In one of the great understatements in the sports universe, the Patriots are pretty well set at the quarterback position right now.
Tom Brady has three years left on his contract, and he's been playing like a guy who could stay on the field a lot longer than that. Behind him, they've got a pair of quarterbacks who could evolve into starters down the road in another NFL city.
As the Patriots shift their focus from 2011 to 2012, they know they're in a good spot with the most important position in football.
Quarterbacks on Final Roster: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
Key Statistic: Brady completed 401 of 611 passes (65.6 percent) for 5,235 yards, 39 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He threw for the second most passing yards in history, and he became the second quarterback to throw at least 39 touchdown passes in two seasons. Brady won at least 13 games for the fifth time in his career, and he matched John Elway with his fifth start in the Super Bowl.
Hot Topic: Brady had a chance to cement himself as one of the two greatest quarterbacks of all-time with a victory in Super Bowl XLVI, but the defeat clouded his status among the greats in history. It's not like Brady's book has been completed, though, as he can still make a run at Joe Montana with another Super Bowl appearance (and win) or two. Obviously, all of that is a lot easier said than done.
Montana told NFL Network on Saturday he already thought Brady was the best in history, and those are some strong words considering the source. It's ultimately a very subjective debate, and the criteria for the "greatest of all-time" can include Super Bowl rings, passing records, general postseason success, supporting casts, the quarterback's era, MVP awards, and on and on and on.
Brady is still in the discussion. Some might still believe he's the best to ever lace 'em up, and they'd have Montana's proclamation to back their point. Others could call Brady the second best, or a top-five quarterback in history. Regardless, Brady has just put together the best back-to-back regular-season stretch of his career, and he figures to have another two or three years left in his prime, if not more.
Offseason Question: Can the Patriots cash in on Hoyer or Mallett?
The Patriots have two tradable commodities behind Brady, and they need to make at least one decision this offseason. Hoyer is a restricted free agent who should get an opportunity to compete for a starting job with another team, and it would be in the Patriots' best interest to tender him to ensure they don't lose him for nothing. More than that, they should gauge his market around the NFL to see if they can work out a sign-and-trade.
Best-case scenario, the Patriots could flip Hoyer for a second-round draft pick, but they'd also do well if they could get a third- or fourth-rounder. Or, based on the development of this draft's quarterback class, Hoyer might be better off returning to New England for one more season before testing free agency in 2013.
Mallett's stock improved over the last season even though he was inactive in 18 of the Patriots' 19 games. He was actively involved in pregame warm-ups and stayed close to the action on the sidelines, often going into the coaching huddle with Brady during timeouts. While Mallett's talent has always been considered off the charts, he had character concerns in the draft. He was a good citizen as a rookie, which should intrigue the league's other 31 teams. Even if the Patriots want to retain Mallett for another year or two — just to see how he continues to develop as Brady's understudy — they should assess his trade value before April's draft.
This will be the first offseason in which the Patriots will see just how highly the NFL regards their pair of backup quarterbacks.