One of the greatest understatements possible is that the Patriots are not in pressing need of a quarterback.
Tom Brady is beyond any question one of the 10 greatest quarterbacks of all time, a man whose name should be spoken together with those of Bart Starr, Len Dawson and Joe Montana. Still, there are two facts that remain true.
One is that he will not continue forever. A good part of the collapse of the 1960's Packers, probably the greatest football dynasty ever, was that Bart Starr got to the end of the road and there was no one who could really take his place—Zeke Bratkowski was older than he was, Don Horn kept throwing interceptions, and Scott Hunter couldn't complete passes.
Brady is still a great quarterback. So was Starr in 1969. So were Dawson in 1972 and Montana in 1990. Starr had no worthy successor. Dawson's successor, Mike Livingston, was a decent QB, but could not replace Dawson.
Of those three, only Montana was succeeded by a great QB, Steve Young—and of those three teams, only the 49ers remained a top team. Now Brady is 34. It is getting to that time.
Dawson and Montana had successors who held their clipboards for years. Perhaps Livingston held Dawson's too long (1969-75). Young got the opening to step up when Montana was injured and missed the 1991 season.
It appeared that Brady had his successor prepared and groomed, with Matt Cassel. However, Cassel did so well in 2008, and it was clear that Brady was not ready to be put to the side, that the Pats had to make the same sort of decision the 49ers faced in 1992.
The 49ers decided to play Young and let Montana go the following year. The Pats, correctly, saw that, just as Livingston was good but no Dawson, Cassel is good but no Brady. Cassel went (ironically, to the Chiefs, where Dawson and Livingston were); but that reopens the question of a successor.
The Pats have Brian Hoyer. In limited duty, he has done well. Do the Patriots, however, want to gamble that he is a QB capable of filling Brady's shoes? Probably not.
Andy Dalton is a quarterback likely to slide into the later rounds. That, however, is where the Patriots have done best with quarterback picks; Brady was a sixth-rounder, Cassel a seventh. Dalton led what had been a second-tier football program to become one of the best in the country.
He has the intelligence, the toughness and the solid mechanics to be a really good quarterback. Just a shade short? Yes, but not critically so; Drew Brees and David Garrard are shorter and their height has not hampered their performance; everyone said once upon a time that Bob Griese was too short.
The Pats' second fourth-round pick would be well-spent for Dalton, who will probably still be around then.