Towards the end of June last year, two things looked like they were moral certainties. One, that Covid would play itself out sooner or later. Two, that Jarrett Stidham would be the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots.
We're now approaching the end of February of the following year. The first shows no end in sight. And the second feels like one of several possible scenarios. But really, one of the least likely. And seemingly less likely with each passing day. Which begs the question of what happened that caused Stidham to go from the presumptive choice to replace Tom Brady, to third string, to not even dressing until QB1 Cam Newton was put on the Covid inactive list, to never really being considered an option as Newton struggled over the last three months of the season.
Greg Bedard had a possible explanation on his podcast. And if what he's reporting is true, it's bloody awful news for Stidham's future in New England.
“What people need to keep in mind, that Cam playing and starting," Bedard said. "I came to learn was more about how the other players viewed Stidham, more than anything else. There was not much faith in the building (in him). And you could even see that when he got into the games and the way he conducted the huddle. For whatever reason, and I don’t know if it was the training camp injury or the offseason thing or what have you, or the way he just conducts himself. There’s not a lot of belief (in him) in that building. And there was the feeling within the team that if they turned the keys over to Stidham, that it would become a complete debacle down the stretch and that wouldn’t be good for anybody.”
And he went on to say, basically, that even as Newton strung together weeks without a win or a touchdown pass, he kept the starting job by default. It wasn't so much that coaches believed he'd turn it around. It was more a matter of them having no faith in Stidham to be a leader.
If so, this is just another way that 2020 is now almost two months in our rearview and is still finding ways to run us off the road.
Here's the thing: I had full faith and confidence that Stidham could be coached up to become an adequate, if not eventually very good, starting NFL quarterback. And in fairness, can you blame me? Here's a blog I posted in April, after Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy was raving about Studman:
--When asked by the interviewer about Stidham's final year at Auburn, "playing behind the worst offensive line I've probably ever seen in big time college football," Nagy agrees that he went into that season believing Stidham would be a first round pick and is impressed with his natural talent. "Jarrett looks like he came out of the womb throwing a football," he says. "It's just so effortless for him. He's an elite thrower. Absolutely an elite thrower."
--Nagy discusses Stidham's junior year at Auburn, when he took a step back in production due to significant amounts of coaching turmoil in a positive light. "You look at the bowl game (the 2018 Music City Bowl) when [head coach] Gus Malzahn took over the play calling duty and they set the all time bowl record in the first half against Purdue," he says. "Scoring 56 points in one half. I think that's what Jarrett would've done all season. Not to that level, obviously. Not to that extreme. But I think that offense would've looked a lot different if Gus had been calling the plays all season."
--So you know, in the bowl Nagy is referring to, Stidham's offense scored 28 points in each of the first two quarters. He threw five touchdowns, including tosses of 66, 74, 52 and 34 yards, with 373 passing yards total. On only 21 attempts. And don't try to minimize that based on the competition, because Jim Nagy won't hear of it. "I've had people try to shoot that down and say, 'Well, that was just Purdue,'" he adds. "That was the same Purdue defense that made Dwayne Haskins look like an undraftable player." Touche.
But based on this report by Bedard, it would seem it's not Jarrett Stidham's arm or his accuracy or his command of the offense that's held him back. It's his Jarrett Stidhamness. It's that intangibles thing I wrote about this morning because Charlie Weis was saying Alabama's Mac Jones has an "'It' Factor." And how the Patriots value leadership above all other things in a quarterback.
Assuming this is an accurate assessment, it's not only bad news for the team, I'd have to think it's a Patriots career death sentence for Stidham. Leadership is a quality that's hard to define, but damned near impossible to fake. It's a disaster any time it's tried. And so is trust. Human nature being what it is, if you don't have people's trust right away, it's the hardest thing in the world to earn later on. Maybe he was just immature and God knows people grow up at different stages in life. But if it's true his teammates have no confidence in him to the point they thought him starting a game would be a "debacle," I don't see how you can even keep him as a backup. One thing for sure is that we'll know soon enough. Because Bill Belichick is not going to keep a guy on the roster no one believes in.