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Why Patriots reportedly worked out QB

On Father's Day, Tom Brady's pre-taped TV interview with Oprah Winfrey aired, and the discussion was wide-ranging. Inevitably, Winfrey asked Brady, who'll turn 41 in early August, when he plans on retiring from the NFL.

Of course, Brady wouldn't say for certain, but was willing to acknowledge that he can see an end in sight and that he thinks about it more frequently these days. That's about as close as I've ever heard him come to admitting that his illustrious career is in its twilight.

In what should be seen as an entirely unrelated event, the Patriots were said late this past week to have brought in former New York Jets QB Christian Hackenberg for a workout.

Why?

It's not as if Hackenberg has lit up the league since being drafted by the Jets in 2016. In fact, he's never taken a regular season snap in two full seasons as a Jet. New York traded him to Oakland late last month, but new Raiders coach John Gruden waived Hackenberg just three weeks later.

Is New England interested because Hackenberg shares a Valentine's Day birthday with Drew Bledsoe? Clearly not. But there is another Patriots connection that might make some sense.

In 2013, then-Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien named true-freshman Hackenberg his starting quarterback. O'Brien, in his second and what would turn out to be his final season as Nittany Lions boss, had installed the same sort of complex offense that the Patriots have run here in Foxborough for nearly two decades with Brady. O'Brien, of course, brought that offense with him to Happy Valley a year earlier after leaving New England as the Patriots offensive coordinator.

The young Hackenberg flourished in O'Brien's Patriots-like system. On five occasions that season, he was named Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week, and later the Big Ten Freshman of the Year for 2013.

O'Brien departed to take the Houston Texans' job the following season, but Hackenberg continued to enjoy similar success with Penn State in 2014 and '15, which prompted him to declare early for the NFL Draft in 2016. The Jets selected him in Round 2 (51st overall).

With Hackenberg currently unemployed, the Patriots, according to media reports, invited him to Gillette on Friday to put him through some on-field paces. At the moment, New England has a pair of backups for Brady in 10-year veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie seventh-round pick Danny Etling. The Patriots know very well what they have in the former, and the latter is a developmental prospect, at best.

While they didn't sign Hackenberg on the spot last week, it makes sense that they might want to see in person what he can do right now. New England's scouting department is always looking to update its emergency phone list, for one, and with Hackenberg now suddenly available, this provided the Patriots with such an unexpected opportunity.

It also could be an indication that the team wasn't thrilled with what it saw out of Hoyer and Etling during spring practices. Head coach Bill Belichick is fond of telling us that springtime is for teaching, not evaluating, but the reality is that every time his players step onto the field, the coaches are evaluating them to some degree.

Hackenberg may not have succeeded in the Jets' and Raiders' systems, but New England knows, from his Penn State experience, that he can do good things in a Patriots-type offense. At 6-4, 225, he's also virtually identical in size to Brady, whereas Hoyer and Etling are a bit smaller.

Perhaps this was nothing more than a kicking-the-tires interview, but don't be surprised if Hackenberg eventually joins the Patriots at some point this summer to provide training camp and preseason competition at the quarterback position.  

And who knows, New England's coaches might be able to bring out in Hackenberg what the Jets and Raiders couldn't.

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