AFC East: Matt Gutierrez

Hoyer on Tebow: 'Bring him. Let's go'

April, 1, 2010
4/01/10
11:49
AM ET
One of the chief elements to the theory the New England Patriots would be an ideal destination for Tim Tebow is that the only other quarterback on their depth chart is Brian Hoyer, an undrafted rookie last year.

"Bring him. Let's go," Hoyer told reporters Thursday at Gillette Stadium.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBrian Hoyer would welcome the chance to compete with Tim Tebow.
"He's a great player. He's probably the most well-known football player, at least in my time, if not ever. I think he's a great athlete. I think he's a great competitor."

ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss was among the media gathering and posted a blog item on Hoyer's thoughts.

"He's probably over-scrutinized," Hoyer said of Tebow. "You almost feel bad for [him]. You just want him to come out here and get his shot and let him do what he does. But everyone wants to have an opinion, whether it's his throwing motion or what position he's going to play.

"That's really not fair to him. For as successful a quarterback as he was in college football, I feel like he deserves his chance and not to be so scrutinized."

Hoyer was the only QB backup on the Patriots' roster last summer.

In a startling training-camp maneuver, the Patriots waived Kevin O'Connell, a 2008 third-round draft choice. They also cut Matt Gutierrez when they signed veteran free-agent Andrew Walter in August. They released Walter before the season.

Hoyer got into five games last year, completing 19 of 27 passes for 142 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. He rushed for one touchdown.

"There is always going to be competition," Hoyer said. "For me, coming in last year, there was a bunch of guys here. I'll never forget when I was getting recruited at Michigan State, I was like 'You have a bunch of quarterbacks here.' One of the coaches was like, 'There are always going to be quarterbacks wherever you go. You're going to have to compete.' It kind of struck me then.

"No matter what you do, you're going to have to compete against someone. If anything, it pushes me to work harder right now in the weight room, in the [practice] bubble, running and throwing and doing the little extra things."

Bruschi says Belichick should play Hoyer

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
3:22
PM ET
If Tedy Bruschi were running the New England Patriots, then undrafted rookie quarterback Brian Hoyer would make his first NFL start Sunday against the Houston Texans.

In this week's edition of "Bruschi's Breakdown" with ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, the former Patriots linebacker explains that with so little to play for, there's not much to gain by using Tom Brady.

The club would benefit greatly, however, by giving Hoyer a look.

Says Bruschi:

So if you're Brian Hoyer, and you know Brady isn't going to play, you can go into this saying "This is my week and I have to be ready." That's different than a coach telling him "We'll see how it goes. When we feel like we're going to pull him out, then you're in." An approach like that takes a sense of urgency away from a player. Let Hoyer have an entire week to prepare like a starting quarterback.

The other part of this is that it can give the Patriots some answers as to what Hoyer will be for them. He's had a whole year of development but hasn't had a lot of playing time in games. The Patriots value practice time, but now this is a chance to see what he can do in a game.

If he goes out and looks like the Colts' Curtis Painter last week, you know you have some problems and maybe he's not ready for the big time, so you might think about bringing in another quarterback. But if Hoyer plays well, the coaching staff can come out of that saying "We might have something here. This backup quarterback might be even better than we thought."



Hoyer, a rookie free agent from Michigan State, surprisingly became the lone backup when the Patriots waived Kevin O'Connell and cut Matt Gutierrez and Andrew Walter before the season.

Hoyer has played in four games, completing 11 of his 15 attempts for 71 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He has one rushing touchdown.

Peace of mind defines Belichick's backup plan

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
12:15
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick has a rather simple philosophy for backup quarterbacks.

As he did last year, even before Tom Brady's left knee looked like shredded wheat, Belichick asked himself a question when filling out the New England Patriots' 53-man roster.

"Are you comfortable with them?" Belichick said in a training camp interview with ESPN.com. "If you feel like you can [win] with him, then you probably feel comfortable with him. If you don't feel that way, then that means you're probably looking for somebody else."
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Matt Cassel filled in for Tom Brady last year and won 11 games.

In the span of one calendar year, Belichick has gone from content with his backup quarterbacks to thoroughly unsatisfied with some of the same names.

Belichick's comfort level with Matt Cassel allowed the Patriots to experience an incredible season despite Brady's absence. But none of the quarterbacks on New England's active roster from Week 2 last season is with the club anymore.

Cassel (traded in April for financial reasons), Kevin O'Connell (waived Sunday) and Matt Gutierrez (released a month ago) are gone.

"When you put them in the game, you want the ability to win with them," Belichick said in an interview with ESPN.com shortly after signing free agent Andrew Walter, but with O'Connell still on the roster.

The O'Connell move caught the football community off guard. But he apparently didn't fit either of two basic roles Belichick sees for backup quarterbacks. There are projects and there are stabilizers.

"If you're trying to get your backup guy to eventually be your starter or be able to go in and win for you, and you draft a young player like Cassel, you know he's not ready that first year," Belichick said. "But you hope in time you can get him ready.

"That's the problem with a young quarterback. It takes a little bit of time to develop them. The problem with the old quarterback is it's a year-to-year proposition.

"It's a combination of how far you really think you'll be able to go with that player and if you feel he's keeping it warm until you had your starter back -- but then you're looking for someone else."

The only other quarterbacks behind Brady are Walter and undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer, who has looked sharp in preseason games and perhaps supplanted O'Connell as a less expensive project of choice. Seventh-round draft choice Julian Edelman played quarterback at Kent State but has been moved to receiver.

Belichick has done well with backup quarterbacks in the past. When the Patriots have been forced to use a second-stringer, he has been successful. Brady got his break as a medical replacement for Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

When Belichick stood behind a lectern at Gillette Stadium one year ago and suggested that a quarterback who hadn't started a game since high school could step in for a future Hall of Famer and take New England to the playoffs, it was tough not to laugh.

Or at least it sounded comical at the time. Cassel, emerging from an unpleasant preseason that led to speculation he might not make the final roster, replaced Brady and won 11 games.

The Patriots didn't reach the postseason. The Miami Dolphins also went 11-5 and won the AFC East title on a tiebreaker.

Yet it was an admirable failure given the circumstances.

Belichick has employed different types of backup quarterbacks who never saw significant action. The Patriots kept veterans such as Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie and used youngsters such as Rohan Davey and O'Connell.

"It's an insurance policy," Belichick said. "People have different philosophies on insurance.

"You can spend a lot and have a real high-quality backup quarterback who's one play away from being your starting quarterback. Or you could have more modest expense there and use that extra money to solidify other positions."

But Belichick claimed he never felt apprehensive sending one of his second-string quarterbacks onto the field when he needed to.

"I don't think there was any set formula," Belichick said. "There's a lot of factors that go into it, but in the end that's what you're looking for: a guy you can win with."

AFC East backup quarterback breakdown

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham



More: Chadiha: The plan | Scouts: Rating QBs | Rank 'em | Clayton: Next Cassel?


Buffalo Bills:
If Trent Edwards is unavailable, their situation is standard operating procedure. The only track record Edwards has established is that he gets hurt every year. Shoulder, foot, wrist, concussion, groin: They've all caused Edwards to miss games either at Stanford or for the Bills. To back him up, the Bills signed free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, a clear No. 2 with game experience. Fitzpatrick has 15 NFL starts, including a dozen last year for the Cincinnati Bengals. Fitzpatrick appeared deficient early in training camp, but he perked up in preseason games, completing 39 of 54 passes for 381 yards and one touchdown with an interception. Gibran Hamdan should be the third-string quarterback again this year.


Miami Dolphins:
If Chad Pennington is unavailable, their situation is uneasy. Before Pennington arrived a week into camp last year, rookie Chad Henne was pushing to be the starter straight out of Michigan. He was holding his own against Josh McCown and John Beck and had the front office excited. Enthusiasm has been muted somewhat this year. Henne still is considered the club's future quarterback, but he has struggled in practices and exhibitions. He has completed 19 of 35 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Speedy rookie Pat White, a second-round pick out of West Virginia, has seemed mostly uncomfortable in an NFL setting. He was drafted in part because of his Wildcat skills, but his arm has been unimpressive.


New England Patriots:
If Tom Brady is unavailable, their situation is tenuous for now. Two days ago, the Patriots waived Kevin O'Connell, the player many expected to be their primary backup. It was a curious move. The Patriots spent a third-round draft pick on O'Connell last year. He entered his rookie season as the third quarterback, but handled the No. 2 duties for Matt Cassel after Brady went down with a knee injury on opening day. In training camp, the Patriots cut Matt Gutierrez and signed free agent Andrew Walter, formerly of the Oakland Raiders. The Patriots are said to be on the lookout for another veteran, but the depth chart for now features Brady, Walter and undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer.


New York Jets:
If Mark Sanchez is unavailable, their situation is more manageable than most. The Jets are the only AFC East club with a backup quarterback who lost an open competition for the No. 1 job. The Jets should be at least a little comfortable knowing their insurance policy at least had a shot -- OK, maybe not a great shot -- to win the gig. Kellen Clemens has been undistinguished in the opportunities he has been given since the Jets drafted him in the second round out of Oregon in 2006. He started eight games in his second season. He completed 52 percent of his passes, threw five touchdowns and 10 interceptions and finished with a 60.9 passer rating. One of the real surprises since camp opened has been the play of sophomore Erik Ainge. He will be the third quarterback, but showed signs of life after a worthless rookie season that included a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. In the preseason, Ainge is 18-of-32 for 275 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

Camp Confidential: Patriots working to get back

August, 5, 2009
8/05/09
2:00
PM ET
 
  AP Photo/Stephan Savoia
  Quarterback Tom Brady hopes to test his knee early and often in preseason games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The folks residing in Patriot Nation find it unfathomable their team is not returning to the Super Bowl.

Any team coached by Bill Belichick and with Tom Brady throwing passes to Randy Moss must be a Super Bowl favorite, right? There's no other conceivable prediction for fans who harbor blind faith after so many years of being rewarded.

Camp Confidential: AFC East
Bills: Thurs., July 30
Jets: Sat., Aug. 1
Patriots: Wed., Aug. 5
Dolphins: Sun., Aug. 16
Training camp index

Yet there's a different mood at Patriots training camp this year. They're not the defending champs -- league, conference or division.

The Patriots have something to prove in 2009.

There's a sense of optimism around Gillette Stadium, to be sure. But last year -- following their reality-check loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII -- was a stern reminder nothing should be taken for granted.

Key questions

How will Brady respond to a live pass rush?

This question cannot be answered as long as Brady's clothed in a red, do-not-touch practice jersey.

Fantasy Football: 32 Questions
If you put the health question aside, what should fantasy owners expect from Tom Brady this season? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a statistical approach in answering that question. Story

But the eventual answer will indicate whether the Patriots should be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Those who've crowded around the upper practice fields to watch Brady work out can't tell he underwent reconstructive surgery -- save for the black brace that clasps his left knee. His throws have the same zing. He's accurate. His command during two-minute drills is obvious.

That's all well and good, but if he gets jumpy in the pocket, there will be trouble. What has made Brady a future Hall of Famer is his pocket presence. He has been unflinchingly willing to take a hit to give his receivers one more half-second to separate.

 
  AP Photo/Robert E. Klein
  Leigh Bodden is one of the early candidates to start at right cornerback for the Patriots.

We don't yet know how he will react when defenders start falling at his feet, lunging for his legs, dragging him down.

Brady has stated his desire to play as much as possible in the preseason. He knows he'll need to face a few live opponents to see if the mental side of his rehabilitation is on par with the physical part.

What will the revolving door at cornerback turn out next?

Seven players have started at cornerback over the past two years. The Patriots will have at least one more new starter this year, possibly two.

Before we try to get a feel for how Belichick will handle one of the game's most important positions, remember that Fernando Bryant was the first-team left cornerback throughout 2008 training camp and the preseason. Then Belichick cut him before the regular-season opener.

For now, it appears free agent Leigh Bodden is the right cornerback. The left corner could come down to a pair of second-year pros: Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley. The Patriots also added veteran free agent Shawn Springs and drafted Darius Butler in the second round.

First-team reps have gone to Wheatley while Wilhite, who replaced Deltha O'Neal for the final four games last season, has missed practices with an injury.

"Certainly, based off the offseason, both of those players have made significant progress," Belichick said, "and hopefully they'll be able to carry that onto the field and into training camp and build on it and have strong seasons. Their offseason has been good. They are way ahead of where they were last year."

Will the Patriots regret not bringing in veteran help to replace Mike Vrabel at outside linebacker?

Every edge rusher who so much as wa
s rumored to be available was supposedly headed to New England over the offseason. Julius Peppers, Jason Taylor, Derrick Burgess, Greg Ellis ... none of them came.

Radar was up because the Patriots packaged Vrabel, a Pro Bowler just two seasons ago, in the Matt Cassel trade to the Kansas City Chiefs. There clearly was a void.

Or was there? Apparently the Patriots didn't view themselves as needy as outsiders did. They declined to summon help, choosing instead to give Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable a shot to claim the job.

Neither has much experience. Woods, undrafted in 2006, has made three starts. All of them came last year in place of an injured Adalius Thomas.

Crable, a third-round pick last year, is a somewhat unknown. Crable didn't play a game last year because of a shin problem and opened camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Unless the Patriots eventually do bring in help, it would appear to be Woods' job to lose.

Market watch

 Meriweather

Rodney Harrison's age and health weren't the only reasons the Patriots declined to bring him back for another season at strong safety. Brandon Meriweather's performances in Harrison's place truly nudged them forward.

Meriweather, the 24th overall draft pick in 2007, has been elevated to starting strong safety and should be ready for the job.

He started only the final 10 games after Harrison suffered a career-ending quadriceps injury. That was enough time for Meriweather to make more tackles (79) than Tedy Bruschi, record as many sacks (two) as Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren and lead the team with four interceptions.

Newcomer to watch

The Patriots welcomed back four capable running backs, but Belichick felt the need to enlist more help. Fred Taylor, with his 11,271 career rushing yards, has joined the crew.

How the 33-year-old Taylor's role develops will be an interesting storyline. There's enough depth at the position that Belichick won't need to lean heavily on Taylor, who gained the nickname "Fragile Fred" for the various injuries he endured in 11 seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Taylor already has dealt with a wrist injury since signing with New England, but in all fairness, he generally has been reliable over the past seven years, missing a dozen games.

 Walter
 O'Connell

Observation deck

Belichick has been turning over the roster since camp began a week ago. The most interesting moves have occurred at backup quarterback, where Belichick obviously isn't happy. Third-stringer Matt Gutierrez was cut and former Oakland Raider Andrew Walter brought in to compete with last year's third-round draft pick, Kevin O'Connell, who seems to have lost reps to undrafted rookie Brian Hoyer. ... Greybeard receiver Joey Galloway is running just fine. A foot injury kept him off the field for all but nine games last year with Tampa Bay. ... Mammoth offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, viewed by many to be a reach as the 58th overall draft pick in April, has been impressive. The 6-foot-8 German émigré could push veteran Nick Kaczur to be the starting right tackle. ... Julian Edelman always seems to be on the field. The Patriots drafted the Kent State quarterback in the seventh round and are converting him into a receiver/punt returner/gadget guy. Edelman's often compared to Wes Welker, but they've been on the field together quite a bit with the first team. ... Oft-injured back Laurence Maroney is running with conviction. He's coming off a broken shoulder bone and looks powerful.

Shanahan, Walter at Pats practice

August, 4, 2009
8/04/09
12:10
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Free-agent coach Mike Shanahan was a guest of the New England Patriots on Tuesday.

He watched the morning practice with Patriots owner Robert Kraft and senior advisor Floyd Reese.

Shanahan addressed the players as a group early in practice and walked off the field with Bill Belichick. Shanahan, fired after 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos and replaced by former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, declined interview requests.

Guess what other former AFC West personality wouldn't talk to the media.

New quarterback Andrew Walter, that's who.

Walter was on the field for the first time as a Patriot. He signed with them Monday night. The club released third quarterback Matt Gutierrez to make room.

Walter didn't get many reps, but that's to be expected so soon after flipping through his new playbook. He also declined to speak to reporters about his new gig.

QB Lemon still not a Patriot

August, 3, 2009
8/03/09
3:29
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here is what we know about Cleo Lemon:

 Lemon
  • The journeyman quarterback tried out for the New England Patriots on Friday afternoon.
  • The Patriots liked what they saw.
  • The Patriots initiated contract talks.

After that, Lemon's journey to New England has encountered turbulence. The Patriots have four players in red jerseys Monday, and none of them is Lemon.

An NFL source informed me -- and ESPN.com's John Clayton separately reported -- that Lemon was expected to sign quickly, perhaps as soon as Saturday.

But contract negotiations have hit a snag.

You wouldn't think it would be too hard to hammer out a deal for an unemployed quarterback with middling credentials to join a Super Bowl contender and be Tom Brady's backup.

Somebody's squeezing somebody.

For experienced QB depth, Pats pluck Lemon

August, 1, 2009
8/01/09
3:38
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
  Lemon

The New England Patriots clearly aren't satisfied with their quarterback depth behind Tom Brady.

An NFL source tells me the Patriots are on the verge of signing journeyman Cleo Lemon to be Brady's top backup. Lemon tried out for them Friday afternoon in Foxborough, Mass. The signing is expected as early as Saturday.

Bill Belichick must crave additional experience at quarterback. New England's depth chart includes Kevin O'Connell (third-round pick last year), Matt Gutierrez (undrafted third-year pro) and Brian Hoyer (undrafted rookie).

O'Connell has six NFL attempts. Gutierrez has five.

Lemon has played in 16 NFL games for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. He hasn't completed a pass since 2007, when he started seven games for the 1-15 Dolphins.

Lemon spent last year with the Jacksonville Jaguars and served as David Garrard's backup. In June, the Jaguars terminated his contract with two years remaining.

Around the AFC East: Pats 'O' better than '07?

May, 25, 2009
5/25/09
11:53
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New England Patriots

Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins

New York Jets

After Brady, what's the Patriots' backup plan?

May, 11, 2009
5/11/09
2:20
PM ET
 
  Jim Rogash/Getty Images
  The Patriots showed faith in unproven Kevin O'Connell, left, by not pursuing a veteran to be No. 2 behind quarterback Tom Brady.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Three professional pass attempts were all Tom Brady had when he trotted onto the field for Drew Bledsoe and managed the New England Patriots' first championship campaign.

Matt Cassel had 39 attempts over his first three seasons before he assumed control of the offense and helped the Patriots win 11 games.

The folks at CareerBuilder.com recently posted a list of the top jobs that don't require experience. Cruiseline worker, English-as-second-language instructor, medical transcriber ... they forgot Patriots quarterback. I would have slotted that gig at No. 10, just ahead of movie extra.

What's cool about being Patriots quarterback is that you can start off as background filler and turn into the leading man.

If Brady's reconstructed left knee doesn't hold up as Patriot Nation prays it will, then sophomore Kevin O'Connell apparently is next in line. The Patriots have chosen not to reinforce their depth chart with veteran support after trading Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.

How risky is that?

Fan logic dictates if an unheralded Brady (sixth-round draft pick) can come off the bench to be a superstar, and an unknown Cassel (seventh-round draft pick) can come off the bench to get within a tiebreaker of the AFC East crown, then O'Connell (third-round draft pick) can come off the bench and run the show, too.

"It's the relative unknown that scares the living hell out of you," former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak said. "Brett Favre might have had it four or five years ago, where all hopes rest on one guy. Now, maybe you're down to two: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  The Patriots' current No. 3 quarterback is Matt Gutierrez, who didn't even make the team following last year's training camp.

"Your season hinges on that one guy. You hold your breath again because you don't know."

Although the Patriots kicked the tires on Kyle Boller and Patrick Ramsey, they have so far chosen not to acquire a veteran quarterback.

Brady's backups are O'Connell, who threw six passes as a rookie last year, and Matt Gutierrez, who was undrafted in 2007, has thrown one NFL pass and didn't make the team out of training camp last year. The Patriots signed rookie free agent Brian Hoyer two weeks ago.

"Ultimately, I don't think they've reached a conclusion," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who writes for the National Football Post. "They haven't had a preseason to really evaluate their quarterbacks and this is the time, May and June, to see where they need to go.

"The course right now is to develop O'Connell and see where they are in the preseason and then make adjustments."

New England can't expect to keep inserting neophyte quarterbacks into the lineup and get away with it.

"I don't think that can be a recipe you can count on," Scouts Inc. analyst Matt Williamson said. "I do think there's some risk. It would be nice to have a veteran in the fold, but they know what they're doing."

Zolak doesn't see the need for veteran help.

"Last year at this time, I would have thought a veteran would be the way to go," Zolak said. "They've gone that veteran route with Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie, but they've never needed to use that guy.

"They went the in-house route with Cassel, developed the guy for four years and that's the route that worked when it was tested."

Zolak and Wlliamson are fans of O'Connell's.

As a sportscaster for "Patriots All-Access," a television show produced by the club, Zolak has seen the 6-foot-5 San Diego State product more than the average reporter.

"Usually, when you see these guys you think Scott Mitchell, and he doesn't move that well," Zolak said. "But the kid has a smoothness to him and is very fluid for his size. He went to his legs a lot his senior year and picked up a lot of yards on the ground."

Said Williamson: "He has all the tools to work with. He's smart. He's big. He's got a nice arm. He moves around real well."

 
  Stan Liu/Icon SMI
  As a senior at San Diego State, Kevin O'Connell rushed for 408 yards and a school-record 11 touchdowns on the ground.

The Patriots have made enough brilliant personnel moves since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 to earn their fans' trust. The staff has monitored O'Connell for a year. If the coaches are confident he can handle the No. 2 role, then many figure that should be enough.

While the Patriots' front office has been praised rightly for unearthing Brady and Cassel in the late rounds, not all of their quarterbacks have panned out. Lest we forget, they also drafted Rohan Davey and Kliff Kingsbury.

The Patriots also must overcome the departure of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the man who called the plays and molded Cassel into an NFL commodity even though Cassel hadn't st
arted a game since high school.

"As long as you have Wes Welker, as long as you have Randy Moss ... they have some weapons," Zolak said. "With Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk on third down, I don't care who the quarterback coach is. It's hard not to be successful with the type of players they have."

The last time Patriot Nation gave their backup quarterback a second thought was back in the Zolak and Hugh Millen days.

Ever since the Patriots selected Drew Bledsoe with the first pick of the 1993 draft, they have gone into the season without worry about their quarterback's health.

From 1993 through 2000, Bledsoe came off the field enough for his backups to average 39 mop-up attempts per season.

Bledsoe was Gibraltar in the huddle. Nobody bothered to think about his backup beyond the possibility he someday might development into Bledsoe's heir -- when Bledsoe was good and ready to abdicate. Alas, we all know that internal bleeding isn't something you can walk off.

Brady entered Game 2 of the 2001 season and remained the starter for the next 128 games, including 17 in the playoffs, until he crumpled to the turf in last year's season opener. A mangled left knee sidelined him for the rest of the year.

So, for the first time in a decade and a half, the Patriots enter training camp hopeful their quarterback will hold up.

A rebuilt knee -- one that was beset by infections early in the healing process -- offers no guarantees. The only optimism emanates from the aura of the quarterback's credentials. He has won championships, married a supermodel, almost helped Ecuador land the 2010 Winter Olympics, scored 42 points to help the Washington Generals beat the Harlem Globetrotters and almost single-handedly brought back the 8-track.

"I think it's a fluke thing with Brady," Zolak said. "I've talked with enough people who think it's almost like his rookie year again. The kid's hungry again and he's back to the old work ethic he had. That's not to say he has a bad one, but let's face it: The guy has a lot of priorities, and his life has changed since he's won three rings. But he's up and going at full go.

"Tom will be back. As good as Manning was, questions with his knee last year, he didn't really get going until about Week 5, and the guy ended up getting NFL MVP. Donovan McNabb came back from it. So it can be done."

But what if his knee doesn't hold up? As much as he's treated like a god, he is human.

"And if something happens to him, they'll go with one of the in-house guys," Zolak said. "They like the guys they have."

Cassel trade opens new offseason possibilities

February, 28, 2009
2/28/09
1:21
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Albert Haynesworth's gargantuan contract has been eclipsed as the offseason's biggest blockbuster deal.

 
  Elsa/Getty Images
  GM Scott Pioli acquired the Chiefs' starting quarterback on Saturday.

The New England Patriots are comfortable enough with the rehabilitation of Tom Brady's rebuilt left knee that they have traded high-profile backup Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Chiefs sent their second-round pick, No. 34 overall, to the Patriots to acquire their desperately needed quarterback and linebacker Mike Vrabel.

If the trade goes through, then it dramatically will change the offseason possibilities for both clubs and send ripples throughout the league.

Here are some consequences to consider:

  • The Patriots have unbridled themselves from Cassel's one-year, $14.65 million contract.
  • They now have that much more to spend on free agents and have greater flexibility in giving players already on their roster contract extensions.
  • Brady's knee still offers no guarantees. New England needs a new backup quarterback unless it's comfortable with second-year pro Kevin O'Connell in that role and Matt Gutierrez third.
  • With one less team in need of a quarterback, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman likely will slide in the draft because the Chiefs won't be using the No. 3 pick on another one.
  • More draft picks for the Patriots mean they can continue to get younger.

Pats won't need to worry about Boldin

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
12:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The sledding just got a little smoother for the New England Patriots.

Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin won't be playing Sunday in snowy and slick Gillette Stadium. The Cardinals have deactivated their dangerous Pro Bowl receiver.

Notable from the Patriots' inactive list is that Pro Bowl tackle Matt Light isn't on it. He will play despite a shoulder problem that limited him in practice all week.

Here are the rest of the scratches for the game:

Cardinals

Patriots

Elsewhere in the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins have scratched leading tackler Channing Crowder from their game with the Kansas City Chiefs because of a knee injury that limited him in practice.

Ty Warren inactive for Patriots

November, 30, 2008
11/30/08
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots have deactivated defensive lineman Ty Warren for Sunday afternoon's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Gillette Stadium.

It will be the second time in the past three games Warren has been scratched with a groin injury. Also out for the Patriots is running back LaMont Jordan for the eighth straight game because of a calf problem. Jordan practiced quite a bit this week, raising hopes he would be available.

Here is the complete list of inactives for the game:

Pittsburgh Steelers

New England Patriots

Ty Warren out, Morris will dress for Pats

November, 13, 2008
11/13/08
7:19
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' defense will need to cope with more than just the loss of leading sackmaster Adalius Thomas.

Also out for Thursday night's big AFC East showdown with the New York Jets is starting defensive end Ty Warren, who has been limited all week with a groin injury and can't go on the slick Gillette Stadium turf.

Warren is second on the Patriots with 54 tackles. He also recorded both of his sacks over the past two games.

Thomas, who already had been ruled out with a forearm injury, leads the Patriots with five sacks.

But here's some good news for Patriots fans: Running back Sammy Morris is active after missing three games with a knee injury.

Here are the other inactives:

New England Patriots

New York Jets

No matter how you slice it, Brady's knee is bad news

October, 23, 2008
10/23/08
12:44
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

I'm not a doctor, and I'm not about to play one on the Interwebs.

But I can safely say what's going on with Tom Brady's left knee is not good.

The New England Patriots quarterback already has had multiple surgeries: one to repair the damage done from a season-ending hit on opening day, and two more to clean out a rare but persistent infection.

Based on Thursday's updates, more cutting sounds likely, and the reconstruction -- a patellar tendon graft to replace his torn anterior cruciate ligament -- might need to be done again from scratch, the Boston Herald reported.

There are no guarantees here. Fears for Brady's future are warranted.

How soon will he be able to play?

Will he ever be the same again?

What should the Patriots do now?

The worst-case scenario is that Brady doesn't come back at all, but a more plausible plot is that he struggles to feel normal again and ceases to be special. He'll turn 32 before next season starts.

The best-case scenario is Brady will be able to rehabilitate his knee and play next season. Still, he wouldn't be able to participate fully in offseason workouts.

If he's unable to regain his form in 2009, the Patriots might not know until it's too late. Unless they're happy with what's on their roster, they'll need to take a hard look at free agency for an insurance policy (at minimum) or a starter (if the dread becomes reality).

Matt Cassel is in the final year of his contract, and if the Patriots want to bring him back for continuity's sake, they'll still need to foster competition in training camp.

Here's a list of quarterbacks about to enter free agency:

And if none of them do anything for you, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper and Chris Simms always seem available.

The other quarterbacks on New England's roster are rookie Kevin O'Connell and Matt Gutierrez, who went undrafted in 2007. The Patriots cut Gutierrez before the season and re-signed him when Brady got hurt.

O'Connell is lined up to be their quarterback of the future, but the future might be sooner than Patriots fans would like.

ESPN's Mark Schlereth talks about the physical and emotional toll facing Tom Brady.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC EAST SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 1/25