current pact extends through 2019), has been a critical piece for the Patriots in managing their roster. In some ways, Brady's contract -- and his willingness to work with the team -- has been like a mortgage/equity that the team has drawn from. Make no mistake, Brady has been well compensated, but this has been a rare situation in which a player operates in some ways as if he has an ownership stake in the development of the roster. The production and results that the team has received from its quarterback position has far exceeded its financial investment.

Big picture: The Patriots nailed their past two quarterback draft picks -- Jimmy Garoppolo (2014 second-rounder) and Brissett (2016 third-rounder) -- which bodes well as they explore options in the 2018 draft class. But before that, there were not as favorable results with Mallett and 2008 third-round pick Kevin O'Connell. Though Brady has said he hopes to play until his mid-40s, and the 32-year-old Hoyer provides an experienced insurance policy, grooming a youngster is likely to be on the team's radar.

The game-plan: Find Garoppolo 2.0. The Patriots had the right idea in mind when they drafted Garoppolo (despite an initial media frenzy) in 2014 as part of a possible Brady succession plan. The only thing that went wrong was Brady outlasting the succession plan -- which is a positive development for the team, of course. Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels' return to the team, along with assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski, gives the Patriots a solid foundation to re-start a new succession plan that could take them to Brady's 45th birthday.