Tom Brady to Bucs: How do the Patriots replace the greatest ever?

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For the first time in two decades, New England Patriots fans will not be able to watch Tom Brady run onto the field as their quarterback when the new NFL season gets under way.

Brady on Tuesday announced his 20-season spell with the Patriots would be coming to an end.

He will take his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom Brady will hope to add to the six Super Bowl titles he won in an unprecedented spell of dominance in New England.

The Patriots enter a new era with the identity of their new starting quarterback very much a mystery.

How will head coach Bill Belichick replace Brady? We look at the potential avenues to filling the void left by the greatest quarterback of all time.

Promote Jarrett Stidham

Probably the least popular option among Patriots fans. New England drafted Stidham in the fourth round last year and the Pats are reported to have high hopes for his future with the team.

Stidham, who played for Baylor and Auburn in college, possesses an NFL-level arm but looked a long way from ready in the limited action he saw as a rookie.

He threw four passes in 2019, only two were completed and one was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

If the Patriots decide to hand the reins to Stidham, they will need to sign a veteran backup as an insurance policy in case that limited sample size from his first year proves a harbinger of sustained struggle for the 23-year-old.

Sign a free agent

The pickings on the free-agent market are growing increasingly slim.

Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater agreed to deals with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers respectively, and Marcus Mariota is off to Las Vegas to link up with Jon Gruden and the Raiders.

That leaves Brady's predecessor in Tampa, Jameis Winston, as the most viable unsigned option.

Winston's penchant for baffling interceptions makes him an awkward fit with Belichick, who may find developing Stidham a more intriguing project than trying to turn the former number one overall pick into the astute decision-maker he has never shown signs of becoming.

Draft a rookie

With the 23rd pick in the first round at the disposal, the Patriots have no shot at either of Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa, each expected to be selected in the top five.

Oregon's Justin Herbert and Utah State's Jordan Love are also likely to be beyond their reach.

However, Washington's Jacob Eason, Georgia's Jake Fromm and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts could all still be on the board by the time the Patriots make their pick.

Of that trio, it is Hurts who may be of most interest to Belichick.

A National Championship winner who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma after losing his starting job to Tagovailoa, Hurts was a Heisman Trophy finalist last year and is a genuine dual-threat at quarterback with his abilities as a runner and a thrower.

There has arguably never been a coach better at exploiting the weaknesses and minimising the strengths of opponents than Belichick. He would be able to use Hurts' mobility to do that in a way that was never open to him with Brady.

Strike a trade

If the Patriots want an established quality starter to assume the mantle from Brady, then they may need to give up some draft capital to do so.

Andy Dalton is available, with the Cincinnati Bengals set to draft Burrow first overall. He would not set pulses racing in New England but is talented enough to keep them in the postseason mix.

Yet the Patriots could land a quarterback many consider an upgrade on veteran Brady by making a deal for Cam Newton.

Newton has been made available by the Panthers and has proven he can be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL when healthy.

The league MVP in 2015, Newton can devastate opposing defenses with his arm and his legs, and Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are ideally qualified to help him rediscover his best after two successive injury-plagued seasons.