Possibility of Patriots tanking in 2020 hinges on just one guy

Andy Hart
March 31, 2020 - 7:13 am
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With Tom Brady taking his talents to Tampa, a salary cap situation that has New England with barely enough space to buy a starter home in the Boston suburbs and the harsh reality of a rather limited number of developing young stars on the roster to rebuild around, the idea of the Patriots tanking this coming season has become a somewhat hot topic.

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Pro Football Focus lists Bill Belichick’s squad as the team most set up for a potential tanking – losing as many games as possible to bottom out quickly, theoretically earn the No. 1 overall pick and grab a true franchise QB prospect to build the next stage of the ongoing dynasty around – for the 2020 season.

Belichick’s longtime football friend, former New England advisor and current analyst Michael Lombardi wrote via Twitter last week that tanking was simply not something he could see in the cards in Foxborough.

But wait a minute, hasn’t Belichick professed for two decades that he makes whatever difficult decision is in the best interests of the football team? That he’s tasked and handsomely paid by Robert Kraft to take care of the Patriots with an eye on both short- and long-term success?

If those frequently floated philosophies are true, then Belichick at least has to consider the idea of tanking. It would certainly be tough pill to swallow for all of Patriot Nation in the short term but could pay off endlessly over the long haul.

It would not, as Belichick himself once accused of the Colts’ “Suck for Luck” final season of Payton Manning, be irresponsible. While Andrew Luck’s health issues and surprise retirement last summer derailed things a bit, Indy went from one Hall of Fame talent to another at the most important position in sports, a Super Bowl contender with two different guys under center in the span of a couple seasons.

In fact, tanking might just be the best thing Belichick could do to reset both the books and roster in New England in 2020.

There is, however, one singular argument against tanking.

His name is Jarrett Stidham.

Not that long ago rated as one of the top athletic quarterbacks in the country, New England’s 2019 fourth-round pick out of Auburn is now the man to watch under center for better or worse at Gillette Stadium.

Whether by plan or by happenstance, Stidham is the guy with the tall task of taking over for Brady. (Can we please forget the idea of journeyman backup Brian Hoyer competing for the starting job? Please!!!!!!)

Is Stidham the heir, as so many of his former coaches and advocates believe, or is he to be exposed as more of an error in passing game projections as so many young quarterbacks are proven to be?

Belichick’s beliefs, trusts and projections for the man he seemingly lovingly referred to as “Stid” last December while detailing the then-rookie’s work filling in for an absent Brady on the practice field are the key to the entire plan for the Patriots moving forward.

If in all his infinite football wisdom honed over four-plus decades in the NFL Belichick believes that Stidham is the next big thing in Foxborough and the answer at the quarterback position, then there is no decision to make. Surround him with the best team attainable, guide his development and reap the rewards as swiftly as possible.

After all, a sixth-round pick named Brady won the Super Bowl when he was forced into a starting job in just his second season.

A much more recent and higher-rated prospect named Patrick Mahomes won the NFL MVP in his first year as a starter in just his second NFL season.

As Kevin Garnett so famously taught us, “Anything is possible!” It just takes talent, work ethic and support. Maybe Stidham will put all those things together for the Patriots’ benefit this coming fall.

But, if Belichick knows deep down in places that he doesn’t talk about in press conferences or even at dinner parties that Stidham is merely a placeholder, then the topic of tanking has to be broached.

Forget a short-term, poor-fit like Cam Newton.

Forget a game-changing playmaker – for both teams! – like Jameis Winston.

Then, it’s about tearing things down to build them back up.

Trading the likes of Joe Thuney, Dont’a Hightower or others might have to be in play.

Going younger and cheaper wherever possible should be the approach.

But certainly tanking has to be a consideration. And why shouldn’t it be?

Pride? Ego? A chase for an NFL all-time wins record?

The harsh NFL reality is that Stidham probably has a much better chance of falling on his face as an NFL starter than he does of proving he’s a true starting-caliber option or franchise QB.

That’s just reality.

If losing this season, the first year after Brady, set the Patriots up to get a shot at Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (“Tank for Trevor!”) or Ohio State rising star Justin Fields (“Fail for Fields!”), shouldn’t that be pondered?

After all, doesn’t Belichick always do what’s in the best interests of the football team, both short and long term?

If he dismisses tanking out of hand, without even a consideration, then is he really doing what’s in the best interests of his team?

Nope. In this post-Brady era every option should be on the table.

Retooling. Rebooting. Rebuilding.

And even tanking.

It’s time for Belichick to prove his worth once and for all. Time to figure out what exactly he has in Stidham and what’s in the best interests of the Patriots moving forward.

Related: Matthew Slater: Post-Brady Patriots ‘not the victims here. We have a great opportunity.’