The New England Patriots finished their “rebuilding” year in 2013 with a 12-4 regular season, the AFC East title, and a trip to the AFC Championship Game. Despite an almost entire overhaul of the offense, the team kept finding ways to win games and put themselves in position for a first round bye in the playoffs. A key reason the team was able to work in new receivers and overcome key injuries was the consistent play and clutch performances from their future hall-of-fame quarterback, Tom Brady.
Of course, with Brady signed through 2017 and basically having the option to play as long as he wants as he continues to perform at a high level, the Patriots do not have the huge need of some teams at the most important position. However, with backup Ryan Mallett entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Patriots have a need to determine what their long-term plan is behind quarterback Tom Brady.
Back in 2008, the Patriots lost quarterback Tom Brady in Week 1 to untested backup Matt Cassel. The Patriots, on the back of a strong defense and a dominant offensive line, managed to overcome the inconsistent play of Cassel and won eleven games (missing out on the playoffs on a tie-breaker). Cassel was able to utilize the strong play of wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker to parlay himself into a big contract after being traded with aging linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second-round draft pick.
With the precedent set with the trade of Matt Cassel, there has been speculation since the end of last season that New England would be willing to trade Ryan Mallett to a quarterback-needy team. With the NFL Draft approaching, there are many such teams that may consider trading for Mallett and keeping their high first round draft pick to fill another need (or trade down for multiple picks). Of course, they need a trade partner.
The Cleveland Browns have long been identified as a potential trade partner for Mallett. With general manager Mike Lombardi a long-time fan of Mallett, speculation has run rampant since he took over in the beginning of 2013. And with the success that former Patriot backup Brian Hoyer had before being injured, Mallet likely has the inside track in Cleveland.
Cincinnati is a potential trade partner with the news coming out after their perennial playoff punch-out that former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was on the fence between choosing Andy Dalton and Ryan Mallett at draft time (he should have picked Colin Kaepernick, who went to San Francisco with the next pick). With Gruden in Washington as head coach now—and an established quarterback already there—it may be a moot point.
Former Patriot offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien takes the reins in Houston in 2014 and is known as a big fan of strong-armed quarterbacks. While the presumption is that he will grab a quarterback with the number one pick, it is always a possibility that he could trade for a young quarterback he worked with in the past and pick defensive end Jadeveon Clowney to join J.J. Watt to make the most devastating one-two defensive end combination in the NFL.
Regardless of if Mallett stays or is traded away before his final season the Patriots have to find a back-up quarterback for 2015 either through the draft or free agency. The team has an important need to identify who will be the back-up next season. If Mallett is traded away, the team will need to identify and bring in a veteran backup. If not, it is the perfect time to find a back-up quarterback in the draft to develop for 2015 when Mallett leaves as a free agent (backing up Brady is likely his LAST option in free agency).
Whether through free agency or through the draft, backup quarterback is a big need for the New England Patriots this offseason.
Like this story? Read why the Pats wouldn’t have won the Super Bowl anyway.