Jarrett Stidham has best preseason for rookie QB under Bill Belichick

Jarrett Stidham turned in a promising preseason with four touchdown passes. Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Stidham's preseason stacks up favorably: Quarterback Jarrett Stidham put together the best preseason for a rookie quarterback in coach Bill Belichick's 20-year Patriots tenure, and it wasn't that close. Preseason stats don't always tell the whole story, but there is legitimate optimism that Stidham has laid a strong foundation to give himself a chance to become what the Patriots previously had in Jimmy Garoppolo.

Here's how Stidham’s preseason stacked up to rookie quarterbacks in the past decade under Belichick:

  • Stidham (2019): 61-of-90 for 731 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT

  • Danny Etling (2018): 20-of-38 for 178 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

  • Jacoby Brissett (2016): 38-of-56 or 387 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

  • Garoppolo (2014): 46-of-79 for 618 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT

  • Ryan Mallett (2011): 36-of-63 for 357 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

  • Brian Hoyer (2009): 29-of-44 for 354 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels did his best to temper expectations last week, saying Stidham has a long way to go. That's true. But no one is expecting him to be a finished product at this point, so it's also fair to say, as Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy opined, that the Patriots have to be giddy over Stidham, who elevated to the No. 2 spot Saturday when the club released Hoyer. Ever since they surprisingly traded Garoppolo in October 2017, the Patriots have been looking for their next quarterback of the future, and Stidham is off to a great start.

2. Belichick's second-round DB picks under the microscope: When a team selects a player in the second round like the Patriots did with cornerback Duke Dawson in 2018 and then trades him the following year in a swap of late-round picks, it's obviously not the way it was supposed to turn out. Cyrus Jones (60th in 2016), Jordan Richards (64th in 2015), Tavon Wilson (48th in 2012), Ras-I Dowling (33rd in 2011), Darius Butler (41st in 2009) and Terrence Wheatley (62nd in 2008) are other second-round defensive backs in Belichick's tenure who didn't fulfill the expectations of their draft slot. There isn't a lot to knock when it comes to Belichick, who is widely viewed as the NFL's top coach, and this is one weaker spot of his track record for those seeking an area to criticize. Specific to Dawson, he easily could have been on the roster, but the rise of previously undrafted corners Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson -- coupled with some pressing needs at other positions -- fueled the trade.


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3a. Veldheer, Schwenke retirements sparked trades: Belichick provided insight on the Patriots' thinking in trading for offensive linemen Korey Cunningham (Cardinals) and Jermaine Eluemunor (Ravens), saying in his pregame interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub that the moves were the result of a domino effect from earlier in the year. "We lost two guys that probably would have made our roster -- [Jared] Veldheer and [Brian] Schwenke -- they both retired early," Belichick said, in the type of revelation he doesn't often make. In addition, 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste (OT, West Virginia) remains on the non-football injury list (quad), and starting center David Andrews (blood clots in the lungs) will miss the 2019 season, so bolstering the offensive line was a top priority. Hence the Friday trade with the Bills for center Russell Bodine as well.

3b. Something to file away: One more nugget from Belichick's interview with Scott Zolak that is a good one to remember for future years is that Belichick said the roster is usually about 85-90% set before the preseason finale.

4. Updating 2020 Patriots draft picks: With tight end Eric Saubert not making the final cut, the Patriots won't be sending a 2020 seventh-round draft pick to the Falcons. The conditions of the August trade between the teams were that Saubert had to be on the active roster for four games. But the Patriots did tap into some of their 2020-pick supply in deals involving defensive end Michael Bennett (fifth round), Cunningham (sixth round), Dawson (seventh round) and Eluemunor (fourth round), so here's what they have left:

  • First round

  • Second round

  • Third round

  • Fourth round (Bears)

  • Sixth round (Broncos)

  • Sixth round (Texans)

  • Seventh round (Falcons)

  • Seventh round (Eagles)

  • Seventh round (Seahawks)

The club is also projected to receive two third-round compensatory picks (Trent Brown, Trey Flowers) and multiple sixth-rounders (Malcom Brown, Cordarrelle Patterson), according to Nick Korte of OverTheCap.com.

5. Brady razzing Edelman highlights gala: When the Patriots held their annual Premiere Kickoff Gala on Tuesday night at Gillette Stadium, quarterback Tom Brady couldn't resist taking a few playful jabs at how visible his best pal Julian Edelman has been since winning Super Bowl LIII MVP. Asked what his favorite part of the offseason was, Brady cracked, "I enjoyed watching Julian's documentary, Julian at the Indy 500, at the Grammys, Julian at the Oscars, Julian at the store opening in Boston. Mostly, a lot of Julian." It was a playful side of Brady that doesn't come out often publicly. He also joked about his disappointment that Stidham was the only rookie with a shaved head, before saying, "[Chase] Winovich, where are you? We might have to start now if we want to finish [on time]."

6. What we learned from assistant coaches: A few things learned from media access with Patriots assistants last week:

  • Although he is not officially listed on the coaching roster, longtime special teams coach Kevin Spencer remains with the club and has helped make sure all areas are accounted for, as special teams coordinator Joe Judge also has taken on wide receiver duties. Spencer was Belichick's special teams coach in Cleveland in the early to mid-1990s.

  • Safeties coach Steve Belichick cut his long hair this year, donating it to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which partners with both the American and Canadian Cancer Societies to provide free, real-hair wigs to those living with cancer since 2006. Belichick has also done it in the past, through Locks of Love, a nonprofit that aims to return a sense of self, confidence and normalcy to children suffering from hair loss by providing complimentary, high-quality hair prosthetics to financially disadvantaged children.

  • Fantasy football owners take note: Running backs coach Ivan Fears said passing-downs back James White -- who is coming off a career-high 87-catch season -- hasn't hit his ceiling. "It's yet to be seen where this is going to end when it comes to James White. I think we got a lot [more] to see," Fears said. "I can't wait to see it."

7. White one TD catch away from elite fraternity: White has 19 career regular-season touchdown receptions, and he is on the cusp of joining elite company. Since 1970, only 15 running backs have reached 20 touchdown receptions, with Marshall Faulk's 36 topping the charts.

8. Olszewski's "Rudy" story takes a wild turn. One of the most remarkable roster cut-down stories in 22 seasons covering the Patriots unfolded Saturday, with receiver/punt returner Gunner Olszewski of Division II Bemidji State. In the morning, Olszewski -- who had become a fan favorite in the preseason with his relentless style of play -- had been informed of the Patriots' intention to release him by the 4 p.m. ET deadline. But shortly before 4 p.m., the club stunningly reversed course and told him that he was sticking around -- which might have been a result of the Patriots gaining intelligence that Olszewski wouldn't make it through waivers to return on the practice squad. Olszewski was a late addition to the Patriots' roster on May 23, and he was working a job digging a ditch when his agent had called him about the team's interest. Olszewski said he would call back because he needed to finish the job, which got a chuckle out of agent Christopher Murray because the Patriots needed Olszewski on a plane quickly. The next day, Olszewski was on the practice field alongside Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, a player whose style he mirrors as a returner.

9. Belichick could now challenge Chiefs' pick play from AFC title game: One of my favorite parts of the upcoming "Do Your Job" documentary (Wednesday, NFL Network, 8 p.m. ET) was how it showed Belichick's true feelings on Chiefs running back Damien Williams' 23-yard touchdown catch in the AFC Championship Game. It was an obvious pick play that wasn't called. Belichick smiled as cameras rolled and he was told that play wasn't part of the discussion. But it is precisely the type of play that Belichick can now challenge as part of the NFL's new rules. "Anytime a coach believes that offensive pass interference should have been called, and wasn't, that is now a reviewable play and a coach can challenge it before the two-minute warning and when we're not in overtime,” referee Ron Torbert said in his rules meeting with Patriots reporters last week.

10. Did You Know: There were 56 challenged pass-interference penalties in the 2019 preseason. Of that total, 47 were upheld and nine were reversed, according to ESPN Stats & Information.