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Patriots Quarterbacks Preview: Tom Brady To Provide Another Year Of Excellence, But Who’s His Backup?

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo (Photos by Streeter Lecka/Jim Rogash/Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo (Photos by Streeter Lecka/Jim Rogash/Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

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With Patriots training camp set to open on July 24, CBSBostonSports.com will provide a positional breakdown at each spot on offense and defense. Today’s breakdown is at quarterback.

Position: Quarterback
Major Players: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo
On The Bubble: Ryan Mallett

Outlook

There is no prominent spot on any roster in the entire NFL that has been as stable as that of QB1 on the New England Patriots. That speaks to a number of impressive qualities of Tom Brady, mostly his consistency and his longevity.

And so, the Patriots head into the 2014 season with No. 12 slotted as the starting quarterback for the 13th straight season. Since 2002, Brady has started 177 of 192 Patriots football games, only missing time in 2008 for the Injury That Need Not Be Named. He will turn 37 years old in August, and he’s no doubt nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. Still, don’t expect anything less than excellent from Brady.

If you believe one man’s opinion, then you might think Brady is no longer at the top of his profession. When you watch Brady drop back, scan the field, pick apart the defense and fire missiles into the tiniest of windows, it’s clear that some parts of Brady’s game only get better with age. He may have lost a step or two in terms of his mobility, but aside from a few shuffle steps around the pocket, mobility never was Brady’s strong suit. Aside from that, Brady will be Brady in 2014. That’s good news for the Patriots.

Now, behind Brady is where things get interesting … or, well, at least more interesting than usual. Ryan Mallett remains the primary backup to Brady in his third professional season. In those three years, Mallett has thrown a whopping four passes, all in 2012, one of which was caught by one of his receivers, and one of which was caught by an opponent. So what is Ryan Mallett as a professional quarterback? Nobody on this planet really knows.

That might include the Patriots and their coaching staff. How else can you explain the team using a second-round pick in this year’s draft to select Jimmy Garoppolo? He’s a young, 22-year-old who certainly shows some promise, but you don’t use such a high pick on a quarterback unless you have some sort of plan in place. I’ll admit, I did end up looking foolish last summer when I assumed the Patriots brought in Tim Tebow with some sort of purpose, only to see him released before the season even began. But Tebow cost the Patriots nothing, whereas Garoppolo came at a fairly high price.

So, what exactly do the Patriots plan to do at quarterback? Both options seem to be less than desirable.

The first would be to keep all three, thereby dedicating two roster spots to a position which the Patriots don’t ever want to have to use. Considering the coach’s deep, deep love for special teamers, that’s an awfully valuable roster spot to burn for a clipboard holder.

The other option would be to continue to pursue a trade of Mallett. Again, with Mallett’s NFL abilities still unclear to the world, it’s hard to imagine he’d net anything of great value, but the team would at least get a draft pick and rid themselves of the roster spot problem. On the flip side, if Brady suffered a minor injury — say, a broken finger or sprained knee — and needed to miss four or five games, a Mallett trade would mean the team would then be relying on an inexperienced rookie out of Eastern Illinois University to keep them afloat for a month in the NFL. That wouldn’t make you feel too comfortable if you’re Bill Belichick or anybody else on that Patriots roster.

And so, we have a real roster battle to watch throughout camp and the preseason. If Mallett shines in any of the preseason games, aka the part of the year when he sees his most playing time, expect the market to acquire his services to grow — especially if a team suffers an injury at QB this summer. If Mallett just plays ordinary, will the Patriots just release him to free up a spot on the final 53, or will they keep him in case of emergency?

It’s actually a pretty fascinating storyline, and given that it takes place at the most important position on the field, it’ll be hard to look away from.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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