If Brady leaves, should Patriots pursue Bridgewater or Hill?

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 22: Quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the New Orleans Saints and Taysom Hill #7 stsnd on the field during warmups before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 22, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 22: Quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the New Orleans Saints and Taysom Hill #7 stsnd on the field during warmups before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 22, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

If Tom Brady decides to sign elsewhere in free agency, should the New England Patriots try to ink Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, or someone else at QB?

Let’s get this out of the way right now: the best quarterback the New England Patriots could and should try to sign in free agency this spring is the one they already have — Tom Brady.

Yes, Brady will be 43 years old before the new season starts. Yes, he may have shown some signs of decline last season with his most inexperienced and ineffective supporting cast on offense that he’s had in years. Yes, he deserves to get paid what he’s really worth for once in his career.

All that being said, the best decision that the Patriots — and that Brady — could possibly make this spring is to sync up for another year (or two, or three).

Brady won’t find a better defense or a better coaching staff anywhere else in the league, and New England at least sounds like they’re committed to finding him the help he needs and deserves in 2020. The Patriots also won’t find a quarterback as experienced, savvy, smart, and careful with the football as Brady anywhere else — not in free agency, and certainly not in the draft.

If Brady decides to sign a big payday somewhere else, though, the Pats will be left scrambling to figure out their signal-caller plans for 2020 and beyond. Second-year man Jarrett Stidham is certainly not ready to step into a starring role — he had a solid preseason as a rookie, but his brief regular season appearances last year were nothing short of disastrous.

The Patriots must continue to develop Stidham and see if he has what it takes to be their quarterback of the future — whether or not Brady stays with them another year(s). Should they decide he’s not the long-term answer, then they need to figure out who is (through the draft).

In the meantime though, the Patriots will certainly want to try and remain as competitive as they can be in Brady leaves. That most likely translates into finding a veteran QB they can bring in as a sort of stopgap or transitional placeholder until they settle on a final solution.

This offseason, there will be more veteran free agent quarterbacks available on the market than perhaps any other offseason in NFL history. It’s a long list of vaunted passers — most of them classic dropback QBs from the so-called “Golden Age” of quarterbacking — guys like Brady himself, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers.

Brees has already announced his intention to stave off retirement for at least another season, and he’s also made it clear he plans to return to the New Orleans Saints (and only the Saints). Rivers could be a bridge quarterback for the Pats if Brady signs elsewhere, but there’s no denying he represents a significant dropoff from Tom Terrific in terms of overall talent and ability. He’s still a great QB, but he’s certainly no Brady.

The Patriots could also look to trade for someone like Andy Dalton if they want a classic QB under center, but that move doesn’t make a ton of sense. Why would New England give something up for Dalton, who has largely struggled and been inconsistent throughout his career with the Cincinnati Bengals?

What makes a little more sense is for New England to consider stepping outside their comfort zone in this Brady-less scenario and consider inking a more modern quarterback — aka a mobile QB who can make plays with his legs as well as his arm. Free agent QBs who fit that mold include Dak Prescott, Marcus Mariota, and Jameis Winston.

It’s hard to envision the Dallas Cowboys relinquishing Prescott, though, and both Mariota and Winston have plenty of red flags attached to them.

Mariota is injury-prone and hasn’t been nearly as effective as he once was in college, where he won the Heisman Trophy playing in the electric Oregon Ducks offense. Winston is talented and a former No. 1 overall pick, but he’s also arguably the most careless QB in the league with the football — and you know Belichick would never stand for that.

So who’s left if you’re the Patriots and Brady decides to sign elsewhere?

Well, how about the two QBs most affected by the recent news that Brees is returning for his 20th NFL season: Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill?

Both are free agents this spring (Bridgewater is unrestricted while Hill is restricted, meaning the Saints would have the ability to match any qualifying offer for Hill). Bridgewater is actually the younger of the two at just 27 years of age, whereas Hill is still not yet in his prime at 29.

Bridgewater has significantly more starting experience — both with the Minnesota Vikings and with the Saints last year when Brees was injured — but Hill potentially has more upside. Hill is a gadget player who can throw, run with the football, and catch. He’s been one of the most unique and versatile weapons in the NFL since Sean Payton signed him as an undrafted free agent back in 2017.

Either one of these guys might represent both the present and the future at the QB position for the Patriots if Brady walks and New England is able to pry one of them away from New Orleans.

Each could also be affordable in his own way: Bridgewater because he’s an UFA that the Saints will likely relinquish easier than Hill (given Payton’s preferences and Brees’ return), and Hill because he’s still so unproven and unformed that most teams might be hesitant to commit starting quarterback-type of money to him.

So which should the Patriots consider signing if Brady walks? It might come down to whether or not Belichick (and McDaniels) is open to molding his offense around a player, or if they want to just insert the best guy into their existing system and roll with it.

Hill is obviously the choice if they want to go the first route. He’d require more systemic changes within New England’s offensive playbook and strategy, but he’d also represent the biggest mismatch on the field at any given time due to his unique multi-dimensionality.

Bridgewater is the choice if they want to find the best young quarterback who could simply step into the shoes Brady left behind — mammoth shoes, no doubt about it — and presumably keep the boat afloat and sailing forward. Bridgewater is a pocket passer like Brady, he’s extremely accurate, he’s still very young, and he’s definitely got experience. The only downside is he also has a scary injury history.

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What do you think? Should the Patriots concentrate more on signing Bridgewater or Hill if Brady leaves the team in free agency?