By Tom E. Curran
In-season or out, no NFL team sparks more conversation - or speculation - than the Patriots. A head-scratching 2011 NFL Draft brought both. One of the more fascinating bits was what happened with the Ryan Mallett selection. Friday night, with the Patriots' picks at 73 and 74 approaching, Michael Lombardi of NFL Network reported the Patriots were going to take Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett with one of the selections. And they did. Good get by him. Hey, sometimes you get stuff. For instance, as the time wound down on the Patriots at No. 33, I reported on Twitter that the Patriots would not be trading out of that spot as most everyone anticipated they would. But my buddy Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe wondered whether the Patriots played Lombardi. Bedard tweeted he was "almost positive" the Patriotsleaked Lombardi that info on Mallettknowing it would be broadcast into every war room across the league. Thepurpose? Flushing out a team to make a last-ditch effort to swing a deal with New England to take Mallett themselves. It's a sensible theory on a lot of levels. The Patriots controlled that 10-minute span with back-to-back picks and the Mallett news was relayed before the Patriots even took Stevan Ridley at 73. And if someone burst through the proverbial door waving a 2012 first-rounder, who wouldn't jump at that? Peter King got in touch with Lombardi to ask him what he thought of Bedard's theory. "Completely fictional," Lombardi told King. "The Patriots, I'm not speaking for 'em. They wouldn't have brought Mallett in for a visit if they didn't have any interest. It's completely inaccurate. The Patriots were seriously interested in Mallett, and I don't think I was used by them. Not at all."I lean toward Lombardi's opinion, though not solely because they really loved the promise and football intelligence of Mallett. I don't think the Patriots would hang someone out to dry as Bedard supposes they were prepared to do with Lombardi. In fact, I'm almost positive they wouldn't. They mean what they say or they say nothing at all.Tom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.