Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hoarders of Foxboro

Consider the following scouting report on a quarterback: Big slow and unnimble, Howitzer arm and outstanding release. Compiled passing statistics so gaudy as to approach poor taste. Has a reputation for throwing soul- and game-destroying interceptions at the worst possible moments.

Remind you of anyone? Looked at one way, Ryan Mallett is Drew Bledsoe, only not quite as good or (reportedly) smart. Only nostalgia for past anxieties could explain why Bill Belichick made Mallett a third-round draft choice last night.

Ah, but let's throw the cherries on the Mallett sundae. He sank through the draft's first two and a half rounds faster than the anchor on the USS Nimitz because of rumors he has or has had a serious drug problem. Now Belichick's pick seems flat out nuts, doesn't it?

Maybe. But we could also add "drug rumors" to the scouting report in the first paragraph and you know which past quarterback in an NFL draft we'd have? Dan Marino, that's who.

Mallett's not going to be another Marino. He'll be lucky to become another Bledsoe (Bledsoe critics, nobody lasts over a decade as an NFL starter without being a pretty good player). But even the slightest nanopercentage of a chance Mallett might become a competent NFL QB made his selection irresistible to Belichick. The man was an economics major. He knows you can't sell high without first buying low. Having purchased the ultimate quarterback bargain in a past draft (Tom Brady in the sixth round is akin to buying a Matisse for 20 bucks at the yard sale down the street), we shouldn't be startled when Belichick uses that same investment strategy once again.

On the NFL Network before the draft, Mike Mayock cited a stat to the effect that around 10 percent of third round picks ever become starters. Say the odds on a third-round QB (BTW, the round Joe Montana was selected) are worse. Make it 20-1. The payout on having a quarterback with the ability to start is infinitely higher. You can't really put a pari-mutual figure on it, but 1000 for every one wagered will do for a round number. Phil Ivey says Mallett is a value bet. So does Warren Buffett. So do I.

Mallett could fail completely and humiliatingly with the Patriots, and it won't the cost the franchise a thing except some personal embarrassment for Belichick -- something he absolutely could not care less about. On the other hand, Mallett might not fail. Even limited success, such as rising to the level of a good backup/marginal starter, would make the Arkansas quarterback a phenomenally valuable asset for the New England franchise. Such QBs are always in demand, as there are always franchises whose starting quarterback options aren't even marginal.

If Mallett ISN'T a cementhead or has a head addled by substance abuse, he ought to recognize he's been handed about the best situation imaginable. In effect, he will get paid decent money to attend Quarterback Graduate School for three or for years. It might also do him a world of good to be, for the first time in his life, on a team that doesn't need him. Being a football hero is like being any other kind of hero. As Coach Sophocles once noted, hubris is the prime occupational hazard.

If Mallett needs an incentive to study, I suggest he make a quick trip to Kansas City and take a gander at what Matt Cassel, the last MQA of the Belichick School, is driving these days.

Draft analysis is simple, not to mention simple-minded. Whenever a team makes a selection that wasn't predicted long in advance by most commentators, that pick is called a gamble. Ha! Picking Mallett was about as much of a gamble for Belichick as it is for banks to borrow money at no interest from the Federal Reserve to speculate in petroleum futures.

Come to think of it, if Belichick had used that economics degree to be a banker, the Global Financial Crisis probably wouldn't have happened.


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