If the outside football world didn’t know it when the New England Patriots took time to talk to Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M’s pro day last month, it should know it now. With Tuesday’s acquisition of another first-round pick in this month’s NFL draft, the Patriots are giving themselves as many options as possible to tab Tom Brady’s eventual successor at quarterback.
And there is one quarterback in particular who may be the target of Tuesday’s trade with the Los Angeles Rams: Louisville Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
By acquiring the 23rd overall pick in the first round in exchange for wideout Brandin Cooks (and already holding the 31st pick), the Patriots have given themselves flexibility for a quarterback selection in this month’s draft. And Jackson could emerge as New England’s top option for two key reasons: Thanks to an inside pipeline, Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows virtually everything he can about Jackson; and the Louisville star already knows plenty about the base concepts of New England’s offense.
• From 2014 to 2016, former NFL executive Mike Lombardi worked for Belichick inside the Patriots franchise. During this time, Lombardi’s son Matt was an offensive assistant for the Louisville Cardinals. This gave Belichick a sustained flow of information on Jackson, not to mention the ability to process the data with Lombardi – who likely knows precisely what Belichick wants from a quarterback. Having an inside track is vital in any quarterback evaluation. And Belichick (who wrote the foreword to Lombardi’s forthcoming book, “Gridiron Genius”), undoubtedly has one when it comes to Jackson.
• While Brady and Jackson might be on opposite ends of the athletic spectrum, they share something where it truly counts: Both run a tweaked version of the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system. Former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis introduced the system to the Patriots, and current coordinator Josh McDaniels was groomed inside it – all while the scheme was tailored to fit Brady over the years. Meanwhile, Jackson ran a version of the same pro-style system at Louisville under Bobby Petrino. That gives Jackson familiarity with the formation/personnel/verbiage principles that have defined the New England offense for years. Having an understanding of how the Erhardt-Perkins system works would be a significant bonus for a rookie sharing a classroom with Brady, who is operating the scheme at an elite level.
Neither of those realities makes Jackson a lock to be drafted by the Patriots, of course. And there’s no guarantee the Cardinals star will be on the draft board at No. 23. But there’s little doubt that adding to the quarterback depth chart is high on the agenda for the Patriots. Particularly with Brady sending signals in his “Tom vs Time” documentary that he’s contemplating his football mortality. And it’s worth noting that Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio attended the Louisville pro day last month and watched Jackson. If anyone is considered Belichick’s right hand in the draft evaluation process, it’s Caserio. One way or another, he’s going to play a role in finding Brady’s replacement. Maybe a pivotal role.
And some attempt at that replacement is going to happen this offseason. There’s no hiding it. Given Brady’s age, New England isn’t just in the market for a backup – it’s in the market for a successor. And that alone suggests a potential first-round pick invested in the position if the right player were available. Belichick knows that. Ownership knows that. Even Brady likely knows that.
Where that will lead remains to be seen. But acquiring an additional first-round selection in this month’s draft has given the Patriots another quarterback option they didn’t have last week. They can stand pat and hope Jackson or another quarterback slides to them. Or they can use their deep reservoir of picks – which also includes two second-rounders and five total picks in the top 95 – to move up on draft day.
The bottom line: If the Patriots want to get involved with one of the top quarterbacks, they can. Regardless, all signs point to some kind of solid quarterback investment happening. And in a process where inside information and scheme fit are premiums, the high-ceiling talent of Lamar Jackson might be too good to pass up.
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• Pete Thamel: Beilein still best college coach without a title
• Eric Adelson: Why Lamar Jackson may turn into NFL’s ‘biggest travesty’