Clear as mud, as the saying goes.
That’s the best way to describe the competition between the Patriots’ backup quarterback situation, especially with roster cuts looming over the next two days. And boy, are the rumors flying.
Ryan Mallett’s getting traded. Ryan Mallett’s staying in New England. Ryan Mallett is ready to start in the NFL! Ryan Mallett’s nowhere near ready to start in the NFL. Ryan Mallett’s entrenched as the #2 quarterback. Ryan Mallett might lose his depth chart spot to a guy from Eastern Illinois. Ryan Mallett has amazing arm strength. Ryan Mallett couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Jimmy Garappolo has outplayed Mallett. Jimmy Garappalo isn’t ready to start against a first-string NLF defense. What??
It’d be hard to hold it against Mallett if he had a cigar once in a while just to deal with all the noise.
With cutdowns for the 53-man roster on the horizon, it’d be easy to say that Ryan Mallett hasn’t earned a roster spot on the 2014 Patriots. Indeed, our own Austin Piela made the case a few weeks ago that Ryan Mallett didn’t get enough done to justify his hype. (In all fairness to him, that was right after the Redskins game). It’s also fair to note that, in recent history, the Patriots have (mostly) only carried two quarterbacks on their roster.
But for now, after all four preseason games are said and done, Ryan Mallett needs to be on this roster when the season starts. Not convinced? Fine. Here’s why.
Jimmy Garrappolo Isn’t Ready
No matter how you slice and dice it, Garrappolo is having himself one heck of a preseason. He’s thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game he’s played in so far, and even started ahead of Ryan Mallett against the Eagles and Giants. But half the guys that were on the field these last few weeks won’t even make the final roster cuts of their respective teams, and saying Jimmy Garrappolo is ready to grab the NFL by the horns because of a few quarters of football without any cataclysmic Tony-Romo-esque screw-ups is about as premature as your friend at the bar that says things like “Dude, that girl just looked at our table, she totally wants me!”.
People also forget how many great modern-era quarterbacks were given a year or two to develop in their rookie years. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees are just a few top-shelf quarterbacks that had time to practice, study, and observe their mentors before assuming full-time duties, and you could say they turned out ok. Just look at Geno Smith and Mike Glennon getting thrown into the frying pan last season for a case study in opposites.
Helping Jimmy Garappolo Learn the Offense
New England’s offense is notoriously complicated, and frequently calls for receivers to not only know every other receiver’s route on any given play, but also to completely change the route that they’re running based on the coverage the defense plays. In other words, a receiver’s Randy Moss post-corner route could turn into a Wes Welker slant based on whether the defense is blitzing, playing with extra cornerbacks, and so on. Jimmy Garappolo appears to be doing a great job learning the playbook (play-tablet?) so far, but he’s had a little over four months with it. Ryan Mallett has been learning, practicing, eating, sleeping, and sneezing Patriots offense since 2011. Even though the offense itself is constantly transmorgrifying into different schemes based on the talent available, it would be foolish to think that Jimmy Garappolo, who didn’t exactly play against the best and the brightest in college (no offense, Eastern Illinois), wouldn’t benefit from having a study buddy for the near future to help him soak up every little X and O before he’s thrust into a situation like Matt Cassell was in 2008.
If you’re into the NFL Network series “America’s Game: The Super Bowl”, the episode on the 2003 Patriots team has a segment on the Patriots-Colts game that year, and Bill Belichick gave the game ball to a player nobody saw coming.
The backup quarterback, Damon Huard.
Huard never took a snap on the field that day, but he earned it for doing one job extremely well: imitating Peyton Manning on the practice field. Manning’s throwing style. His looks. His footwork. His movement in the pocket, or lack thereof. With the Patriots placing such a high emphasis on weekly, opponent-specific preparation, Ryan Mallett presents them with a ton of options in practice. He’s tall, just like Peyton Manning. He can sling bombs downfield, just like Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler. He can run, although obviously not with the speed of Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick. If it comes down to it, Mallett still holds a lot of value in this sense, and as cliché as it sounds, it would benefit Garappolo more to spend his time studying and practicing the offense, again, in case (god forbid) a situation comes up where he’s thrust into action. Tom Brady climbed past two guys on the depth chart back in the day by studying after hours and perfectionist hard work learning a new system after getting drafted, not with a couple sweet preseason games.
Trade Bait Later On
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Dude, didn’t you just say Mallett needs to stay on the roster?” You’d be correct. But here’s where this scenario becomes important. A lot can change between Week 1 and Week 10. Going into last year, the Patriots looked to be stacked on defense before losing Big Vince, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, and dealing with Aqib Talib’s perpetual injuries, among others. Enter Bill Belichick, who traded for DT Isaac Sopoaga to fill the line out while the injuries piled up.
Realistically, there’s plenty of teams that would be in huge quarterback trouble if their starter went down, and that doesn’t only mean if their starter is a Pro-Bowl-level talent. Let’s use the Houston Texans as an example. Ryan Fitzpatrick, in addition to being inconsistent and boring, is pretty much all the Texans have going for them at QB. If, say, Fitzy were to experience a season-ending injury, all of a sudden Ryan Mallett looks pretty tantalizing compared to the alternatives. And with Belichick being one of the most active coaches around trade deadline time, if the right offer surfaces, don’t be surprised if the Patriots get another draft pick or two out of it and Mallett is wearing a different uniform by the end of the season.
The Patriots are certainly stacked with talent at a lot of positions, which is a great problem to have. But cutting Mallett now makes no sense, because he still holds a lot of value for the team whether they keep him OR trade him later. Then again, like the Logan Mankins trade this week proved (again), the front office in Foxboro always has something up their sleeve. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out on Saturday afternoon.
Agree? Disagree? Think I’m taking crazy pills? Let us know in the comments below.