When Tom Brady departed as a free agent in March, Stidham was prepared to step up and be the guy.
Soon after, Stidham quietly began to make his presence felt in the New England community, donating 1,000 meals alongside his wife, Kennedy, to a local YMCA. Then, along with veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer, he helped arrange socially distanced throwing sessions with teammates in a show of leadership.
It was all setting up nicely for Stidham to be the Patriots’ new QB1 … until No. 1 came along, willing to play for a modest contract that could become one of the NFL’s all-time great bargains.
So, the odds are now high that Stidham will have to wait for his chance to be the guy. Just don’t tell him that.
“I’m definitely ready. I’ve put in a lot of work this offseason to really improve mentally, physically, in a lot of different areas,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m extremely excited to compete with Cam and Hoy [Hoyer] as we go forward in training camp and get into the season. I’m really looking forward to the competition. I love competing in whatever it is.”
Stidham beat out Hoyer last season for the No. 2 job behind Brady, and if he ever pulled ahead of Newton to take the top spot this season, it would be a huge upset.
The Auburn alums have crossed paths before, with Newton visiting campus as Stidham was preparing for the 2019 draft. Stidham said they ate lunch together at Acre, a local restaurant, and they “got to rap and that sort of thing, just talk football and his experience.”
When Newton agreed to join the Patriots, Stidham (along with Hoyer) invited him to join in the final socially distanced throwing sessions. For Stidham, the workouts were important because “going from January to training camp is a long time not to throw with guys, not to get timing and chemistry down with those guys.”
It also gave Stidham a chance to make an impression on his veteran teammates.
“Any time you’re spending time with guys that deliver the football, especially on your own and away from the facility, that’s when you get to learn each other on a whole other level — not just as a football player, but as a person and family man,” said receiver Julian Edelman, complimenting Stidham, Newton and Hoyer. “When you learn those things, that’s what relationships and trust are built from.”
That’s a gap Newton is now trying to close, and Stidham has welcomed him, saying, “What a great opportunity to compete with another great player … Ultimately all of us together, it’s a really great room. [Hoyer], who has a ton of experience in a lot of different places, and a lot here. And Cam, who is MVP, played in the Super Bowl, a great player himself. I’m just excited to get to learn with these guys.”
What he has learned to this point has been significant. Stidham said the Patriots’ offense seemed “foreign” to him last year when he arrived as a fourth-round draft pick (No. 133 overall).
Now, not so much.
“I’ve seen a big growth, certainly, but there’s always room to grow and learn,” Stidham said. “I do feel a lot more confident having a year under my belt, a year in this system, just kind of being more of a professional more in general. Understanding how we do things here within the organization. I’ve approached the offseason that way the entire time. My big thing, I just want to continue being a leader on this team and be the best teammate I can be to the guys in the locker room.”
Coach Bill Belichick saw similar growth, noting in May, “Stid worked really hard last year. He’s made a lot of progress in terms of understanding our offense and understanding defenses, like all players from Year 1 to Year 2. I’m sure he will get out there and be ready to go, be prepared, compete hard, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
That, of course, was before Newton arrived.
As for everything that has unfolded over the past five months, from the coronavirus pandemic, to Brady’s departure, to Newton’s arrival, Stidham acknowledged “it’s been a wild ride.”
But his mindset hasn’t wavered. He’s still ready to compete to be the guy.