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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

The Patriots Are Trying to Sell Ryan Mallett, But is Anyone Actually Buying?

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Barry Chin/Globe Staff

When he’s gone, we’ll always have the memories. Like that time he…did something.

OK, so Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett does have one complete pass on his NFL résumé, hooking up with Shane Vereen during garbage time of the Patriots’ 45-7 rout of the St. Louis Rams in London back in 2012, a moment about as memorable as the 534th time you blinked your eyes today. It’s a fair certainty that he’ll end his career with the New England Patriots having tossed all of four passes in a quartet of regular season relief appearances of Tom Brady.

Thus is the challenge of life as a backup to one of the greatest in the NFL; if you see any extended time, it means something has gone terribly awry, and as long as things are hunky-dory, you have a better chance of trapping and training leprechauns to keep the hot dogs coming to your permanent spot on the sidelines than you do proving yourself to any other interested parties looking for quarterback depth.

It does seem like the final shoe has fallen as far as the 26-year-old’s future here with the news that rookie quarterback and Tiger Beat cover hopeful Jimmy Garoppolo will start the Patriots’ preseason finale against the New York Giants on Thursday. According to an NFL.com report, Garoppolo could end up playing the entire game. That basically announces that the team doesn’t want to risk any injury to Mallett in the hopes of trading him before the 53-man rosters need to be finalized on Saturday. It also avoids the risk that Mallett looks like the pool of goo he presented in the first preseason game this month against the Washington You’re Damned If You Do and You’re Damned If You Don’ts.

What it says about risking injury to your potential backup to Brady is something else, I suppose. But hey, somebody has to play. Apparently the theory is that teams have seen enough out of Mallett to understand what they’re getting with him should they show an interest. OK. That’s like buying a Camaro without test-driving it because it looked “tasty” in the commercial.

Still, truth is there is likely a fairly decent landing spot for the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Mallett somewhere, with St. Louis being the instinctive guess after losing starter Sam Bradford to a torn ACL, suffered in Saturday night’s exhibition game against the Cleveland Browns. Naysayers will point out that such a move doesn’t make sense for the Rams because Mallett would have to learn the Rams’ playbook in lickety-split fashion in order to suit up for the opener against the Minnesota Vikings. He wouldn’t have to do that anywhere he lands? And let’s not forget, this is a guy who has studied the intricacies of Bill Belichick’s playbook the last three seasons. One can only assume he can grasp what Jeff Fisher has to offer, unless everybody simply thinks 34-year-old Shaun Hill (3-7 the last time he was a full-time starter with the Lions in 2010 with an 81.3 QB rating) is a better option to go the distance this year. Hey, Hill becoming another Kurt Warner is a possibility, with the caveat that the former bag-boy-turned-Super Bowl MVP was only 27 when he took over when Trent Green went down in 1999.

While the Patriots would love to re-coup the third-round pick (one they received from the Vikings in the 2010 Randy Moss trade) the team spent on the Arkansas product in the 2011 draft, that’s a laughable proposition for a player that’s probably more likely to be released. But barring a team surrendering a conditional, late-round pick, the Houston Texans stand to possibly pounce on Mallett if and when he hits the waiver wire.

Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, of course, is familiar with Mallett, spending the quarterback’s rookie season as New England’s offensive coordinator before moving on to Penn State for a two-year stint of rebuilding a program and its reputation. Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage, who sports a 117.3 rating this preseason, are embroiled in a battle to back up starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, but maybe O’Brien remembers something in Mallett that he’d like to bring to Houston.

The Texans have been figured as Mallett’s most likely landing spot ever since the Patriots spent a second-round pick on Garoppolo in the spring, even sparking the ludicrous suggestion that Houston might be willing to give up disgruntled wide receiver Andre Johnson in return. Right.

If Mallett goes to Houston, it’s going to be for nothing, unless O’Brien figures he owes Belichick a solid and hands him a low pick to assure the quarterback is in the fold. Otherwise, he’ll cost them nothing on the waiver wire, where the Texans will get the first shot at him and everybody else come this weekend.

Meanwhile, there are rumblings in San Francisco that the 49ers could be interested. As the Sacramento Bee’s Victor Contreras writes, “Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ coach, says he’s happy with $2 million backup Blaine Gabbert, along with Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who played at Sacramento State. But the three backups have combined for zero touchdowns, four interceptions and three sacks in two preseason games.

Harbaugh must see positive things in practices that 49ers fans haven’t seen in games.”
The thought process there is that if the Patriots, a perennial Super Bowl contender, were comfortable with allowing Mallett to back up Brady, why shouldn’t the 49ers take a page out of that book with Mallett in lieu of Kaepernick or Bust?

Of course, the Patriots could surprise everyone and simply keep three quarterbacks this season, but it’s imminently more likely that Mallett will be in a new home by this time next week. The Patriots liked Garoppolo enough to draft him out of Eastern Illinois with the 62nd pick, higher than they had any quarterback since Drew Bledsoe in 1993. They’ve seen enough to trust him with the backup role in addition to being Brady’s heir apparent, whenever that time may come.

Seems some said the same about Mallett when the Patriots selected him 74th overall. It’s easy to wonder why the Patriots spent such a high pick on a glorified backup, but then again, it’s still hard to figure that Richard Sherman was the 154th pick that year.

But in a draft in which Ras-I Dowling is your second pick overall, the Mallett quandary sort of gets buried in much the same way does any evidence of him ever even playing here at all.

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