Who will be the Patriots' next quarterback? Exploring New England's best Tom Brady replacements for 2020

Tom Brady will not be returning to the Patriots as their starting quarterback for a 21st season in 2020. While he decides between the Buccaneers and Chargers as his next team, the Patriots are left with the extremely difficult task of trying to replace him, short and long term.

So far, the free-agent deals have been limited for QBs. Ryan Tannehill (re-signing with the Titans), Marcus Mariota (Raiders) and Case Keenum (Browns) are off the market. Drew Brees also isn't leaving the Saints.

Many other options are in play, however, from signing another free agent, trading for a veteran or drafting a direct rookie successor.

Here are the Patriots' options to replace Brady for the 2020 season and beyond, from realistic to a few more far-fetched alternatives.

Top 50 players | Live grades for key signings

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Sign Teddy Bridgewater

The Patriots can go for another TB to replace TB12. Bridgewater went 5-0 filling for Brees because he leaned well on support from the running game, defense and special teams. He is bright enough to pick up the offense and cause the least disruption to Bill Belichick's current winning formula.

Update: Bridgewater on Tuesday agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract with the Panthers, according to multiple reports.

Trade for Andy Dalton

Dalton falls into the same category as Bridgewater. With a high-quality support system, the veteran has proven to be very effective leading a team. Consider that Brady was more of a caretaker type last year, too, so the Patriots need to be looking for that profile first among the seasoned options. The Bengals are moving on with Joe Burrow and Dalton is used to absorbing new offenses quickly.

Draft Tua Tagovailoa

The Patriots would need to trade up to make this happen now that Tagovailoa has a clean bill of health. But they are sitting on 12 picks and have some flexibility to move up from No. 23 overall to land the quarterback from Alabama, the program run by Belichick close confidant Nick Saban. Tagovailoa has the potential to be a special asset, right from the start.

MORE: Tua Tagovailoa's seven best fits in the NFL Draft

Draft Jalen Hurts

Belichick, however, should also be aware of another former Saban product. Hurts has winning pedigree, can be an effective leader as a rookie and has a dynamic athletic skill set that can take Josh McDaniels' offense into a new direction. The Patriots can simply target him with one of their third rounders.

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Draft Jake Fromm

Fromm is like the draft version of Bridgewater and Dalton. He won a ton because of all the loaded running game and defense talent at Georgia and made some clutch throws when he needed with plenty of big-game experience. He also can be had in the third round.

Draft Jacob Eason

Eason would come into play with his big arm late in the first round, with the Patriots unlikely needing to move up to get him. No relation to former Patriots QB Tony Eason, he has the makeup to quickly develop the other parts of his game with McDaniels.

MORE: SN's latest first-round mock draft for 2020

Acquire Derek Carr

With Mariota going to the Raiders as a contingency for Carr, would Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock simply go ahead and move Carr? That's the big question. At the right, reasonable price, he Patriots should definitely be interested because he has a little more long-term appeal than either the simliarly styled Bridgewater or Dalton.

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Sign Jameis Winston

Winston showed his ceiling with 5,109 yards and 33 TDs in 2019 with the Buccaneers. But he also showed his big issue, throwing 30 interceptions. Winston has the football intelligence to revamp his carer with McDaniels and become more efficient. But like with the Rivers' scenario, the Patriots may not want risk rolling with a mistake-prone gunslinger.

Re-acquire Jacoby Brissett

The Patriots won't be getting Jimmy Garoppolo, but their other former Brady backup Jacoby Brissett could become available if the Colts follow through on Rivers replacing him as the post-Andrew Luck starter. There's no concerns about Brissett knowing the offense and he's another QB who does best leaning on running game and defense.

MORE: Why did Tom Brady leave the Patriots?

Acquire Cam Newton

The problem with this is knowing whether Newton is healthy enough to hold up as their starter. The timetable has been slow on knowing this, even for the Panthers. The Patriots can't afford to go for an unknown quantity now. But if they can afford to wait until deep April with a draft pick as a contingency, being aggressive to wrestle Newton away would carry the most immediate upside of all their options.

Play Jarrett Stidham

Stidham, the Patriots' fourth-round pick in 2019, currently tops the depth chart with Brady leaving. He had a strong preseason as a rookie, displacing Brian Hoyer as the No. 2. But in limited mop-up duty in Week 3, he threw a pick six that got him re-benched. Stidham will need some massive development to think he can be like Brissett or Garoppolo.