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Patriots trade Ryan Mallett to Texans

Signs have pointed for a while at QB Ryan Mallett ending up with the Texans, and he was traded to them Sunday. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Signs have pointed for a while at QB Ryan Mallett ending up with the Texans, and he was traded to them Sunday.

The Patriots traded quarterback Ryan Mallett to the Texans Sunday, a move that had seemed inevitable almost since the day former New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien became head coach in Houston at the beginning of the year.

Multiple reports said the Patriots received a conditional sixth- or seventh-round pick in 2016 in return for Mallett, Tom Brady’s lone backup the last two years.

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New England and Houston were in talks to send Mallett to the Texans during the draft, but the sides could not agree to terms.

Now, perhaps staring at the reality of having Ryan Fitzpatrick as his starter, O’Brien pulled the trigger. One league source familiar with Fitzpatrick said Sunday that the former Harvard signal-caller is a No. 2 quarterback “at best.”

Given what the Patriots got in exchange, however, it could be that the Patriots were simply ready to move Mallett after seeing how much rookie second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo has improved over the last few weeks, growing in leaps and bounds since the Patriots’ first preseason game against Washington.

Of course, had New England just released Mallett, Houston would have gotten him anyway had it put in a claim for him: thanks to the 2-14 record it posted last year, which led to the firing of longtime head coach Gary Kubiak, the Texans have top priority on the NFL waiver wire.

Just a few hours before trading Mallett, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about keeping three quarterbacks, and said it was a good problem for his team to have.

“Fortunately, we have three good players at that position, three players we have a lot of confidence in,” Belichick said. “I’m sure there are some teams in the league that don’t have that feeling about that position. They might not have one.

“I’ve been in that position before, and it’s not a good place to be. We’re fortunate we have three good players there. It’s a good situation.”

Belichick’s “they might not have one” line could have been a subtle dig at the Texans; Fitzpatrick has a career record of 27-49-1 with Buffalo, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Tennessee, and nearly as many interceptions (93) as touchdowns (106).

Houston also had Case Keenum, who was undrafted in 2012 and went 0-8 last year after the Texans benched Matt Schaub, and rookie Tom Savage, a fourth-round pick out of Pittsburgh this year. Keenum was released when the Texans got Mallett.

Fitzpatrick’s textbook intelligence — he famously scored a perfect 50 on the Wonderlic test given to NFL prospects — never has translated on the field, with the source saying he “plays outside of his ability mentally and physically.”

Since O’Brien’s offensive system is so similar to the one the Patriots run and Mallett has been mastering since being taken in the third round in 2011, it should be easy for Mallett to catch up when he arrives with his new team.

After not trading Mallett during draft weekend, the Patriots made it clear during the days leading up to the first preseason game that they were ready to part with the Arkansas product.

After their joint practices with Washington, NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who is friendly with Belichick, raved that Mallett is a “legitimate starting quarterback” and that he was “blown away” by Mallett’s performance in practice.

Then Mallett started the preseason game between the clubs, giving him the opportunity to show teams what he’d learned in his time with New England. His stats weren’t great, but two of the third-down conversions he appeared to get were wiped away by offensive penalties.

Playing behind one of the more durable and successful quarterbacks of his generation, Mallett played precious few regular-season snaps, and didn’t get on the field at all in 2013. In 2012, he played in four games, going 1 for 4 with one interception.

.   .   .

With 700 players being released on Saturday, teams had until noon Sunday to put in waiver claims. Until October, the wire priority is based on how teams finished in 2013; New England is 29th.

Despite being so far down the list, the Patriots were awarded two players, both defensive tackles: Bruce Gaston, who was waived by the Cardinals, and Kelcy Quarles, waived by the Giants.

Claimed players automatically go on the 53-man roster.

The trading of Mallett and the release of special teamer Chris White opened the roster spots.

Gaston, an undrafted rookie out of Purdue, is listed at 6 feet, 2 inches, and 310 pounds. Quarles, who played at South Carolina and was also undrafted, is 6-4, 297 pounds.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.
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