January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett against the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots: The Mallett Market

Every offseason since the Patriots drafted Ryan Mallett there’s been talk about whether or not they should keep their backup or trade him. Despite having extremely limited NFL action, having only attempted four passes in his career, Mallett has managed to generate consistent buzz on the trade market. The respect Mallett gets is largely based on how highly regarded of a prospect he was out of Arkansas and what scouts view as his raw talent, including his exceptional arm strength. Combine that with three years of development in one of the best organizations in the NFL and that’s enough to at least generate discussion within the front offices of teams that are in need of a starting quarterback or one to come in to compete for the starting job.

Mallett is currently under contract only through the end of the 2014 season, so if Bill Belichick and his personnel department are confident they are going to get a few more quality years out of Tom Brady, it’s in their interest to move Mallett now. The price for Mallett, as reported by NFL network’s Ian Rapport, is apparently a second round pick. What’s unclear is whether the Patriots would accept a second round pick in next year’s draft or if they want more picks now. The latter would make more sense given Tom Brady is at the end of his career.

But whether Mallett will eventually be traded may depend more on what happens with other backup quarterbacks in similar situations and some key free agent quarterbacks. The most coveted backup in the league may be Washington Redskins backup Kirk Cousins who has seen much more NFL action than Mallett and, at times, has looked like a genuine NFL starter. He’s also had moments where he’s looked like an inexperienced backup. The Redskins, however, appear as if they are not ready to part with their backup quarterback as new head coach Jay Gruden has been abundantly clear that he’s not trading Cousins which is probably a smart given starting quarterback Robert Griffin III’s injury history. The free agent quarterback market is not that enticing. Michael Vick, Josh Freeman, Matt Flynn, Matt Cassell, and Josh McCown are players that in the best case will find themselves in training camp competitions. This all could play into the Patriots hands if they are indeed committed to moving Mallett.

There are many teams that would do well to at least have Mallett compete for the starting job in camp, including Houston, Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland, and Jacksonville. Houston is probably the best fit for Mallett for a number of reasons. First of all, Mallett is a native Texan and would be very comfortable back home. Second, and more importantly, new Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is very familiar with Mallett given that he was involved in drafting and developing him as the Patriots offensive coordinator back in 2011.  The Texans are in dire need of a reboot on offense and Mallett would be more familiar with O’Brien’s style of offense than a rookie or a quarterback off the street.

There are a number of scenarios that could result in Mallett ending up in Houston. If the Texans want to draft one of the top quarterbacks in the available, they will have to do so with the first pick, unless they can find a team willing to trade up that still has a reasonably high pick. It’s not likely the Texans could get one of the top caliber quarterbacks late in the first round and the quarterback position is not that deep in this draft. After the top three prospects – Bridgewater, Manziel, and Bortles – there is a significant drop off in talent. In addition to the Texans, the Jaguars (pick 3), the Browns (4) , and the Raiders (5)  all need quarterbacks, so gambling in this draft is not a good idea for Bill O’Brien and his staff. But if the Texans don’t fall in love with one of those top three quarterbacks, they could part ways with the number one pick in a package that moves them down in the first round and brings in another second round pick that they could ship to New England for Mallett.

What’s more likely, however, is that the Texans do take a quarterback with the number one pick. Even under that scenario, I can see Mallett still ending up in Houston. While O’Brien is not likely willing to part with his high second round pick, my guess is that at the end of the day the Patriots would accept the Texans’ high third round pick with another pick in either this draft or next year’s. That’s the most likely scenario for Mallett to end up in Houston and would be a really smart move for the Texans as they’d have some serious training camp competition at the quarterback position and, at the very least, would have a solid backup in Mallett should their first round pick falter or prove not ready on day one.

If the Texans are seriously interested in Mallett, they will have to evaluate whether one of the other teams in need of a quarterback are more likely to give the Patriots the second round pick they want. Of the other teams potentially interested in Mallett, Minnesota is probably the most likely to make that move, given they draft behind Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland, all teams that need a starting quarterback. Depending on what happens through the first seven picks of the draft, the Vikings may very well decide that taking  a chance on Mallett is worth their second round pick.

Now is the time for the Patriots to move their backup quarterback and the market might be just right for them to do so this offseason. It would be a smart move and one I fully expect the team to make before the start of training camp. Trading him for draft picks is the most likely scenario and would give the team the additional picks they always seem to end up with. But if a draft day trade is not possible, I still expect the Patriots to move Mallett, mostly likely for future draft picks. As the 2014 NFL draft approaches, the potential of moving Mallett is one of many questions the New England Patriots front office will be grappling with as the team begins to build its 2015 roster.

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Tags: Bill O'Brien New England Patriots NFL Offseason Ryan Mallett

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