logoby Scott Benson

Matt Cassel’s less than inspirational performance in the Patriots’ first two pre-season games – and Tom Brady’s absence from same – has some observers wondering if Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli could have done more to fortify New England’s quarterback position in the off-season.

Of course, they did draft Kevin O’Connell in the third round of April’s draft, but it’s a proven veteran backup that most critics have in mind, I figure, especially as the team progresses through August sans Brady.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. No, I’m not going to mount a Brady-like defense of Cassel here. Whatever improvement that Brady sees in his backup is lost not only on Marshall Faulk and Sterling Sharpe but on the masses as well. But at the same time, a veteran backup comes at a cost that exceeds that of Cassel and Matt Gutierrez, which could cause a possible financial ripple effect across other areas of the roster.

Given the team’s lethargic performance in Tampa the other night, and the uncertainty surrounding Brady’s second foot injury this year, I expect that most Pats fans would be willing to take that chance. Which begs the question: what quarterbacks have been there for New England’s taking over the past several months?

To answer this question, we turn to the free agent trackers at Walterfootball.com, who make it their business to (among other things) inventory the comings and goings (or the not goings) of NFL free agents. Let’s take a look at their list of free agent quarterbacks and see what players we think could, and should, have ended up taking snaps for the Pats over the past couple of weeks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing any sure bets there. It seems like a good chunk of these free agents – the Penningtons and Voleks and Grossmans, for example – eventually commanded an open market price that put them out of the Patrots range. I mean, even 36 year old Todd Collins got three years at $9 million from the Redskins. Should the Pats be committing that kind of coin for a guy that may never play? After all, Brady has started 110 straight regular season games since Mo Lewis came into our lives lo those many years ago.

Quinn Gray made about $1.3 million as David Garrard’s backup last year, and since then has bounced from the Texans to the Colts at an undetermined price. He played well in Garrard’s absence last year, but is Quinn Gray the guy you have in mind when you say Belichick and Pioli could have done more?

I don’t have any answers, mind you. Only questions. Take a look at this list and make your call in our comments section (link above). Your input is, as always, much appreciated.