After spending his rookie season as the Patriots' third quarterback, Mallett beat out Brian Hoyer in training camp last preaseason and spent the 2012-13 camaign as Brady's primary back-up.
Since falling to the third round of the 2011 draft despite a cannon for an arm, Mallett has had a chance to learn behind one of the best ever, under the expert guidance of coaches Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Bill O'Brien.
Not many talented quarterbacks get a chance to develop like that. Most, especially ones drafted higher than Mallett, are expected to contribute almost immediately.
Mallet, however, has had the luxury of not being thrown into the fire just yet, but what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for Mallett in New England now with him possibly at the halfway point of his Patriots career?
With two years left on his rookie deal, Mallett might be ready for a chance to start before he leaves New England. There were plenty of trade rumors swirling around him this offseason, and that was after only average preseason performances.
Mallett's most logical path would be to follow in the footsteps of Matt Cassel, who backed up Brady for three seasons before getting his chance in the 2008 season when Brady went down with a knee injury. Cassel had a loaded team around him and put up 3,693 yards passing with 21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions.
The next offseason, Cassel was traded to Kansas City and signed a six-year, $63 million contract. Everyone knows how that turned out, but Cassel's path is certainly a great model for Mallett.
However, there's no guarantee that Mallett will get a full season with the keys to the Pats' offense and Patriots fans are surely hoping that he doesn't.
The worst-case scenario for Mallett is to have a poor showing this preseason, doing enough to keep his backup job with the Pats, but not enough to entice teams to pursue him next offseason.
If Mallett does finish the last two years of his contract with the Pats, there will surely be a team that takes a shot on him in free agency, but then it would be doubtful he gets the same kind of money he would have in a trade-and-extend situation like Cassel.
Teams that give up something to get a player are far more invested in that player than if they just acquire them in free agency.
Ultimately, it comes down to this preseason for Mallett. He's had two years in the Patriots' system so he should start to demonstrate some significant growth. His stats slipped a bit from the 2011 preseason to the 2012 preseason and if that continues, it's a troubling trend.
However, Cassel had similar struggles in the preseason of 2008 when he went 19-for-34 for 165 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and four sacks, having started all four games. Cassel's success in the regular season shows when the offense is geared more toward the quarterback playing, they have a better chance for success.
Greg A. Bedard of The Boston Globe point this out:
As opposed to the regular season, when Bill Belichick is the league’s best at putting his players in a position to succeed, the coach’s job in the preseason is to prepare the players who will play to get ready for the regular season.
That means the Patriots are running the offense tailored like a glove to Brady.
And for Mallett, that’s three sizes too small.
Brady thrives in a short and quick passing game that maximizes his mental advantage over the defense and most other quarterbacks.
Mallett is the classic big-armed, slow-footed passer of the 1990s. Yes, like the man Brady replaced: Drew Bledsoe.
This training camp will certainly go a long way toward determining Mallett's future in the NFL. If he is needed to replace Brady at any point this season, it will not only be his audition for the other 31 teams in the NFL, but for the Patriots as well.
If Mallett wants any chance at being Brady's heir apparent or of enticing another team to trade for him next offseason, he needs to put his loaded arm on display this preseason.