There's an old football maxim that a team can never have too many good quarterbacks.
But perhaps that may not be true—at least not for the New England Patriots
Earlier this week, in describing trade possibilities, the Patriots' director of player personnel, Nick Caserio, hinted that they might be willing to trade one of their backup quarterbacks. When asked if they might be willing to make such a trade:
"If those calls come then we'll listen," said Caserio. "If it's something that we feel makes sense, then we'll consider it."
Obviously, the Patriots have their expected starter in Tom Brady, and it's equally obvious that Brady is not on the trade block.
But right now, the Patriots have two backups who could certainly compete for starting jobs on some teams, if not outright win them.
The first of those is Brian Hoyer, a fourth-year player, who was an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State. Hoyer was a restricted free agent this offseason and signed his tender, meaning that if he is on the Patriots' roster, he will make about $1.9 million.
No team was willing to offer Hoyer a contract and give up a second-round draft pick in compensation to the Patriots for signing him away.
That said, there are only so many good quarterbacks in this year's draft—there are some question marks about even the No. 3 quarterback on most draft boards, Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. Once Tannehill goes off the board, a team still looking for a quarterback in the second or third round might decide that Hoyer represents a smaller risk than any of the quarterbacks still in the draft.
Ultimately, it's unlikely the Patriots will send Hoyer away for anything less than a third-round pick; by all reports, they really like Hoyer's poise and ability to run the offense.
One indication of that fact is that Hoyer was active for every game in 2011, ahead of the Patriots' other backup, Ryan Mallett. Mallett, entering his second year after a productive career at the University of Arkansas, was a surprise pick by the Patriots after he fell to the third round in the 2011 draft.
Mallett's fall was attributed to rumors related to off-field activities. In Foxboro, though, he seems to have bought into the Patriots' system. As NESN noted back in November, Mallett was involved in the Patriots' pre-game warmups during the 2011 season, even though he was inactive for most games, and worked on his footwork and mobility. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised Mallett's work ethic:
"Ryan has definitely gotten on [the strength and conditioning] program. He spends a lot of time in the weight room and doing what we ask him to do. [And] Mallett has made some impressive throws in practice."
It's highly unlikely that Brian Hoyer will ever be the starting quarterback for the Patriots, barring an injury to Brady this year. It's not at all clear, though, whether the Patriots view Ryan Mallett as a possible starting quarterback once Brady's current contract expires in 2014.
That's one reason why NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi suggested that the Patriots should hold on to Mallett. The other, of course, is that the Patriots will almost certainly lose Hoyer to free agency this year; if they were to trade away Mallett, they'd have to start over from scratch next year.
Thus it seems unlikely that the Patriots would trade Mallett away for much less than a first-round draft pick: even a high-second rounder, like Cleveland's No. 37, might not suffice.
At this point, it's not even clear that the Patriots know exactly how they want the quarterback position to play itself out this year. Trading Hoyer seems like a good idea if they trust Mallett's ability to be a backup this year; trading Mallett at this juncture seems premature.