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New England Patriots: The Starting Quarterback for the 2013 Patriots Is...

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks looks to pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Ryan KennedyAnalyst IIJune 13, 2011

Ryan Mallett.

Take that into consideration for a moment...Now that you have stopped giving me the finger for writing that sentence, that would mean the Belichick-Brady era is two short seasons from being over. Tom Brady has gone on record after the Patriots drafted Ryan Mallett that he would be the Patriots starting quarterback for "the next ten years." Brett Farve didn't last that long and as durable as Brady has been he doesn't love the limelight as much as Farve did.

Brady has to be realistic. Playing at a high level after 35 is not unheard of but not all that common.  There were approximately 30 quarterbacks who played into their late 30s and early 40s. Sixteen quarterbacks have made the Pro Bowl at 36 or older. The oldest quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl are Warren Moon at 41 and Brett Farve at 40. At that point in their careers most quarterbacks have broken down.

Most of the quaterbacks who have excelled at a late stage have been in the modern era. But take a closer look. Kurt Warner didn't start playing in the NFL until he was 27, although he played in the Arena Football League. Vinny Testaverde didn't play full seasons in 11 of his years under center. Doug Flutie played 10 years in the Canadian Football League and then spent three seasons as a full time starter for the remainder of his career.

Most of this late career greatness can be attributed to advancements in modern medicine and training techniques. Brady just came off a major knee injury two seasons ago. 20 years ago that would have ended his career.

But does Brady want to play for another 10 seasons? Does he even think that is realistic? He lives on the West Coast in the offseason. He has two young children. He has a supermodel wife and seems to be enjoying the benefits of the model lifestyle. Would getting one last ring be enough for Brady to hand over the reigns to Mallett?

Bill Belichick is close to Brady. He protects him to an extent. Rather than ship off Brady after his knee injury and Matt Cassell performance as his replacement, Belichick shipped Cassell to Kansas City as a present to Scott Pioli.

The two are obviously close and have probably talked about the end for a few years now. Belichick plans for the future, almost obsessively. Rather than focus on getting better short-term, Belichick has used the draft to constantly build for the future, seemingly always cashing in only enough to stay competitive, not to get over the top.

So would Belichick rely on Brian Hoyer as the face of the franchise? Or would he play coy and see if a top prospect drops to be Brady's successor? Remember, last year Belichick worked out Tim Tebow for no reason it seemed other than to drive his draft stock up (or to torture Josh McDaniels). Belichick has been planning for this for some time.

Ryan Mallett is a strong armed, intelligent quarterback with some off-the-field issues that have never quite been cleared up. Belichick is willing to risk middle-round picks on character issues if the talent warrants it (see Hernandez, Aaron). Is Mallett the next great steal?

Mallett looked comfortable in Jon Gruden's Quarterback Class on ESPN. Sure he looked slow, but at 6'6", he isn't going to be fast. Given two seasons to learn from one of the greatest to play the position certainly lessens the learning curve.

Brady publicly has to be against this. He is a quarterback, trusted leader of his team. If this is indeed a succession plan, he can't let on to it just yet or if Brady slips up, Mallett's name might get called sooner than later.

This is all part of a plan. Nothing in New England is an accident and neither is this. Start the clock. 2013 is coming around the corner and No. 12 won't be behind center when it does.

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