With every Jimmy Garoppolo preseason touchdown toss, it becomes more and more apparent that Ryan Mallett's days in New England are numbered.
The rookie out of Eastern Illinois had his second impressive outing in as many career games on Friday night. Coming in as the second quarterback after Tom Brady's short spell with the starters, he continued to show why Bill Belichick drafted him with a surprise second-round pick this May.
Garoppolo finished with 72 yards and two touchdowns on 6-of-12 passing, showing great command of the offense. After Brady played the opening two drives, the rookie led the New England Patriots on two straight touchdown drives right out of the gates—tossing scoring passes to finish both drives.
But perhaps the most telling development was the fact that he was the second quarterback to see the field.
Mallett has been taking second-team reps for quite some time in New England, but that has changed with Garoppolo's increased quality of play in the preseason. On Friday, the rookie came out second, while Mallett didn't make an appearance until the second half.
Garoppolo wasn't the only one to impress with his play, as Mallett finished 7-of-11 with 92 yards and a touchdown. But it did come against a lower-quality opposition in the second half.
Erik Scalavino noted that despite Mallett's strong appearance, the writing is on the wall:
#Patriots Mallett responding nicely to Garoppolo's challenge, but I still think the vet has plateaued, while the rookie is ascending.— Erik Scalavino (@E_Scal) August 16, 2014
The first preseason game set the stage for a quarterback controversy behind Brady in New England. Mallett started and struggled, while Garoppolo came in and surprised with his play.
A 9-of-13 performance for 157 yards and a touchdown got plenty of Patriots fans excited in Garoppolo's debut, and through two games that excitement is only heightened.
Not only is the game slowing down for the rookie, but he's showing signs of confidence in the pocket, as NFL Network's Albert Breer observed:
Jimmy Garoppolo poise in the pocket and release really showing up the last two weeks.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 16, 2014
Whether Mallett continues to show he's capable of being a NFL backup is irrelevant at this point—there's little doubt in that. But if they are truly building for the future at the position, Garoppolo is the guy.
The 26-year-old Mallett is an attractive option on the trade market, as he's been tied to landing spots like Houston over the offseason. New England has a vested interest in Mallett as its reliable backup, but he becomes expendable if Garoppolo is playing at a higher level.
Obviously, Mallett is more served to be the backup this season given his experience. Throwing Garoppolo into the fire will be different if it's midseason. But with the rookie making strides at this pace, it won't be long at all until Garoppolo is big enough for the No. 2—and eventually No. 1—job.
Eric Wilbur of Boston.com thinks it's time for a move:
Garoppolo is Italian for "Pack yo bags, Mallett." #Patriots— Eric Wilbur (@GlobeEricWilbur) August 16, 2014
Brady is still one of the league's top quarterbacks, but at 37 years of age, he's not getting any younger. Patriot fans won't want to admit it, but in a few years, a change will be needed behind center.
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By then, Mallett will be nearing 30, and if he continues to impress in the preseason, his suitors will continue to multiply. So long as that is coincided by continuous improvement from Garoppolo, the Patriots will have plenty of options.
The rookie's play in his debut could be dismissed considering it came in the second half, but Garoppolo saw the field in the first quarter on Friday. It was a higher level of quality on the other side, and he upped his game along with the competition.
Garoppolo's life in the NFL is just beginning. Certainly, he hasn't shown enough yet to be the reliable backup any team needs. But if he continues in this direction, Mallett will soon be finding a new home.