With just two quarterbacks on the roster, and a hot-button question as to how the New England Patriots will replace Tom Brady after a two-decade run of success, coach Bill Belichick didn't name a definitive starter in a Monday conference call that included his thoughts on this year's draft class.
Of the rookie quarterbacks entering the NFL, Belichick called it "an interesting group" and "probably one that has some decent depth to it."
The Patriots, whose top selection is No. 23 overall, could tap into that depth with one of their 12 picks. LSU's Joe Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Utah State's Jordan Love and Oregon's Justin Herbert are ranked as the top four quarterbacks, in that order, by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.
The Patriots currently have 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham and 11-year veteran Brian Hoyer on the roster. Belichick acknowledged Monday that the Patriots will be open-minded as they put together their offensive personnel and overall system without Brady.
"Over the last two decades, everything we did, every single decision we made in terms of major planning was made with the idea of how to make things best for Tom Brady. Now that being said, we've had several situations where we had to play and knew Tom wasn't going to be the quarterback," Belichick said in reference to the 2008 season when Brady sustained a season-ending knee injury 15 plays into the opener, and 2016 when Brady served a four-game NFL suspension to open the year.
"In those situations, we adapted what we had to the player [Matt Cassel in 2008; Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett in 2016] and geared everything towards what was best for him. Just like we always geared everything for doing what was best for Tom, to help our offense. I don't really see that changing, whoever the quarterback is, we'll try to make things work smoothly and efficiently for that player and take advantage of his strengths and skills. Whatever things that particular player does well, we'll try to work towards and feature, or at least give him an opportunity to do those."
Of the quarterbacks already on the roster -- Stidham and Hoyer -- Belichick said he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels "certainly have a pretty good feel for both."
"We've spent quite a bit of time with Brian and Stid. The circumstances will be different this year, and we'll see how everything plays out," he said. "To start with, I think the main thing is to give everyone a chance to compete, to get people comfortable with the skills at the position they're playing, the communication that's involved. We'll evaluate the players as we get an opportunity to evaluate them."
Monday marked the first time that Belichick answered questions from reporters since Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He shared an opening statement in which he wished reporters well, while thanking those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, saying world events provide perspective on what's most important.
Then he pivoted to Brady.
"At the start of free agency, I made a statement about Tom. It would be, of course, impossible to sum up everything Tom did in 20 years into a comment. Then or now. But I meant everything I said about him. I'm sure we'll be talking about him for years and decades to come. Right now, we're moving forward and focusing on the draft for this call."
Inevitably, he was asked about Brady and whether it was a surprise that he departed. Belichick called it "water under the bridge" at this point.
"We're really focused on this season and trying to look at our opportunities and make decisions and plan and prepare to be as competitive as we can be this year," he said.
Whether that means selecting a quarterback early in the draft, Belichick naturally wasn't tipping his hand.
"Similar to most years, there's quite a range of players and some of the systems they play in college are different -- either than what we run or what traditional NFL systems would look like. Some are more closely schematically to that," Belichick said. "Each guy has his own set of skills, his own circumstances. Some players have played well over the same period of time, some players have had an exceptional year in the past year or two -- maybe 2019, in some cases 2018 -- and then for whatever the reasons were, the two years didn't quite match up. But that's, I'd say, about the way it always is.
"There are always a variety of things you have to try to put together and look at. Certainly there's a lot of interesting players -- guys that have really good arms, can really throw the ball. Some really athletic players. Some players that have won a lot of games and shown their competitiveness and instinctiveness."