FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady's departure has created a massive hole on the New England Patriots' quarterback depth chart, leaving 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham and five-year veteran journeyman Cody Kessler.
Stidham currently has the top spot, with Kessler behind him. The expectation is that a third quarterback will be added by training camp, which is standard operating procedure for NFL teams. Whether that addition is a veteran or developmental prospect remains to be seen.
It's early. And coach Bill Belichick is usually patient.
Ideally, the Patriots would have given Stidham another year of seasoning behind the scenes, but this could accelerate the timeline, in part because there are limited or unappealing options otherwise.
What does Stidham bring to offense?
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Stidham, who initially went to college at Baylor before transferring to Auburn, was selected No. 133 overall in 2019. Stidham beat out veteran Brian Hoyer last preseason for the No. 2 job behind Brady. He had the best preseason of any rookie quarterback in Belichick's 20-year tenure, going 61-of-90 for 731 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception.
Stidham turns 24 on Aug. 8 and is considered mature beyond his years, which came through to those who watched him on the ESPN+ "Draft Academy" series last year.
Whoever steps into Brady's spot will benefit from being able to handle added pressure, and scouts say Stidham fits that profile, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noting last season that he has a "great mindset." Stidham has shown a knack for making plays on the move, which could be the impetus for the Patriots to add elements to their offensive approach that wouldn't have fit with Brady.
"It's going to be really cool one day when I can sit there and tell my children, or my grandkids, that I got to be in the same quarterback room and talking about coverages and different passing concepts with Tom," Stidham told ESPN in January. "He's a phenomenal teammate, a phenomenal person, a phenomenal player. There was so much that I got to learn from him. He was obviously very open to me about stuff."
Now comes Stidham's biggest challenge: applying those lessons in a quest to become the team's No. 1 option.
Possible free-agent QB targets
Jameis Winston, the 2015 No. 1 overall pick, is the highest-profile option -- and at first glance, it's hard to envision his fit in New England. He threw 30 interceptions last season. Brady threw 29 over the past four seasons.
Of course, most aren't going to measure up to Brady, so any addition from the available crop would be more with depth or a veteran's presence in mind. Colt McCoy, Josh McCown, Trevor Siemian, Mike Glennon, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Moore are a few other veteran options.
Thus, there wouldn't seem to be a major urgency for the Patriots to move in this direction.
How about trade targets?
The Panthers have given Cam Newton permission to seek a trade. The Bengals might consider moving Andy Dalton if they draft Joe Burrow No. 1 overall. The Jaguars have reportedly received calls about Nick Foles. Washington's Alex Smith, if healthy, would be a great comeback story possibly worthy of a conversation.
But none would seem to be the sure-fire answer, and there are salary considerations for the Patriots to consider. They will already have to account for a $13.5 million salary-cap charge for Brady, even though he's not on the roster. Stidham counts $834,000 against the cap, while Kessler has a $935,000 charge.
With the Indianapolis Colts agreeing to terms with Philip Rivers, it might be wise for the Patriots to reach out to see if Hoyer or Jacoby Brissett would be available. But bringing on a veteran with a double-digit cap charge sparks the question as to why the Patriots would do that before seeing what they have in Stidham.
What about the draft?
The Patriots have the 23rd overall pick, as well as three third-rounders and one fourth-round pick. If Belichick identifies a prospect who could fit -- like he did with Jimmy Garoppolo in the 2014 second round (No. 62) -- that would jibe with the team's general approach.
One thing to consider is that the coronavirus pandemic could have a trickle-down effect on offseason programs, making it more challenging for rookies to contribute in 2020. And quarterback is arguably the most difficult position for college players making the NFL transition.