Lazar: Ranking the Best Available Quarterbacks to Replace Tom Brady

Where do the Patriots turn without Tom Brady under center?

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New England’s nightmare became a reality on Tuesday morning as quarterback Tom Brady announced on social media that he’s leaving the Patriots after 20 seasons in Foxboro. 

There’s no replacing the greatest quarterback of all-time. The next guy will be a step-down, and we’ll probably never see another athlete like Brady again, that’s the hard truth. 

With that said, the show must go on, and Bill Belichick will now enact plan B, which we all know exists as the Pats head coach would never be left without a plan, even in these circumstances. 

Also, note that we are talking options outside of Jarrett Stidham, who is already on the roster. 

Here is an updated ranking of the best available options for the Patriots, subject to change:

1. Derek Carr (Trade Target, 2020 Cap Hit: $18.9 million)

Carr didn’t make our list before free agency because he wasn’t readily available, but the rumblings out of Vegas now are that Carr is expendable after the team signed Marcus Mariota. 

The feeling inside the Raiders is that Carr is good, not great, and he’s unlikely to make dramatic improvements at this stage of his career. 

In the right situation with the pieces around him, Carr is a solid quarterback with above-average accuracy, ranking seventh last season in Next Gen’s completion percentage above expectation. 

Although he didn’t return to his near-MVP form in 2016, Carr is steady, ranking ninth among all quarterbacks last season in Pro Football Focus’s wins above replacement metric with an overall grade of above 69.0 in each of the last five seasons. 

Out of all these options, Carr gives the Patriots the best chance to compete for a playoff spot next season. 

2. Nick Foles (Trade Target, 2020 Cap Hit: $15.1 million)

How crazy would it be if the guy that ripped a Lombardi Trophy out of Tom Brady’s hands just two years ago replaced the GOAT in New England? 

The Jaguars would like to move the former Super Bowl MVP a year after signing him to a four-year, $88 million contract. 

Foles’s base salary is $15.1 million, which means a team acquiring him in a trade would take on a modest cap hit, and there’s a potential out in his deal following the 2020 season. 

The former Eagles quarterback was doomed from the start in Jacksonville, suffering a broken clavicle in the first quarter of his first regular-season game as the Jaguars’ starter. 

When he returned from the injury, Foles was benched for Gardner Minshew after three first-half turnovers against the lowly Buccaneers defense; it just wasn’t meant to be in Jacksonville. 

With that said, Foles’s comfortability operating in an RPO-heavy scheme that attacks between the numbers gives him a viable offensive system that the Patriots could create around him. 

Although it’s different, Belichick and McDaniels will always shift the system to fit the personnel. 

3. Andy Dalton (Trade Target, 2020 Cap Hit: $17.5 million)

The most redeeming qualities for Dalton is that $17.5 million for a starting quarterback is on the lower end of the spectrum, and there’s no dead money, meaning they can cut him for nothing.

The Patriots could force Dalton into a pay cut or sign him to an extension to lower his 2020 cap number, but Dalton would hold all the cards after Brady’s departure. Why would a player with leverage willingly agree to make less money? He wouldn’t. 

On the field, Dalton makes some truly boneheaded decisions for a veteran quarterback, and his accuracy on throws over 15 yards is as spotty as it gets. Plus, we all know his big-game record. 

But if Bill Belichick thinks he can win with Dalton, it’s probably because of his fast release and fit in a quick, horizontal passing game, which are things the Patriots do best offensively. 

Last season, Dalton’s 2.39-second time to throw tied for the fastest release in the NFL with Drew Brees, and that came with an average depth of target of 8.1, so it wasn’t all check downs. 

Dalton and the Bengals will orchestrate a trade of the veteran quarterback with Cincinnati locked in on a quarterback at the top of the draft, most likely LSU’s Joe Burrow.  

The Patriots shouldn’t give up much to acquire Dalton in a trade, but if you believe the chatter around the league, the Red Rifle might be their top choice to replace Brady. 

4. Cam Newton (Trade Target, 2020 Cap Hit: $18.6 million)

We are huge believers of Cam Newton here, but he admittedly has a much different playing style than what we are used to in New England, and is deteriorating physically. 

Newton has never been an accurate quarterback, but in a high-volume vertical passing attack with an added element of a mobile quarterback, think RPOs and other schemes to play 11-on-11, Newton was once MVP of the league and undeniably talented. 

The Patriots could be the perfect landing spot for Newton to re-start his career, and it was not that long ago, 2018, to be exact, that Newton was an above-average starter in the NFL

5. Jameis Winston (Free Agent, Projected APY: $27 million)

Winston is one of the most volatile quarterbacks in the NFL; he’s either dropping absolute dimes down the field or throwing the ball to the other team. The top-end plays are intriguing, but I don’t see the Patriots investing in a poor processor and decision-maker, although he might be the most talented quarterback on the list with the highest upside. 

6. Josh Rosen (Trade Target, 2020 Cap Hit: $660,000)

Rosen’s had one of the worst starts to a career for a top ten pick in recent memory. When the Dolphins draft a quarterback and trade Rosen, he’ll be on his third team in three seasons. He’s cheap on a rookie deal and under contract through 2022 with the fifth-year option. On the field, his 502 pass attempts led to a disastrous 47.6 PFF grade. But going back to his college scouting report, he’s got a smooth, compact delivery with great footwork and a sturdy base. If you treat Rosen as a project and not an immediate starter, it’s not a bad idea to get someone with his talent in the system.