Thirty-two teams can't all be wrong multiple times. The NFL must know something about Ryan Mallett that we don't, and that something must be ominous. There's no other way to explain Mallett's stunning fall into the early third round on draft day. The rumors that had been floating around about his character and work ethic must have had something to them after all.
If only we knew what that something was. We don't have any better idea now than we did back in January.
A few people, like 17 Power's own Scott, have questioned my objectivity regarding Mallett. (I'm glad he's doing so. That's the reason I brought other guys on - to keep me accountable.) But while I may have been sympathetic for the guy over the (at the time) empty smear campaign directed against him, I really wasn't rooting for Mallett as an individual. I just desperately, desperately want the Seahawks to resolve the quarterback situation and move forward with their future. And from a talent standpoint, Mallett was by far the best solution. I was so sold on his talent that I was willing to eat a second-round pick and move up 10 spots in a Twitter mock draft to nab him.
Then the draft came along, confirming the adage "When there's smoke, there's fire." Mallett was passed on by team after team. I still remember Michael Crabtree's face as it comically fell when Seattle passed on him at #4 in the 2009 draft. Apparently there was something to his baggage rumors as well. His contract holdout proved that.
'Course, some Seattle fans even now think that Crabtree would have been a better pick than the "safe" guy we grabbed instead. A few would even have tolerated his contract holdout for the sake of having something on offense. How will we be looking back at Mallett in three years' time, having had him snatched out from under our very nose by the New England Patriots?
If Mallett is indeed a problem child as a player, then he went to the best situation possible for his growth and humbling. New England picked him with the second of two consecutive third-round picks, selecting a mediocre running back beforehand. That's almost an insult. It was such a unique opportunity to send a message to a player just by his draft selection, that I wonder if Belichick would have passed on him had they not held that preceding pick to create the message.
Assuming Mallett's problem is his attitude (which seems to be the consensus), the message goes something like this:
We aren't falling over ourselves to draft you. You're here only by our good graces, and cutting you won't hurt us financially or personnel-wise. We're holding all the cards here; you have none. Perform to our expectations or you're done.
For many teams, a third-round bust is a genuine, if mild, disappointment. For the Patriots, who cares. They've quietly become one of the worst-drafting teams for years now anyway, suffering repeated second- and third-round busts, bailed out each season by Tom Brady alone. He's the lone justification for every ill-advised move they've made, and he justifies well. For the forseeable future, Brady will keep Mallett on the bench and the Patriots in the playoffs.
It'll be interesting to see what the Patriots do with Brady as he ages. Will he get traded at the first sign of decline like so many other players have? Or will he escape Belichick's unsentimental axe somehow?
Here's what I expect will happen.
Mallett, appropriately subdued and knowing that good attitude is his only shot at a starting job, will pitch a tent in the film room for three years to prove his worthiness to start. He'll see some fourth-quarter action in relief after Belichick has run up the score. Teams will game-plan for him a little even as a backup, knowing he's just a Brady injury away from starting and that the character flags won't stop his talent from manifesting on the field. He'll continue to groom himself as Brady plays, hoping to be traded to another team for a first-round pick somewhere along the line (which is the fate everyone else expects for him right now).
That trade won't happen. Despite his claims to the contrary, Brady is not immortal. The NFL's golden boy will eventually lapse into an average QB, and Belichick will wake up one day and realize the rest of his team sucks without Brady's long-peaking talent. He'll be traded to the Redskins for a first- and second-round pick, and Mallett, molded and refined into a professional by this time, will launch the Patriots into another ten-year dynasty.
And then, as Seahawks fans watch him tear up the league while Pete Carroll is still puttering around with mediocre free agents, there will arise amongst us a cult of rationalization. They will claim that Mallett's success came the only way it could have. They will claim that no other team in the league was in a position to draft him in 2011 and expect to be able to defeat his issues. That forcing him to sit on the Patriots bench and either eliminate his "off-the-field concerns" or be dumped without a second thought was the only formula for him. For any other team, Mallett would have blown up in their faces.
I can see the ten-page debate threads already.
Why oh why can't Pete Carroll be the kind of guy who can wrangle such a steer? Why does the scowling, behoodied Belichick have to be the ultimate sensei of QB development? Why did Seattle have to pass on Mallett, forcing themselves to rely on a 2012 class that is far from a guarantee, because the team just didn't have the time or energy to deal with the guy? Aren't all coaches supposed to be able to handle guys like this?
The answer is obvious: it's not about Carroll or Belichick, but about the teams' situation. Seattle needs a quarterback, but Mallett's draft-day fall reveals that he was too much of a risk for a QB-hungry team. Teams that draft a first-round QB risk years of bondage to a messy situation if they don't have an adequate fallback plan, and Charlie Whitehurst is not an adequate fallback plan. Ironically, Seattle's need prevented itself from being filled, whereas New England was in prime position to reap the benefits of Mallett: very likely either another starting QB or a first-round pick if he gets traded. Worst case, they cut him without needing to blink.
That's life, I suppose. Failure begets failure, while success begets more success. Unless you're Seattle, in which success begets a hail of yellow flags from Bill Leavy's pocket and a five-year slide into oblivion.
Not that any of this excuses the early Mallett-bashing from the sports media. Guys like Albert Breer, Chad Reuter, and Wes Bunting are all just as guilty of poor journalism as they were in January. They didn't report; they went around dropping coy hints and then arrogantly expected us to lap it up like thirsty dogs. That they turned out to be right validates only their sources, not their communication style.
I was wrong about Ryan Mallett. It's frustrating that I still have to reach that truth by inference, instead of being able to quantify it. But I was wrong. And if Mallett-to-Seattle simply wasn't meant to be, then barring a bright future by Colin Kaepernick, Pete Carroll must be excused for not drafting a quarterback this year. Even in the early third, New England was better prepared to handle Mallett.