COMMENTARY| The presence of star quarterback Tom Brady is a comfort to the New England Patriots, but means there is very little playing time available to his protege Ryan Mallett. As the young backup enters his third professional season, the team needs to start thinking about how they will handle his future.
The 24-year-old Mallett came to the Patriots as a third-round draft choice in 2011 out of the University of Arkansas, where he racked up 8,385 passing yards and 69 touchdowns during his career.
Going into the draft, scouting reports lauded Mallett for his cannon arm, but cautioned against his iffy mechanics. Although he was still seen as a potential first-round pick, he fell to the Patriots.
Since arriving in New England, Mallett has rarely seen the field. He didn't play his rookie year, and saw action in just four games last season, completing one of four passes for 17 yards and an interception. His relationship with best friend and Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks has seemingly received more attention than his play.
Although it is still early in his career, Mallett is in limbo in New England. Instead of letting him waste on the sideline, the team should be looking at how they can best capitalize on him and his future.
The quiet start to Mallett's career has been caused more by the presence of Brady than a poor attitude or slow development on the part of the younger player. It's little wonder, with Brady having combined for 10,062 passing yards and 73 touchdowns against just 20 interceptions during the past two years.
Still at the top of his game, there is little indication Brady is going anywhere. In 2011, he told ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio he planned to play 10 more years.
Most recently, the 35-year-old Brady, who has led New England to five Super Bowls (winning three), signed a three-year extension during this offseason. He also indicated his plans to play until he was 40, which would take him through the 2017 season.
Barring a catastrophic injury, there doesn't appear to be a good chance of Mallett seeing any significant playing time in New England until he nears his 30th birthday. Keeping him around to simply carry a clipboard would be waste of an asset, which is something the Patriots typically don't like to do.
The best thing the Patriots could do is trade Mallett and find a reasonably-priced veteran to take over their backup quarterback spot. Unfortunately, that may not be as easy as it sounds.
Mallett is in the midst of his rookie contract, which pays him $2.95 million over four years. He is set to make $642,984 this season and $776,976 next year before being eligible for free agency.
It was rumored that the Patriots were shopping Mallett prior to this year's draft, but never found a partner. MassLive.com's Nick Underhill explained it was likely because of a CBA rule that prevents rookies from renegotiating their contract until after their third season. As a consequence, teams were likely unwilling to offer anything of substance without the guarantee of being able to lock up Mallett long-term.
With a number of teams annually looking to upgrade their quarterback situation, there could be some eager suitors, even if it isn't until after the 2013 season. While Mallett has no NFL track record, he is young and has more than enough talent to pique interest.
Mallett could bring a nice return in the way of a draft pick or two, but nobody is going to break the bank for him because of his lack of experience. However, anything of substance the Patriots could get would be a good investment because he is clearly not going to be playing for them any time soon.
Some may feel that Mallett is a valuable insurance policy for Brady, but that line of thinking is wrong.
The Patriots are all-in with their leader Brady. They should do whatever they can to field the best team possible to support him during the remaining years of his career in hopes of more Super Bowl glory.
It's always nice to have a prospect like Mallett in the wings, but sometimes the best way they can help a team is by being used as a pawn instead of as a player.
Andrew Martin is a Yahoo! contributor who has also covered the Boston Red Sox for Bleacher Report. He has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts, and written on the topics of sports and history for a number of print publications and websites.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew
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