What will the Pats do when Brady walks off the field for the last time?
Unfortunately for Patriots fans, Brady won't play forever, and the end often comes quickly for quarterbacks. Brady has shown no sign of slowing down over recent seasons, but as he gets older, it gets even more important for the Patriots to have an eventual replacement lined up.
What we do know about Bill Belichick is that as soon as there's a better and cheaper option than Brady, he'll no longer be a New England Patriot. That's the harsh reality, but Brady is well aware of the fact, and it helps keep him on top of his game. A new quarterback will have to dethrone Brady to take his job before 2017, and Brady certainly won't make it easy.
Ideally, the Pats would love to have a player who can back up Brady and learn from future the Hall of Famer before taking the reins (Aaron Rodgers anyone?)
Ryan Mallet has had two seasons behind Brady so far, but showed little in preseason to convince anyone that he's the heir apparent. This will be a huge summer for Mallet to make an impression on the Pats and the rest of the NFL, though he got off to a shaky starts at OTAs this past week, appearing "rusty."
Mallet is in no-man's land with two years left in his contract. Even if he shows enough potential this season, can the Pats really hang on to him long enough for him to beat out Brady?
Third-stringer Mike Kafka showed real promise with the Eagles in the 2011 preseason, completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He also has two years left on his current deal, so he still has a chance to earn a second contract and possibly succeed Brady.
There are no easy answers, especially when Brady remains among the best in the NFL at his position.
It's rare that the quarterback transition goes as cleanly as the Colts' did, going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Barring an epic meltdown season, it's unlikely the Pats would be in position to draft the next great quarterback at the top of the draft before Brady retires.
Therefore, New England must continue to stock the bottom of the roster and practice squad with quarterbacks while also paying extra close attention to the ones coming out of the draft.
Will Tom Brady get beaten out by a new QB before 2018?
A quarterback drafted in 2014 would sign a four-year deal, matching their contract length with Brady's and presenting the perfect mentorship opportunity. Mallet would provide an element of insurance in 2014 should Brady get hurt or sharply decline, and from there it would be an open competition until 2017.
Whether it's via free agency or the draft, the Patriots must get at least a couple quarterbacks in the pipeline over the next few seasons. Mallet's experience in the system provides them a bit of a safety net, but his long-term viability is still in question.
It's not necessary for New England to overextend or make risky moves to find a suitable replacement. Their system is established, and there are enough weapons to ease any transition they might have to make in the next few seasons.
Brady's retirement is inevitable, but the Patriots are always thinking ahead and should begin to target potential successors immediately following this season, if not sooner.