Ryan Mallett will never be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots.
And not because he doesn’t have the talent, quite the contrary in fact. Though his body of work is limited in the NFL, a peek at his scouting report coming out of college paints a picture of a big, strapping gunslinger, country strong, who can generate the velocity on the ball of a JUGS machine and makes a 70 yard throw seem effortless.
Of course, were this all there was to the report, he would have been the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and been to two Pro Bowls already, but instead slid all the way to the Patriots in the 3rd round, where he backs up perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever play the position…
…who recently signed a contract extension that keeps Tom Brady in a Patriots’ uniform for the next five years – a fact not lost on a few quarterback needy teams, nor New England head coach Bill Belichick who has the luxury of treating his quarterback depth like his own personal kennel, his fine young Greyhounds on display, always up for adoption to a loving franchise…for the right price.
The Cleveland Browns and General Manager Michael Lombardi are well-known to be fans of Mallett, and rumors were swirling off of Lake Erie that the 6′ 7″ rocket armed son of a football coach would be a member of the Dog Pound soon, a kid with the tall pocket presence and arm to take advantage of their solid offensive line and young, fast receiving corps.
Those rumors were quelled when Belichick announced his price for adopting Mallett and his very cap friendly contract was a cool 1st round draft pick.
Of course that pretty much stopped all talk about such a swap taking place, but the closer the draft comes – now less than three weeks away – and the more teams are getting a look at the 2013 quarterback class, the rumors are bound to emerge once again…
…and now a report that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are interested in Mallett, their faith in incumbent quarterback Josh Freeman waning and visions of Mallett tossing those effortless 70 yard strikes to Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Kevin Ogletree dancing in their heads.
To amp up the rumor mill, the Bucs released their backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky yesterday, freeing up $1.5 million in cap space and leaving no other quarterbacks on the roster – add to that the fact that the current coaching regime led by head coach Greg Schiano has no investment in Freeman and that Schiano and Bellichick are close friends, and you pretty much have a match made in heaven.
Whether setting the bar in negotiation or being completely tongue-in-cheek, Belichick’s statement that it would take a first round draft pick to start the conversation on trading Mallett brought sneers from his contemporaries, but is he really out of line?
Coming out of college, questions of “Big man on Campus” immaturity and a taste for the party lifestyle hurt his stock immeasurably, as did his performances against Alabama and Ohio State, where he played well all game, but when pressure time came with a chance to pull out the victory, made poor decisions relying on his arm strength to try to thread the needle, resulting in disaster for the Razorbacks…
…Just like any quarterback trying consistently come up clutch in big time situations, he has his ups and downs. Even the greatest quarterbacks of all time have had failures in those situations, for which Mallett can take solace, he if stemmed on such occurrences – but the big kid from Texas has the mentality of a gunslinger and the memory of a cornerback.
He certainly has all of the physical tools to be a 1st round projection, now that he has had two years to work under Belichick and learn from Brady, whose contact extension opened so much cap room that the Patriots have been able to fill most of their deficiencies and still have between 11 – 13 million left until they reach their ceiling, and this late in the free agency race, fiscally responsible teams like the Patriots can make that stretch to the moon.
But Lombardi and Schiano would have to have poo for brains to even consider giving up a first rounder for even a split second, and Belichick knows this. Like a smart negotiator does, he starts high and compromises until he and the buyer can reach common ground, which should be a late 2nd or early third round pick.
And a move such as this doesn’t leave the quarterback cupboard bare, it just leaves the door open for a veteran signal caller who has discovered that his place in life is as a backup – perhaps someone like an Orlovsky or a Seneca Wallace or even a Brady Quinn - to bring a veteran system guy who could perform well in spot duty as needed…and former Eagles’ backup Mike Kafka is already under a futures contract with the team.
Bottom line is that the opportunity exists for Bill Belichick to increase his number of draft picks for 2013, and he being a leverage junkie, knows that Mallett – now going into his 3rd camp – has peaked as far as practice potential and that he will never see the field with the Patriots.
Barring injury, of course, but that’s overcooking the grits a little bit. Assuming that Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady plays “until Bill kicks me out of the building”, as he’s said many times, Mallett will be long gone in free agency by the time that happens so given the circumstances, the time is right to compromise and get everything that you can get for the big kid from Texarkana.
Ah, the quandary of having an elite quarterback with a long-term, cap friendly salary.
A second rounder probably starts a conversation about Mallett, and Belichick isn’t going to find much better than that.