Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick celebrates after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The all-time great duo of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have led the New England Patriots to a run of success that we’ll never see again. Now, for the first time, the Patriots are in real danger of potentially losing Brady to another team.

After nearly two decades of historical dominance and six Super Bowl wins, Patriots fans head into the offseason with concern about a future without Brady. The team would obviously benefit from the future Hall of Famer returning and the team is willing to go to great lengths to bring him back. Even if Brady doesn’t return for the 2020 season, the Patriots can win without him.

The skinny: New England’s 2019 season will be remembered for its stunning Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins, which cost it a first-round bye, and a first-round playoff knockout from the Tennessee Titans. However, there were still plenty of impressive aspects of this team.

  • The Patriots boasted a championship-caliber defense this past season. It took a step back from the historical levels we saw early in the season. But, it still proved to be one of the NFL’s best units throughout the year.
  • Outside of their issues at kicker, which proved to be a problem all season, New England also boasted one of the best special-teams groups in the NFL.

This team regularly had the advantage in terms of coaching and in two aspects of the game. Ultimately it was the Patriots’ offense that cost them a shot at the Super Bowl. While there’s plenty of blame to go around and issues that must be fixed this offseason, Tom Brady also proved to be a problem.

Tom Not So Terrific: Not all of the issues fall on Brady. He still delivered some incredible moments, limited mistakes and finished the year with some numbers that many quarterbacks dream of having. However, the Patriots’ offense was limited by Brady’s evident decline.

  • Brady ranked 23rd in intended air yards per attempt (7.6), per Pro Football Reference. The offense rarely took shots down the field, making it easier for defenses to stop the Patriots.
  • He finished the season with the third-worst rate of bad throws (20.6%), led the NFL in throwaways (30) and ranked 22nd in on-target throws per attempt (73.1%).
  • Brady’s offensive line didn’t do him any favors, but his lack of mobility also hurt the team. Among quarterbacks with 400-plus pass attempts, Brady had by far the fewest scrambles (three).
  • The 42-year-old started the season strong with 2,251 passing yards, a 13-4 TD-INT ratio and he averaged 7.3 yards per attempt. However, he struggled as the temperature dropped to finish the final two months with 1,805 passing yards, an 11-4 TD-INT ratio and he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt.
  • Brady completed just 56.9 percent of his passes in the second half and ranked 27th in positively graded throws, per Pro Football Focus.

The Patriots enter the offseason with glaring needs on offense that must be addressed for this team to take a step forward in 2020. Accomplishing that and bringing Brady back would still be the ideal scenario. However, Brady is in an obvious decline and losing him isn’t the caliber of blow it would be in previous years.

Fortunately, the Patriots are heading into an offseason with a legendary class of free-agent quarterbacks. Belichick is already exploring contingency plans if Brady leaves, including via trade, so hope should not be lost. In fact, the wealth of options available puts New England in great position to compete in 2020.

The quarterback options: The Patriots should explore all of their options on the trade market this offseason. Given top talents like Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford could be available, Belichick should explore both. Given this team’s other needs, targeting a player on the open market is likely the best option.

  • Philip Rivers – Turnovers became a major problem for Rivers in 2019. However, he proved he could take some deep shots and he made fewer bad throws (15.4%) than Brady. Given Rivers is 38, though, the Patriots might opt for a younger quarterback.
  • Jameis Winston – If any coaching staff could correct Winston’s turnover problems and unlock his potential, it would be in New England. He threw for 5,109 yards with 33 passing touchdowns in 2019 and would bring an incredibly gifted arm to this offense. It could be a fascinating fit, but there’s just no way to look past his historic tendency for turnovers.
  • Ryan Tannehill – Tannehill delivered a career rejuvenation for the ages in 2019. He passed for 2,742 yards with a 22-6 TD-INT ratio in 12 games. Even more impressive, 80.9% of his throws were on target and only 12.6% of his attempts were bad throws. While he’s due for regression, his athleticism could open up Josh McDaniels’ offense. Unfortunately, he is expected to stay with the Titans.

Each of these quarterbacks can bring a needed element to the Patriots’ offense in 2020. Given their potential price tags, the focus should turn to one of the best values on the free-agent market.

Teddy Time: If the Patriots want to run the same system, which has been successful for years, Teddy Bridgewater is the perfect fit. The offense needs someone who can handle pressure, deliver pinpoint passes and make all the rights ready.

When all hope seemed lost for the New Orleans Saints after Drew Brees’ injury, Bridgewater came in and impressed. He kept this team alive and showcased the traits that can make him a starter.

  • The 27-year-old showed tremendous precision with his passes and rarely made a bad decision. Bridgewater’s 11.8% bad-throw rate would be the third-best among starting quarterbacks. His on-target rate (81.3%) would have put him fourth in the NFL.
  • While he’s not a great athlete, Bridgewater’s 12 scrambles in limited action demonstrate the added mobility he brings over Brady.
  • After just three weeks of first-team reps, Bridgewater locked in and hit his stride. He completed 67.6% of his throws with 835 passing yards, a 6-1 TD-INT ratio and held a 105.3 quarterback rating.
  • He completed 23-of-38 attempts for 281 yards, two scoress and a 100.9 rating against the Chicago Bears in his final start.
  • Those numbers, while a small-sample size, would put him on pace for a 4,000-yard season with 30 touchdowns.

Bridgewater is far from the perfect quarterback. He relies on short-to-intermedia passes and counts on his skill players to make plays. It also makes him the perfect fit for McDaniels’ scheme and it isn’t all that different from Brady’s existing skills.

The Patriots could rely on their dominant defense and coaching, with a quarterback who demonstrates the ability to elevate his game. Better yet, he’ll be cheaper than the top options, which lets the Patriots spend cap space to address other needs.

Attacking the offseason: The Patriots head into the offseason worth more than $40 million in cap space. It provides the front office with the flexibility to add impact talent in free agency. There should also be a focus on bringing back a few key players to bolster the 2020 squad.

  • Re-sign OG Joe Thuney – The Patriots turned Thuney from a third-round pick into an outstanding guard. He deserves to get paid for his stellar work in pass protection and he’s not someone New England can afford to lose.
  • Re-sign Devin McCourty – McCourty is coming back next season and it’s hard to imagine the safety signing anywhere but New England. While he’s no longer an elite player, he created seven turnovers this past season and is a needed playmaker in this secondary.
  • Sign TE Hunter Henry – New England clearly missed Rob Gronkowski in 2019 and it’s time for them to add a weapon at the position. He can be moved all around the field and is a complete mismatch against linebackers and safeties. Durability concerns will limit his contract demands a bit and the chance to play in this system could make this the perfect pairing for everyone.
  • Sign A.J. Green – Green wants to win a Super Bowl and the Patriots need a No. 1 receiver. The match makes too much sense for both sides. Green remains an outstanding talent and in this system with a vastly improved supporting cast, the Patriots’ offense will thrive.
  • Sign DT Javon Hargrave – Heading into the offseason with money to spend allows the Patriots to beef up the defensive line. Hargrave isn’t just a player who can stuff the run, he also collapses the pocket and get to the quarterback.

This scenario addresses many of the Patriots’ needs and also puts them in position to take significant strides next season. The offense adds the kind of weapons it lacked in 2019 with a go-to target for Bridgewater. Meanwhile, retaining Thuney and McCourty secures the return of two of this team’s best players.

Heading into the draft with a top-25 selection will be a different feeling for the Patriots. Fortunately, the 2020 draft class is very deep, especially at a few areas where the Patriots must specifically address.

  • 1.23 – Grant Delpit, S – While this might be a luxury selection, the Patriots should find Patrick Chung’s replacement. Delpit is the type of athlete that Belichick can use all over the field. His instincts and athleticism make him the perfect chess piece for this defense. Pairing him with McCourty and cornerback Stephon Gilmore makes this secondary even scarier.
  • 3.87. – Bradlee Anae, EDGE – New England needs help on the edge and Anae might fit what they’re looking for. He’s a polished outside linebacker with the instincts, technique and motor to make an impact right away. The Patriots know how to get the most out of players like this and they could do that again.
  • 3.Comp. – Anfernee Jennings, EDGE – Sometimes, you just have to double-dip at a position. Jennings isn’t a great athlete, but he can win with technique, effort and instincts. He brings depth to the defensive front and allows Belichick to mix up his looks defensively and keep everyone fresh.

A defensive-heavy draft turns an area of strength into one of dominance for the Patriots. Keep in mind, this front office must also start considering its long-term outlook and these selections help with just that. It also creates the perfect complement with a free-agency period focused more on the offensive side of the ball.

The bottom line: If anyone can find a way to win without a Hall of Fame quarterback, it’s the greatest coach in NFL history. Belichick knew this day would come in New England and he’s likely prepared with a plan to help this team keep winning.

Going from Tom Brady to Teddy Bridgewater will be an adjustment for fans. However, this offseason plan allows the Patriots to make significant additions on offense. A receiving corps with A.J. Green, Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry would be tough for defenses to stop. Now factor in tight end Hunter Henry and pass-catching back James White, this offense is transformed.

The Patriots don’t need elite quarterback play to win a Super Bowl, we saw that in 2018 and they’ve accomplished it before. If Bridgewater walks into a situation like this, the Patriots can battle with the top teams in the NFL for several years.