San Francisco 49ers v New England Patriots
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For the second offseason in a row, the New England Patriots are staring off into the abyss as they try to find a new franchise quarterback. Year 1 of the post-Tom Brady era didn't prove to be the smoothest of sailing for Bill Belichick and his club, who were under .500 for the first time since 2000 and missed the playoffs. As quickly as this dynasty sparked up so many years ago, the Pats have become one of the NFL's have-nots at the most important position in the sport, which is a place that was foreign to them as recently as a little over a year ago. 

The mediocrity of 2020 now sets up one of the more pivotal offseasons in recent memory for Belichick, who is tasked with swiftly resurrecting his team back into a legitimate contender in the conference. 

From a bird's-eye view, you'd think that the Patriots would be in a strong position to do just that. They are projected to have the third-most cap space in the NFL during an offseason where most clubs will have to shed salary and cut players to get under the reduced salary cap due to the pandemic. New England also has the No. 15-overall pick in the draft and plenty more picks in its cupboard, including a handful of compensatory selections that are on the way. 

Not bad, right? Yes, but there's a catch. 

As we stand here today, the biggest issue for the Patriots is the offense. By watching this club in 2020, it needs a systemic reboot and it begins with the quarterback. However, New England doesn't exactly control its destiny when it comes to finding that next guy and the timing surrounding those QB dominoes falling could ultimately hurt the Patriots as they try to build up the rest of the unit. 

The most talked-about QB target is unquestionably Jimmy Garoppolo, who New England drafted back in 2014 and eventually traded to the 49ers in 2017. If he's Plan A for the Patriots, they could find themselves waiting a while for him to become available, if he even does at all. While GM John Lynch has stated that Garoppolo will be back in 2021, there's enough smoke to suggest that they'll test the market and see if there's an upgrade to be had. That testing of the waters will likely take the Niners all the way to the draft to see if a prospect falls to them at No. 12 or if Sam Darnold or another veteran QB becomes available. Only then would it make sense for San Francisco to begin entertaining a Garoppolo trade, leaving the Patriots hanging off the edge.  

That scenario -- along with going the more traditional route of taking a QB at No. 15 -- could end up diminishing the free agent pitch New England can make to prospective pass-catchers to ultimately sign with them to help boost the offense. If you're Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin or Hunter Henry -- some of the higher-profile pass-catchers in this free agent class -- would you sign with a club without knowing who the quarterback is? I know I wouldn't. No matter how much money they have to spend, it doesn't mean a lick if players don't want to sign with you because they don't know who'll be throwing them the football. 

That's the conundrum currently plaguing New England. Because the draft seems to be the wick that will set legit quarterback movement ablaze, that may cost the Patriots a top-tier pass-catcher in free agency if they choose to wait. 

Another example: The Carolina Panthers -- who own the No. 8 overall pick in the draft -- seem to be one of the clubs most linked to a blockbuster trade that could land them Deshaun Watson. If such a deal were to go down, that may make Teddy Bridgewater available to teams such as the Patriots as a trickle-down effect. However, a trade involving a top-10 pick historically doesn't happen until closer to the draft, which sets up a similar scenario for New England for a possible Garoppolo deal.  

Of course, the Patriots could choose to go down the free agent route and target the likes of Marcus Mariota (if released), Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick or another quarterback that will likely be on the open market. The downside here is that the ceiling of those players may not be as high as those who could become available at or around the draft. 

Yes, the Patriots have some flexibility this offseason with their cap situation and collection of picks, but it's not enough wiggle room to allow them to handpick their next QB, which as you can see is less than ideal for a number of reasons.