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What will the Patriots do at quarterback after Tom Brady?

Posted by Erik Frenz  June 7, 2013 08:00 AM

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Photo: Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff

"Tom Brady's not walking through that door."

Get ready to see that lede quite a bit down the road.

Of course, it won't be for some time now, especially considering the Patriots quarterback just signed an extension that keeps him in New England until he's 40.

The same age until which he has often said he would like to play.

Coincidence?

Maybe, probably, but who knows what the future holds. The Patriots are no strangers to making "the tough decision," but at that point, Brady may have a tough decision of his own regarding the future of his career.

What can the Patriots do to make sure they are the most prepared when that time comes?

They could take a page out of the Colts' book, and wait until everything comes unraveled to earn the first overall pick in the draft and take a once-in-a-decade prospect at quarterback.

Wouldn't exactly call that being "prepared," but hey, it seems to have worked for Indianapolis.

Perhaps the Patriots could have a quarterback back up Brady and learn from the future Hall of Famer before taking the job.

mallett career stats.pngThey drafted Ryan Mallett in the third round in 2011, and as we speak, he is square in the middle of his four-year rookie contract. To this point, he has not overwhelmed anyone with confidence in his practice performances, and although his preseason career got started with a bang against the Jaguars, his numbers have been fairly pedestrian overall in his two preseasons -- not to mention taking a step back in 2012.

While he has some value on the trade market (multiple teams were reported to be interested before the 2013 draft), it's fair to say the odds of him eventually replacing Brady are slim.

He is set to become a free agent after the 2014 season, so it will be up to the Patriots to make a decision on his future with the team by that point -- or sooner. At that point, however, he'll be going on 27 years old, and Brady will still have three years left on his shiny new contract extension.

Following the same path, Aaron Rodgers replaced Brett Favre at quarterback for the Packers, but he earned the starting mantle at the age of 24.

Would it be worth it to wait on Mallett? Unfortunately, the only way of finding out is in the worst of circumstances for the Patriots: an injury to Brady. This offseason is huge for Mallett, and it doesn't appear to be off to a great start according to colleague Zuri Berry, who said that Mallett "appeared to be rusty" at OTAs.

Yes, former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel experienced similar growing pains before he was thrust into the starting role in 2008, so it's not out of the question for Mallett to turn things around. To make that the expectation, however, is false causality at its finest.

Even if Mallett shows potential this season, can the Patriots hang onto him long enough to hope that he one day beats out Brady?

That will be the question we'll ask of just about any quarterback that comes through the doors of Gillette Stadium between now and 2017.

Rarely does a quarterback transition go as smoothly as for the Colts between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the 49ers between Joe Montana and Steve Young, or the Packers between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

The Patriots have to continue searching for talented depth at quarterback, but the timing has to be right.

Their best bet would be to draft a quarterback in 2014. That would give the Patriots the best of both worlds: Mallett's experience and knowledge of the system would likely make him the de facto No. 2 in the event Brady is injured, while another quarterback could develop on the bench. From there, the Patriots could have an open competition for the backup spot.

One underrated tool the Patriots can use to help their transition at quarterback is the talent on offense.

They made a clear effort to focus the offense around tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski now and for the future, signing both to deals that keep them with the team through 2018 and 2019 respectively. Their offensive line remains in tact following the 2012 season, and age is not a huge concern (yet) on a line where three of five starters are under the age of 30. They have a young group of running backs, led by Stevan Ridley, that provides a serviceable punch on the ground.

Developing a talented core of receivers is the next step, and a vital one regardless of who is the Patriots' next signal-caller.

Whoever the next quarterback is, they will greatly benefit from the Patriots doing their due diligence to keep the cupboards stocked on offense now and in years to come.

At this stage, it's not necessary for the Patriots to go wild in pursuit of the heir to Brady, but it should definitely be in the back of their mind, and the contingency plan should start unfolding soon. Brady still hasn't taken his foot off the gas, but no one knows how far ahead the "Reduced Speed Limit" sign will appear.


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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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