FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Scott Pioli was there at the beginning. Before quarterback Tom Brady was Tom Brady.
That's one reason his perspective on the quarterback situation the New England Patriots find themselves in is especially credible and unique.
Is 2019 fourth-round draft choice Jarrett Stidham the long-term answer? Pioli, the Patriots' vice president of player personnel from 2000 to '08, doesn't know for sure -- which supports the idea that coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots don't know for sure, either.
But they both trust enough in the Patriots' developmental history to think there's a chance.
"The thing is, what happens sometimes with players who have enough talent and ability, if there are good coaches around them, and a good system that allows them to learn, and be educated, and develop -- which is something that happened with Brady ... I'm not saying this guy can be Tom Brady, but he has enough of the skills, tools and intelligence to develop," Pioli said recently on "The Zach Gelb Show" on CBS Sports Radio.
So if it's Stidham this year, one of the trickle-down effects of that dynamic is how the learning curve within the offense impacts some younger skill-position players whom the team will be relying upon for critical development. Is it possible that could actually be a net positive for the 2020 Patriots?
It's not hard to envision a scenario where younger receivers such as 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry and 2019 undrafted find Jakobi Meyers acclimate easier with Stidham. Ditto for a potential 2020 draft pick at tight end, which is one of the Patriots' top needs.
Because of Brady's Ph.D.-level of expertise in the offense, and a backlog of years to fall back upon, it was often a challenge for rookie receivers and tight ends to bridge the gap with him.
But Brady didn't start out that way, and the career trajectory of other QBs groomed in New England suggests Stidham will be positioned for success if he wins the starting job.
"... There are other quarterbacks that have come out of that system that have done it," Pioli said. "The guy that played in the Super Bowl this past [season] out in San Francisco, Jimmy G (Jimmy Garoppolo], did a pretty good job of it. Matt Cassel had a pretty solid run as a quarterback during his time. There have been quarterbacks that come out of that system that learn under that group of people, and are taught by really good coaches, and they become good enough quarterbacks to win games in the National Football League."
Pioli's point helps frame expectations for whoever ultimately fills the void created by Brady's departure to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Patriots can't expect that player -- whether it's Stidham, veteran backup Brian Hoyer or a yet-to-be-added signal-caller -- to be what Brady was in recent years. But can that player be like the Brady of 2001? Or the Garoppolo of 2016 in his third season when he started in place of the suspended Brady? Or the Jacoby Brissett of 2016 when the then-rookie was called upon as an emergency starter?
Every quarterback has to start somewhere, and those early in their careers often need support throughout the locker room. That's how former Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy remembers the early Brady years, when Brady developed a quick rapport with receivers at all stages of their careers -- veterans such as Troy Brown and David Patten, and rookies such as Deion Branch and David Givens.
"I was there at the beginning. Obviously we took advantage of a young guy ready for his opportunity, but at that point we still didn't know [what he would be]," Milloy said. "We were just looking for that missing piece. We thought we had it in Drew [Bledsoe], but through injury we found out something else."
It seems likely the Patriots will find out if Stidham is ready for his opportunity.
"That's what my instincts tell me. They obviously think well enough of him -- he's been in the system, he's seen it for a year. I think they're going to give him a shot," Pioli said in the radio interview.
"I also think the idea of having a backup that also has experience [Hoyer], they're in a really good situation there right now. I also can see them going out and getting another quarterback, whether it's a more decorated veteran or in this draft. Their entire quarterback room is not filled, yet. But I'm curious to see Stidham. He was a solid player in college. I was down at Auburn and saw him play in practice when he was coming out, and he was an intriguing prospect."