Patriots fans have been waiting two seasons and one summer now. Other NFL teams have been ready to pounce, as well, but Ryan Mallett still hasn’t put it all together to show the potential that once made him a first-round prospect, if not for some off-the-field issues.
Mallett went 11-for-22 in the second half of the Patriots’ third preseason game against the Lions on Thursday night. He took a while to get started, looked decent for a few plays here and there, got bailed out by Kenbrell Thompkins on a couple throws, then finally scored on a dump off to James Develin. It was a usual Mallett performance: mostly average with some bad and good mixed in.
It may be time to retire the annual offseason storyline that the Patriots are talking about moving Mallett for a high draft pick. New England was praised in 2011 for spending a third-round selection on their future starting quarterback or a player they could no doubt move for a first-rounder at some point.
But that was assuming Mallett would be able to show at some point that he could be moved to another team and start. That hasn’t been the case. Mallett’s mobility and pocket presence has surely improved, but he still struggles with his shallow accuracy, and he hasn’t flashed his deep arm enough in practice or in preseason games.
This may sound ridicullous, but there were times Tim Tebow looked better than Mallett in practice. That’s not to say Tebow will take Mallett’s backup role, but it is concerning.
It seems like forever ago now, but there were a couple hours when Patriots fans thought Mallett would have to be the Patriots’ starter after Tom Brady went down in practice with a knee injury. It’s tough to imagine what would have happened if Brady had been lost for the season. With Mallett at the helm with an unproven defense, a hurt Rob Gronkowski and a collection of new and rookie receivers, it would have been very difficult to make the playoffs.
And in that scenario where Brady is injured and Mallett takes over, he would still have Tebow breathing down his neck. There may not be a worse backup quarterback in the league for a young starter with accuracy issues. Just ask Mark Sanchez.
Mallett is still very young, having just turned 25, and he has certainly shown improvements since coming into the league in 2011. But they’re not coming fast enough under Josh McDaniels, Bill Belichick and Brady that a team would be willing to ship off a high draft pick for another team’s player who has been in the league for three years.
Mallett has one more shot to prove himself this year, and he’ll have plenty of time to do it in Game 4 of the preseason. But after two middling performances and one average one, it may be too late for teams to get excited about Mallett now.
The second-stringer’s contract runs out after next season. Teams generally don’t trade for starting quarterbacks in August, so this might have been the last preseason and training camp for Mallett to prove himself worthy of a trade.
The third-round pick was still worth the risk for the Patriots in the long run, and he could stick around after 2014 as Brady’s backup. But that wasn’t the future many Patriots fans were envisioning when Mallett was selected in April 2011.
It’s a tough job for a backup quarterback to prove himself worthy of starting elsewhere. Each preseason game is a small sample size, playing with and against reserves. Mallett may just need his Matt Flynn moment, where he shines in Week 17 after the Patriots have decided to rest Brady.