Former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett died Tuesday in an apparent drowning off a Florida Panhandle beach, a county sheriff’s office said.
First responders were called to a beach in Destin around 2:12 p.m. amid reports people in the water near a sandbar were struggling to make it to shore, the Okaloosa County agency said in a news release. Mallett, 35, went underwater and was not breathing when lifeguards pulled him out, the sheriff’s office said. He died at a hospital, it added.
Authorities have been warning beachgoers as rip currents have claimed at least 11 lives in two weeks along the Gulf Coast. An alert early Tuesday predicted: “Southwest to west winds today will create a high risk of rip currents along Panhandle beaches,” according to the National Weather Service office in Tallahassee’s forecast update.
Yellow flags indicating “a medium hazard, moderate surf and/or currents” flew Tuesday along Destin beaches, though “there were no rip currents present in the area in which we responded to Ryan Mallett,” the Destin Fire Control District said Wednesday in a statement. Mallett’s death “seems to be just a tragic accident and not something to do with the conditions of the surf or tides or currents,” Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said.
Casualties this month tied to rip currents have been recorded between Fort Morgan, Alabama, and Panama City Beach, Florida – a zone that includes Destin.
A rip current is “a relatively small-scale surf-zone current” that forms as waves disperse across the beach, trapping water between the beach and a sandbar or other feature so it “converges into a narrow, river-like channel moving away from the shore at high speed,” according to the National Weather Service. While it won’t pull someone underwater, a rip current can pull even the strongest swimmer away from the beach beyond breaking waves.
The 10-year average for US rip current fatalities is 71, weather service data shows. They were the third-leading cause of weather fatalities from 2013 to 2023, data shows, killing on average more people than lightning, tornadoes or hurricanes.
‘We lost a great man’ in Mallett, Brady says
Mallett was a star with the Arkansas Razorbacks before he was drafted in 2011 in the third round by the New England Patriots, the NFL said. He spent seven years in the NFL with the Patriots, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. He played in 21 games, went 3-5 as a starter, and compiled 1,835 passing yards, nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, the NFL said. His career ended in 2017.
“The New England Patriots are deeply saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected passing of former quarterback Ryan Mallett,” the team said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with the Mallett family, his former teammates and all who are mourning his loss.”
NFL star Tom Brady shared online a photo of himself and former teammate Mallett on the field. “We lost a great man. Thank you for everything Ryan,” Brady wrote on Instagram. “Praying for the Mallett family and all their loved ones tonight.”
Mallett was the head football coach for the White Hall High School Bulldogs in White Hall, Arkansas, where he also taught physical education and health, according to the district’s website. “It is with great sadness that we share the loss of Coach Ryan Mallett,” the district said. “Coach Mallett was a beloved coach and educator. We ask that you remember his family, team, students, fellow coaches, and the White Hall School District staff in your prayers.”
This story has been updated to reflect new information from the sheriff’s and fire control officials about whether rip currents were a factor in Mallett’s death.
CNN’s Alisha Ebrahimji, Sara Smart and meteorologist Brandon Miller contributed to this report.