Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reloading the Musket - Part 4: Choosing developmental quarterback an elementary task for Patriots

The mainstay of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character in his quest to make truth out of mystery was his theory that once he eliminated the impossible, whatever remained - no matter how improbable - must be the truth.

It is a crude formula that still leaves much open to interpretation, but Holmes never had to try and match wits with the football mind of Bill Belichick and his passion for the elementary - and with the most fundamental of all concepts in football being to build your offense to force the defense to defend the entire field, it goes without saying the the cornerstone of said offense be a quarterback that has the ability to grasp that concept.

That said, it's really no big secret that Belichick is rumored to be in the market for a developmental signal caller, and with the draft class being full of prospects to that end, it would figure that Belichick would be hosting some of these kids in an attempt to see where their heads are at...
With Brady (12) and Mallett (15) on the roster, there's no need to reach

...but Johnny Manziel?

Manziel was in town the other day, along with Teddy Bridgewater- and, as if on cue, social media exploded with rumor and innuendo, some suggesting that either one could possibly be drafted by the New England Patriots as heir-apparent to future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.

And while one should never put anything past coach and defacto General Manager Bill Belichick in regard to possible draft choices, to suggest that either Manziel or Bridgewater are a month away from becoming the Patriots' first round draft pick is prima facie absurd.

Yes, Belichick will one day need to send someone else out of the field besides number twelve, but there is no reason to believe that day is coming before Brady's contact expires after the 2017 season - and nobody in their right mind would believe that either one of those guys are going to want to wait for three years to get a starting gig.

So by eliminating the impossible, what exactly remains that explains what those two kids were doing at Gillette Stadium?

All we know is that neither is expected to still be on the board when New England is on the clock at number 29 - which makes their presence fuel rampant speculation that Belichick is planning some sort of draft day coup, some sure that Belichick will trade up while others speculate that Bill is in cahoots with former offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien (now head coach at Houston) to help him get both Jadeveon Clowney and Manziel...

...which smacks of collusion, even if it is legal - and we also know is that Belichick doesn't need to reach for any quarterback in this class, particularly when neither of the invitees to Foxborough fully fit the profile of a Patriots' quarterback.

Manziel is a known party fiend and - true to his onfield persona - is a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants quarterback that conjures images of the kid that draws up pass patterns in the dirt then scrambles around and ends up going off-script anyway - his huge hands and floppy clown feet perfect for the weather in New England, but with his cavalier attitude would eventually end up driving Belichick crazy...

...while Bridgewater is everything that Manziel is not - quiet, reserved and studious, determined to succeed and his football intangibles are off the charts, having everything that any football coach would want from not just a quarterback, but also from a team leader in the locker room and in the huddle - except for those small-ish hands and average arm.

This is not to say that the Patriots don't value most of those commodities, particularly with Bridgewater, just that his small hands and resultant lack of arm strength do not match well with the inclimate weather he would be facing in New England - but everything else that Belichick could want in a quarterback he has, and if Belichick were to reach, the Louisville quarterback would probably be the choice.

Perhaps if Bill could somehow merge both of them together into one body...

And it may come down to that, as there are a couple of quarterbacks in the 2013 draft class that envelop many of the traits native to these two top shelf prospects - both good and bad - and the common theme is that the person whom Belichick drafts will be a player who could be a star in his offense, if given two to three years to develop under the watchful eye of the all-knowing hoodie.

So, what are the options for the Patriots in their search for a developmental signal caller?  You can probably rule out Central Florida's Blake Bortles because he'll be gone as well, while Fresno State's Derek Carr may be available but probably has a bit too much Manziel in him for Belichick's taste - plus his small hands must be taken into account...

...A. J. McCarron could be a possibility with his football IQ and mechanics, as could Eastern Illinois' signal caller Jimmy Garoppolo, both viewed as more of safe game managers rather than big-time downfield playmakers, which isn't the worst thing in the world.

Miami's Stephen Morris has a bigger arm than either McCarron or Garoppolo and he has the leadership skill to command an offense.  Morris represents the start of the list of throwers that should land in Belichick's wheelhouse for a developmental role that could be molded into a legit NFL starter...

...not that any of the others listed above couldn't do the same, it's just that they all view themselves as NFL ready - and in many ways they are, and that's not what this is about.

Belichick needs a somewhat raw prospect that knows that he's going to have to bide his time, but with a level of skill that could pull off spot duty until his time comes.

LSU's Zack Mettenberger is right on that cusp of being NFL ready but is a work in progress that probably will take at least a season behind an incumbent to refine skills, but has experience in pro style and is a classic drop back pocket passer that hard-sells the play-action - the same with Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, who has better athleticism than any quarterback in the wheelhouse but is extremely raw and will need a year or two being coached up before his potential is realized.

Both of those guys will probably require the investment of a third or fourth round pick, and if Belichick doesn't want to spend that kind of draft capital on a player that may not even see the active roster this season, there are a couple of intriguing quarterbacks that can be had on the third day who could fit right into his and Brady's time frame...

...the most intriguing of which is Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews - sloth-footed with very limited athleticism, Mathews is nevertheless exactly what the Patriots should be looking for to back up Brady for the next three seasons - has every leadership and intellectual trait necessary with big hands and a big accurate arm.  Graded out as a quality backup with spot-starter potential, coachable, with plenty of room to grow into the job, Mathews could be developed into a fine replacement.

There are others worth mentioning, but the point has been made.  The thing that has to be remembered is  that unlike many other teams, the Patriots aren't desperate and the worst that could happen if a project quarterback isn't drafted is that the Patriots enter the season with Brady under center and 4th year backup Ryan Mallett holding a clipboard...

...but by the same token, Mallett is in the last year of his rookie deal and one has to wonder what's going though his head.  How willing would he be to hang out for another three years until Brady hangs 'em up for a chance to quarterback the team until he turns 40, and at a rate of pay that makes the accountants happy?

Questions, questions, and we're still a month away from the draft - so instead of eliminating the impossible and working with what's left, why don't we just follow a simpler, more elementary route, the one where we don't ask any questions at all and let the process play out?

Because with Brady still going strong and Mallett still around for at least one more season, it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the Patriots are in good shape under center no matter which direction they go.

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