by Chris Bahn
Posted 4/30/2011 05:00 pm
Updated 2 years ago
HUMNOKE — Boredom and frustration had officially set in for Ryan Mallett at about 6:30 on Friday night. Six quarterbacks were selected ahead of Mallett, and the player once projected as a first-round prospect needed a break.
To take his mind off the situation — and perhaps blow off a little steam — Mallett and about 10 friends and family members headed outside for some skeet shooting. Teams continued to pass on the 6-foot-6 Texarkana product and for about an hour-and-a-half Mallett continued to find ways to pass the time at the vast hunting lodge that served as his draft headquarters.
Mallett was on the phone with a friend when an unidentified number popped up on his iPhone a little after 8 p.m. He quickly excused himself from the call he was on, figuring something “important was about to happen.”
It was the New England Patriots calling to inform Mallett they were picking him in the third round with the 74th pick overall. Though he’d been through an excruciating two-day wait and three months of considerably scrutiny, it might end up being worth his while.
“After going through this process, I’m more excited than you could imagine,” Mallett said. “After the past three or four months, everything I’ve had to deal with and had to hear, it cost me. I can’t do nothing about it. I’m going to go up there and learn as much as I can.”
Mallett, who faced persistent rumors of drug use and questions about his on and off field decision-making, goes to what is widely considered as the top franchise in the NFL. He’ll have the opportunity to work behind MVP Tom Brady and play for Bill Belichick, regarded as one of the best coaches and evaluators of talent in the league.
Depending on what transpires with the NFL lockout, Mallett could be in line for a four-year deal. He went nearly 10 picks higher than Colt McCoy did last year. McCoy, like Mallett, is represented by Califoria-based firm Athletes First and signed a four-year deal worth $5 million with $1.07 million guaranteed.
Regardless of the payout, Mallett’s local representative said the situation is a rewarding one.
“We’re really glad this process is over and couldn’t have found a better organization than the Patriots,” J.R. Carroll said.
Mallett, who was wearing a Patriots hat within minutes of being picked, gets a quality organization. New England gets a quarterback who threw for 7,493 yards and 62 touchdowns in only two seasons with the Razorbacks. Mallett guided Arkansas to a 10-3 season and to its first BCS Bowl appearance in Bobby Petrino’s third season.
Petrino, who defended Mallett throughout the draft process, was happy for his former quarterback. He praised Mallett for maturing while in Fayetteville.
“Each Saturday I saw him make throws no one else in America was making, and I know he has the physical tools to be successful in the NFL,” Petrino said. “Ryan played an instrumental part in the transition when I arrived, and I can’t say enough about what he has done for this program.”
Mallett left the program in January to begin his pro career. He impressed scouts at the NFL Combine, but was widely criticized for a poor showing with NFL media as questions about his off-field behavior persisted.
Still, teams were interested enough in Mallett to meet with him in person following the draft. He crisscrossed the country to meet with a number of organizations and his final in-person meeting was a two-day visit with New England.
ESPN analysts praised the pick by the Patriots. It was just the sort of “value” selection the organization is known for and Mallett should get the opportunity to learn without being thrust immediately into game action. Brady turns 34 this year and this move could set Mallett up as a replacement down the road.
Former NFL coach and current analyst Jon Gruden, like those in the Mallett camp, thought the situation was a good one as the record-setting Razorback enters the league.
“It’s the best thing that could ever happen to Ryan Mallett,” Gruden said during the broadcast on ESPN2. “I don’t care if he’s the first pick in the draft, I’d rather be in the position he’s in now.”
Maybe so, but the lead-up was definitely a test of Mallett’s patience. He had plenty of support around him, but by the time the third round began he was showing signs the process was wearing on him.
Friday saw four quarterbacks taken. Auburn’s Cam Newton went No. 1 overall to Carolina and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert went No. 10 to Jacksonville. Both were projected to go ahead of Mallett, it was a bit of a surprise when Tennessee selected Washington’s Jake Locker No. 8 and the Minnesota Vikings drafted Florida State’s Christian Ponder No. 12.
TCUs Andy Dalton was taken 35th by the Cincinnati Bengals. Utah’s Colin Kaepernick went the very next pick to the San Francisco 49ers. Shortly thereafter Mallett decided to stretch his legs and get away from the TV.
“I had to stop watching. It was getting ridiculous, but I got the call,” Mallett said. “I’m excited. It’s hard to believe. It’s hard to grasp.”
And it’s hard to imagine a better situation for Mallett as he matures and learns to play quarterback in the NFL.