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Buyer Beware: Tom Brady’s Backup Tree Doesn’t Have The Strongest Branches

Chicago Bears News

Tom Brady’s excellence has been a constant throughout the New England Patriots modern football dynasty.

He has 12 Pro Bowl selections, more than 61,000 passing yards, 456 touchdowns, and – in case you’ve forgotten – five Super Bowl rings to his name.

But while Brady has been a constant, the quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart have served more as a revolving door. A mix of free agent signings, draft picks, and undrafted free agents have occupied the backup quarterback spot on the New England roster since 2002.

The latest is Jimmy Garoppolo, a player the Bears (and others) have an interest in because of the dearth of quarterback talent in the NFL. But before his future takes shape this offseason, it would be worth studying the history of Brady’s backups. Specifically, the draft-to-develop types who filled the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

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Not counting Garoppolo, this group features six draft picks and two undrafted free agents. Let’s meet them.

Rohan Davey 2002-2004
Acquired: 2002 NFL Draft; 4th round pick (117th overall)

Davey’s senior season at LSU launched him into top draft prospect status. With Davey under center, the Tigers won their first SEC title since 1988 and first top-10 finish since 1987. He played his best games on the biggest stage, beating No. 24 Arkansas (359 yards, 3 TD), No. 25 Auburn (245 yards, one TD), and No. 7 Illinois in the Sugar Bowl (444 yards, 3 TD).

However, his senior season success did not carry over to the NFL. Even though Davey won two Super Bowl rings as Brady’s backup in 2003 and 2004, he didn’t have much of an NFL career after that. He was released by New England in August 2005 and signed with the Cardinals in September before being let go in August 2006.

In a 2015 Q&A profile at NOLA.com, we learn that Davey “dabbles in different ventures” as he owns a catering company that specializes in Jamaican food, works for Quality Concrete Company, and trains quarterbacks from ages 8 to 18.

Matt Cassel: 2005-2008
Acquired: 2005 NFL Draft; 7th round pick (230th overall)

The last time the Patriots had two starting caliber quarterbacks, Cassel was coming off a 3,693-yard season in relief of Brady, who tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 season. New England maximized on Cassel’s career year by sending him (and linebacker Mike Vrabel) to the Chiefs for a second-round pick in 2009. That pick (34th overall) turned out to be safety Patrick Chung, who has been a regular starter for the Patriots since 2010.

As for Cassel, he has become one of the league’s most notable journeyman quarterbacks. He was a Pro Bowl quarterback for Kansas City in 2010, but has since moved on to Minnesota, Dallas, and Buffalo before settling in as the backup for Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans in 2016.

Since leaving New England, Cassell has thrown 80 touchdown passes, 66 interceptions, and has a quarterback rating of 76.8.


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Brian Hoyer: 2009-2011
Acquired: Undrafted free agent (2009)

You might be familiar with Hoyer from his brief stint as Jay Cutler’s backup for the 2016 Bears, but what you might not remember is that Hoyer was an undrafted free agent who spent three  years with the Patriots after college.

Hoyer threw for 5,129 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions in his junior and senior seasons at Michigan State and parlayed that into a job as Brady’s understudy. He never started a game for New England, but made 13 appearances completing 27 of 43 attempts for 286 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Hoyer was cut before the 2012 season, which sent him on his way as an NFL journeyman with stops in Arizona (2012), Cleveland (2013-2014), and Houston (2015).

Since parting ways with the Patriots, Hoyer has thrown 43 touchdowns, 25 interceptions, completed 59.4% of his passes and owns an 85.0 passer rating and a 16-15 record as a starter. He even started a playoff game for the 2015 Texans – a game Houston lost, by the way.


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Ryan Mallett: 2011-13
Acquired: 2011 NFL Draft; 3rd round pick (74th overall)

Coming out of high school in 2006, Mallett was the second highest-rated quarterback prospect (and fourth overall) in the nation, according to Rivals. That will happen when you throw for 7,879 yards and 72 touchdowns during your high school career – a career which ended with the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year award for 2006. Mallett had offers from Alabama, Florida State, Texas, and others before signing with Michigan. He eventually left Michigan for Arkansas after Rich Rodriguez took over for Lloyd Carr and implemented a spread-option offense that didn’t fit Mallet’s traditional drop-back, pocket-passing skills.

Mallett put up big numbers (62 touchdown passes, 7,493 yards in two seasons) at Arkansas, highlighted by his 2010 season (3,869 yards, 32 touchdowns) in which he finished seventh in the Heisman. But that was as good as his football career would get (to this point). He was inactive for 15 of 16 games during his rookie season serving as the third-string quarterback behind Brady and Hoyer in 2011. He was elevated to backup duty in 2012 and 2013 before being dealt to the Texans for a conditional 6th or 7th round pick prior to the 2014 season.

Mallett has played 15 games (8 starts) since leaving New England, and the numbers aren’t pretty. He has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7) and owns a 66.5 quarterback rating. He famously missed a team flight to Miami in 2015 and was released later that month.


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The Others:

  • Kliff Kingsbury: A sixth-round pick in 2003 (201st overall) played one NFL game, but it wasn’t for the Patriots – who waived him in 2004. As a member of the Jets in 2005, Kingsbury completed one of two pass attempts in mop-up duty during a loss to the Denver Broncos. Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas A&M when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 and is currently the head coach at Texas Tech.
  • Matt Gutierrez: An undrafted free agent in 2007 after playing his college ball at Idaho State, Gutierrez completed his only two career pass attempts. The first came with New England in 2007, the other in 2009 with Kansas City. Gutierrez had a short-lived career with the Bears: signing on August 18, 2010, before being released 12 days later and ultimately re-signed on a reserve/future contract in January 2011. Gutierrez was last on the St. Louis Rams practice squad for two days in December 2011.
  • Kevin O’Connell: Drafted in the third round (94th overall) in 2008, O’Connell was cut before the 2009 season. He spent some time with the Jets, Lions, Dolphins and Chargers – but had nothing of consequence during those stops. He was the Browns quarterbacks coach in 2015, an assistant on Chip Kelly’s 49ers staff in 2016, and takes over as quarterbacks coach in Washington, replacing Matt Cavanaugh, who was promoted to offensive coordinator.
  • Zac Robinson: Picked in the seventh round (250th overall) in the 2010 draft, the Oklahoma State product didn’t even make it on the Patriots roster as he was waived on cutdown day. He made appearances (mostly on practice squads) in Seattle, Detroit and Cincinnati, but has never thrown a pass in the NFL.

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Luis Medina

Luis is the Lead Writer at The Ten-Yard Line, and you can find him on Twitter at @lcm1986.