Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Look at me, I'm rich!
In life, you're always one moment away from your big break...and months ago, Matt Cassel was just like anybody else waiting for a chance (okay I guess not "anybody" else, after all he's an NFL quarterback, but you know what I mean). There he was, sitting on the bench behind one of the most untouchable quarterbacks in the game, Tom Brady. The Patriots had confidence in Cassel...as a backup...but let's face it, the organization was hoping to never have to use him. On a smaller scale, Cassel was the equivalent of a Doug Pedersen to Brett Favre or a Jim Sorgi to Peyton Manning...the type of 2nd string quarterback you'd like to remain on the bench.
To be fair to Cassel, that wasn't the case because they thought he was bad. But rather, it was just a situation where you have a seemingly indestructible starter and you figure that you might be able to save a little money by not signing expensive backups. However, the Patriots' oh-so-optimal plan was quickly foiled last season when Tom Brady suffered a horrific, season-ending knee injury in Week 1. So whether the organization liked it or not, it was Cassel's team to lead from then on...a worrisome thought for Bostonians.
Who could blame them? Cassel hadn't started a football game since high school. He was a career backup at USC, so the fact that he had even solidified an NFL roster spot for several seasons was a minor miracle in itself. And if his lack of experience in college wasn't enough, he had thrown just 39 total passes during his first 3 years in the league. Patriots fans thought to themselves "Is this really happening? This is our starter every Sunday?" Cassel sure had a whole lot to prove, especially considering that his Massachusetts followers were becoming accustomed to championships on a yearly basis, no matter what sport it was (lucky bastards).
After a short period of conservative play-calling to get Cassel comfortable, the Patriots let the offense loose as if Brady were still on the field. Pretty soon, Cassel, who everyone doubted at the outset of Brady's monumental knee injury, was putting up big time NFL quarterback numbers with relative ease. He amassed 400 yards passing 2 weeks in a row! New England finished with 12 wins under the former USC backup and barely missed the playoffs.
The season ended with Cassel's success fresh in everybody's mind. But it was a widespread certainty that Tom Brady would return as the Patriots' franchise quarterback. So the question quickly became "What is Cassel going to do?" It gave the Patriots a tough decision because while they knew Brady was their main guy, they saw that his so-called indestructible nature was a myth. With the season as evidence, Cassel was a more than viable security blanket in case Brady's knee acted up again. However, New England also knew that Cassel's trade stock shot through the roof with his performance. So the dilemma was simple: you either pay Cassel more money to stay with the team as a backup or use him as trade bait to address other needs.
The answer came in late February when Cassel, along with linebaker Mike Vrabel, were shipped off to Kansas City for a 2nd rd. draft pick. Although it was a minor risk with Brady's recent injury, New England was able to get a high pick in exchange for a quarterback that they ideally wouldn't need in the future. I thought it was a good deal overall and I was very happy to see Cassel get an opportunity somewhere else because he was nothing short of outstanding to watch this past year.
Well today, Cassel's long road towards success as an NFL starter paid off...literally. Cassel inked a 6-year, $63 million contract with the Chiefs. The career-backup quickly went from "economically comfortable" to filthy rich...and for what? One great NFL season.
The circumstances of his pay day don't anger me or make me jealous, I just think it's funny how often this happens in professional sports. The fact is that teams these days have to shell out money if they are to get top talent...even if the move is made with minimal evidence to back it up. The Chiefs are hoping Cassel can be the guy they watched manhandle NFL secondaries last season, but he could just as easily be a one hit wonder. Whether or not Cassel performs well in the coming years for the Chiefs is up in the air, but what he knows is that he's got at least $28 million guaranteed...all made possible by a low hit to the knees on Tom Brady (the hit was made by a Kansas City Chiefs player, kind of ironic). Hey, no one knows if Cassel would have ever gotten a chance behind Brady had the injury not happened, but the reality is that the opportunity presented itself and he passed with flying colors. Cassel now sits atop the Chiefs depth chart with millions of dollars in his wallet...you have to get your break somehow right?