‘Patriot Way’ At QB Is No Road Map To Success For Steelers Or Others

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Recently, Jeremy Fowler wrote an article at ESPN about the ‘Patriot Way’ to approaching the backup quarterback position, which generally consists of investing in early-mid-round draft picks on the quarterback position every couple of year. Fowler writes that the New England Patriots’ approach is not one that has been emulated by the other teams with stable franchise quarterbacks—and for good reason, from my perspective.

From 2002, the year after Tom Brady solidified himself as the starting quarterback, through the 2016 NFL Draft, the Patriots have selected eight quarterbacks between the second and seventh rounds, which works out to slightly more than one quarterback selected for every two draft classes.

Their return on investment? Two of them never played a game for the Patriots, with one of them never even making the team. Another spent just one season on the team, active for only two games. That last quarterback referenced was Kevin O’Connell, a third-round draft choice in 2008.

O’Connell is one of four quarterbacks that the Patriots have drafted within the first three rounds since then, in addition to Ryan Mallett and Jacoby Brissett in the third round in 2011 and 2016, respectively, and Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round in 2014.

O’Connell was released during his second preseason with the team. Brissett’s story is obviously yet to be written. As for Mallett, he struggled to even earn the backup position in his first season, and participated in four games during his three seasons with the Patriots before he was traded for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.

For a third-round investment, the Patriots got a single seventeen-yard completion and an interception out of Mallett in four games active in three years, plus a seventh-round draft pick. Those are awfully sorry returns. As for Garoppolo, he has thus far thrown for 188 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-31 passing in 11 career games. He may have to start for four games if Brady’s suspension is upheld.

Mallett is not the only quarterback the Patriots managed to trade, however. Also traded was Matt Cassel, which was one of the great bamboozlings of the past decade. After he had to play the 2008 season because of Brady’s knee injury, putting together a competent season with a quarterback rating of just under 90, the Patriots franchised him, and then traded him to the Chiefs, along with Mike Vrabel, for the 34th-overall selection in the draft.

That is a strong return on investment for a former seventh-round pick, but it was such deals as that that have devalued the secondary quarterback market, along with some of the Eagles’ trades for their leftover quarterback spare parts. Mallett has gone on to become a below-80 quarterback rating passer for his career with a nearly one-to-one touchdown to turnover ratio.

The ‘Patriot Way’ has offered not viable case to be emulated by teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are among the few with a stable quarterback position with Ben Roethlisberger under center. More often than not, these selections are largely wasted draft picks. Even in Pittsburgh, fourth-round pick Landry Jones is struggling to land the backup position this year. But that is as high as the Steelers have gone since 2004, preferring instead to cull the veteran quarterback market for their backup strategy until they re-enter the market for a franchise player.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Dan

    The Patriot way: Get lucky as hell with one of the best QBs of all time in the sixth round, have him cover up any and all holes in the roster.

    Seriously, having 15 years of success like that in today’s NFL is crazy, especially with the constant roster and coaching turnover. But obtaining Brady that late was pure luck. Outside of that, they have been mediocre drafters, though they’ve been successful in free agency.

  • Michael Napier

    Excellent counterpoint. The thesis of the Fowler article seems to be- the Patriots have been wildly successful do everything they do should be emulated. But in the age of the salary cap, the cheap labor draft picks represent of their contracts is more important than ever. What is the opportunity cost the Patriots have sunk into those QB picks that never materialized? How much better would they be drafting a solid WR instead of a clipboard carrier. As the article points out- if your number one guy goes down, what are you chances anyway?

  • Runner1967

    The Patriot way has made them one of the poorer drafting teams in the NFL. They’ve gotten away with it by having Brady and BB.

  • PaeperCup

    doesn’t add up. That’s why I’m always suspicious of this team

  • PaeperCup

    exactly. There is nothing special about their “way”, but everyone falls back on that Brady pick and see it as a genius move. Cmon, that was pure luck, they did not draft him with intentions of him being a decade and a half long starter. They were all in on Drew at the time.

  • Matthew Marczi

    The best thing they do in the draft is accumulate picks. But when it comes to actually utilizing those picks, they are average.

  • RickM

    It’s kind of funny that I’m defending the Patriots, because I can’t stand them in any way. But they’ve gone 162 wins and 45 losses during the regular season since 2003. That’s almost incredible in today’s NFL. Begrudgingly, I think they do way more things right than wrong.

  • Da Bus Driver

    Their picks leave a lot to be desired. Yet, they have won so much that we all forget about it. Convenient for them, but ultimately the goal, so I’m sure they won’t complain.

  • Milliken Steeler

    I agree Rick however, I have just one thing as a counterpoint. They have been playing the equivalent of the Washington Generals in their division, six times a year for quite a while. That hasn’t hurt them at all.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Oh, of course, they do plenty of things right, beyond just lucking into one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. I would never deny that. But I do think that their average value per draft pick that they make is fairly pedestrian. Obviously having a ton of picks helps ease over the bad picks (and having so many picks also necessitates greater roster turnover and fewer opportunities for players to ‘grow’ since there’s always competition being brought in).

  • Gautama Om

    Below mediocre drafters although I’d agree with you on their success with FA’s

  • The GreekGeek

    I was going to refrence this as well. The thing the Patriots do well, that I DID wsh we emulated at times was their ability to trade up and back and almost always end up with the most trade value on their deals. There was an article maybe a year ago or so detailing their trade backs,and also a couple of trade ups, where they managed to get more than average value back in terms of assets like picks.
    Maybe they didn’t make the most of it, but the more chances that you have, the better chances you land at least one of them, and given our difficulty at times finding DB talent, but our ability to daft above average (imho) for WR, DL, RB, and OL overall (with the exception of Adams) I think we could maximize our ability to hit on more picks. This draft was an excellent example. Maybe Burns was the best remaining CB there, but we probably could have traded back there, got a decent enough CB (Alexander?) and then had another 3rd or 4th rounder (maybe an OLB?, stacked the D-Line? imagine if we had Hargrave AND Billings to add to Tuitt, Heyward and the rest…)
    Anyway, just one thing I think they do well. They are great at getting the maximum value back in trades, whether they are draft picks or FA about to leave for a big pay day, or getting an impact player for a low draft pick (Seymour, Moss, etc.)

  • For all of the credit they get and deserved. They are very poor drafters but that’s none of my business

  • RickM

    Totally agree that their smart wheeling and dealing has paid off with all the additional draft picks. They missed on a bunch, but hit on some and re-built their D. The additional draft choices and their ability to steal the odd player (Welker and Moss) helped them. They missed on a bunch of these…Ochochinco, Haynesworth, etc…but they keep swinging and hit some good ones. Hate the franchise, but like the way they take chances, don’t overpay vets, etc.