Only a late-rounder? That seemed to be the most prevalent Patriots-based question among those immediately digesting the deal. Mallett was drafted in the third round in 2011, so four seasons later, how could he be worth only a late-rounder? The market spoke. This is what we wrote April 6: "There was a time when the Patriots might have felt Mallett could develop into a tradable commodity, but I don’t think it ever generated the momentum the club hoped. So at this point, my feeling is that whatever the club could get in return (projected here as a late-round pick at best) pales in comparison to the value Mallett has on the roster as Tom Brady’s insurance policy." When the Patriots drafted rookie Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round this year and he played well this preseason, it lessened Mallett's value on the roster.
Weighing the value of third QB vs. late-round pick: Given Garoppolo's rise, the question for the Patriots was whether Mallett had more value to them as a No. 3 option on their depth chart or if taking the late-round pick and freeing up a roster spot was the better play. They chose the latter route, which shows their faith in Garoppolo. Mallett was in the final year of his contract and was almost certainly going to sign elsewhere after the 2014 season, so the Patriots could have held on to him and potentially received a later-round 2016 compensatory draft choice when he signed with another team. In this case, they get the pick and immediate roster flexibility.
Texans' viewpoint: The Texans were seeking an upgrade on their depth chart behind starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, and first-year head coach Bill O'Brien and quarterbacks coach George Godsey have a background with Mallett from being on the Patriots' staff in Mallett's rookie season in 2011. O'Brien and Godsey can feel comfortable knowing that Mallett has been well-schooled over the past three-plus years in a system that is similar, if not identical, to what they are installing in Houston. With the future in mind, Mallett is another option to consider if 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage doesn't develop as hoped. Mallett could be a one-year rental in Houston, but given the importance of the quarterback position and how the entire team is at risk if there isn't a player ready to run the offense, a late-round pick seems to be a fair price to pay.
Patriots' track record with quarterbacks: There was a time when former Packers general manager Ron Wolf was the gold standard in football when it came to developing quarterbacks. Those quarterbacks helped the Packers win big in the 1990s, provided valuable insurance or brought back something in return in a trade. The Patriots have a nice little Wolf-type run going over the past five years. Two of their last three backups, Matt Cassel and Mallett, have filled an insurance-based or emergency-starter role and then brought back a draft pick in return (Cassel and Mike Vrabel traded to Kansas City for a high second-rounder in 2009). That's not to mention that the Patriots' backup quarterback between those two, Brian Hoyer, is slated to the start the opener for the Cleveland Browns this year. The Patriots never found a trade partner for Hoyer and ended up releasing him in 2012. Wolf would certainly approve.