New England Patriots might be wise to let the rebuild begin

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sideline against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sideline against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 3, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

If they’re smart, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots will figure out what they have left on their roster while turning an eye toward the future.

We’re still about seven months away from Halloween, but if you want a nice early scare, you should head on over to the current depth chart for the New England Patriots and take a good look.

Spooky, indeed.

The frightfest goes well beyond the quarterback position, but that’s still a great place to start. Now that T.B. stands as much for Tampa Bay as it does for Tom Brady, the remaining signal-callers on the Patriots’ roster — Brian Hoyer, Cody Kessler, and Jarrett Stidham — combine for less than $3 million of New England’s cap space, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

From a financial standpoint, you won’t find a better-looking situation anywhere else in the league. From a competition standpoint, though, it’s arguably the absolute worst quarterback room of any franchise as things currently stand.

Now that’s not to say that Stidham won’t surprise us all this year. He looked terrific last year in the preseason before appearing pretty shaky in limited regular season work while subbing for Brady.

No one outside of Bill Belichick himself knows exactly what New England thinks they have in Stidham. Most people expected the Patriots to select a QB in last year’s draft, so it didn’t necessarily raise any eyebrows at the time to see them take a chance on the former Auburn Tiger in the fourth round — especially not with Brady set to turn 42 before the 2019 season began.

Now that Brady’s gone, though, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots operate during next month’s draft. If anything, their actions in free agency have seemed to indicate they might be willing to forgo getting better right here and right now in favor of rebuilding for the future instead.

Consider the fact that Belichick was reportedly a part of the discussions surrounding both the DeAndre Hopkins and the Stefon Diggs blockbuster trades that just occurred within the past week. Ultimately he chose not to pull the trigger on acquiring either player, and while that might have disappointed some Patriots fans, it’s probably the shrewder course of action right now.

What’s the point of giving up a ton of draft capital or some of your best remaining players to try and land a star player if you’re not even sure what kind of team you’re going to field this season anyway?

The Patriots’ top-three wide receivers currently project out as Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, and N’Keal Harry.

All three of those players have injury concerns entering the 2020 season. Sanu had just one decent game with New England last year, and Harry barely played for the majority of his rookie season. Edelman is fantastic, sure, but he’s also a soon-to-be 34-year-old coming off a litany of injuries last year.

New England’s tight end group was one of the worst in the league last year, and they somehow got even weaker with the retirement of Ben Watson. The offensive line lost Ted Karras and could still lose Joe Thuney if the Pats choose to try and flip him somewhere else — not to mention, there’s no guarantee that David Andrews gets cleared for action by September.

As dire as the offensive outlook may seem right now for the Pats, it’s also not that rosy on defense, either.

Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, and Kyle Van Noy are all gone. Yes, the talented Patriots secondary remains largely intact from the sensational 2019 version, but you’d be hard-pressed to make an argument that the linebacking corps looks better today than it did in January. The front line of the defense also has several new and unproven faces along it, as well.

This might all come across as a little doom-and-gloom, but that’s not entirely the intention here. The point, rather, is that maybe it’s time we as fans start to acknowledge and potentially accept the very real possibility that we’re going to need to rebuild our team, as opposed to reloading it like we normally do around this time.

We’re used to losing marquee players every offseason — it’s the only downside that accompanies being so successful and winning so many games each year — but we’re not used to losing the superstars we’ve lost over the past 12 months.

Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski. Stephen Gostkowski.

These types of guys don’t just grow on trees. They’re not just stars from last year or the year before — they’re stars who now define this franchise forever. Their names are etched into New England lore for all-time, and we may never see the likes of them again.

As such, perhaps we should realize that it might be in our own best interests to start turning an eye toward the future rather than the present. Obviously no one wants the Patriots to go from winning their own division in their sleep the past two decades to suddenly being the AFC East’s doormat, but we do need to lower our expectations — and fast.

Whether that means “tanking” for a promising quarterback like Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, or simply doing just enough to stay relevant while accumulating the necessary draft capital or assets to score a marquee QB from another franchise via trade, it’s clear that something needs to happen.

And if Stidham lights the world on fire — not just in training camp or in the preseason, but in the regular season as well — then Belichick and the Pats can pivot quickly and do what they need to do to accelerate the rebuild just a little bit faster.

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Otherwise though, the new name of the game for New England and all of its championship-accustomed fans is patience. It may be a while before this franchise celebrates a seventh Super Bowl title. No one’s saying it’s going to take as long as it did the for us to win the first one, but it’s probably not going to come in 2020 or 2021, to say the least.