Sixth installment in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 11.
Players under contract for 2014: Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Level of need: Moderate-to-low
Projected top targets: Colt McCoy (49ers), Brady Quinn (Rams), Rusty Smith (Titans)
Why McCoy fits: He previously played under current Patriots assistant Brian Daboll in Cleveland (2010), and thus has a background in a Patriots-type offense. He would add an experienced third option (21 career starts) behind the two signal-callers entrenched in the top spots on the depth chart.
Why Quinn fits: Similar to McCoy, he has experience in a Patriots-type system from having been on a Brian Daboll-coordinated unit in Cleveland (2009) and Kansas City (2012), and a Josh McDaniels-coached team in Denver (2010). If the Patriots are considering the addition of a third quarterback, it makes sense to look toward a player coaches are familiar with.
Why Smith fits: More of a developmental option, Smith (1 career start) spent the last four years with the Titans, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft. At 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, he has a solid physical makeup and was looked at closely in the pre-draft process by the Patriots.
Other names of note: Derek Anderson (Panthers), Jimmy Clausen (Panthers), Kellen Clemens (Rams), Matt Flynn (Packers), Josh Freeman (Vikings), Rex Grossman (Redskins), Shaun Hill (Lions), Tarvaris Jackson (Seahawks), Josh McCown (Bears), Luke McCown (Saints), Dan Orlovsky (Buccaneers), Curtis Painter (Giants), Michael Vick (Eagles), Seneca Wallace (Packers), Charlie Whitehurst (Chargers)
Franchise tag: none
Market conditions: A top backup quarterback is commanding about $4 million per season, as reflected by the agreement between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chad Henne. That is also around the range that Matt Cassel landed in his two-year deal with the Vikings. The Patriots would be looking at more of a cheaper, No. 3 alternative.
Questions to answer at the position: Will Brady show any signs of decline? Might there be any type of trade market for Mallett, who enters the final year of his contract? Will the Patriots draft a prospect, similar to what they did with Mallett in 2011?