Is the New England Patriots’ Dynasty Over?

By Joe Gendelman   January 3, 2021 

Is the New England Patriots’ Dynasty Over?

It turns out, you can’t just replace arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history overnight and not experience any drop-off in performance.

The New England Patriots learned that the hard way this season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and just the third time in the last 20 seasons after parting with Tom Brady in the offseason. Brady, meanwhile, led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first playoff appearance since 2007 while still showing he can lead an offense.

Despite Brady proving he can still make valuable and elite contributions to a team, New England’s reasoning for parting with him wasn’t necessarily entirely wrong. Brady’s numbers this season are good – he’s passed for more than 4,200 yards with 36 touchdowns (his most since 2015) while completing 66 percent of his passes. Those are near-MVP numbers, but Brady has had noticeable elements of slippage in his game. Namely, Brady has struggled at times throwing deep this season. He’s never been particularly fleet of foot, and he’s certainly not becoming more mobile with age. 

Tampa Bay’s depth and talent on offense masks some of those weaknesses in his game. New England has nowhere near the offensive talent the Bucs do. So, it’s likely that Brady in New England would’ve looked far worse this season than he did in Tampa. 

The Patriots also played one of the league’s most difficult schedules. Their .560 opponents’ winning percentage was the third most difficult in the league overall and was harder than what any NFC team faced.

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Justin Zimmer (61) and Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Klein (54) wrap up New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) during a game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills on December 28, 2020, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Their defense also wasn’t horrible – the Patriots were middle of the pack in yards allowed and points allowed.

Those two factors, at least, should give some hope that missing the playoffs was a momentary blip as the team reloads to continue its dynasty, as it did the last two times they missed the playoffs.

But, not to belabor the point, they had Brady to rely on in those previous two bounce-back seasons, one of which was Brady’s second season as a starter and the other was a season he’d missed due to injury. Brady is obviously not coming back, but what will the quarterback position look like for New England next season?

What’s clear from this season is that former MVP Cam Newton, who was brought in as Brady’s replacement, is not a viable long-term answer at the position. Newton has thrown just five touchdown passes with 10 interceptions in 14 games this season. He has rushed for 12 touchdowns, which is the second-best mark of his career, but his 4.1 yards per carry is the second-lowest single-season mark of his career.

Having a quarterback who can make plays with his feet was clearly a wrinkle Patriots coach Bill Belichick liked having in his offense this year, but Newton’s injury history and the number of hits he’s taken in his career have clearly taken a toll on his passing. The team has stuck with Newton, too, so that probably means they’re not enamored with backup Jarett Stidham as a potential option as a starter.

Cam Newton #1 of the New England Patriots runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on December 28, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The team will have some options, though. They should have more than $70 million in cap space to pursue free agents, and should draft high enough or be able to package multiple picks to get in position to select a quarterback in the first round.

As CBS Sports points out, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo could be available. He’s a former Patriot who was once reportedly favored by Belichick as Brady’s eventual replacement before Brady helped maneuver to get Garoppolo traded. Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, and Dak Prescott are also big-name quarterbacks who could be on new teams next season.

If the Patriots instead try and look toward the draft, unless they trade up, they won’t be in play for star quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, who should disappear from the board within the first two picks. The Patriots are likely to pick in the range of the 14th pick, which could get them BYU’s Zach Wilson or Trey Lance from North Dakota State.

New England also needs some weapons, though. The offense was predictable and had little firepower this season. The Patriots were bottom four in total yards, bottom five in points per game. Whoever plays quarterback needs reliable weapons to throw to, which seemed to be the biggest reason Brady was open to leaving the Patriots in the offseason. 

In the NFL, it is relatively easy for a team to go from bad to contender in just one offseason. New England has the reputation and track record of finding talent and remaking its roster over and over. But for a second straight offseason, they’ll have to do it with instability at the most important position – something most franchises can relate to, but completely foreign territory for the Patriots.

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