Six months ago, Matt Cassel was an undistinguished backup quarterback for the New England Patriots who was preparing for yet another season of holding clipboards and running the scout team offense. Few people outside the New England organization knew he existed, and even fewer would ever think he would be the hottest free agent on the market by the end of the season.
What a difference six months makes.
Cassel was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs along with linebacker Mike Vrabel in exchange for a second-round pick on March 1. The trade came after a season in which Cassel started 15 games for the injured Tom Brady and was so impressive that New England organization used its franchise tag-worth over $14 million-on Cassel. The fifth-year quarterback now heads into the 2009 season with the Chiefs, owning the most expensive one-year contract of any offensive player in NFL history.
With the trade comes controversy. The Patriots are publicly announcing their confidence in Tom Brady’s ability to bounce back from a torn ACL and MCL that he sustained in a September 7 game against the Chiefs. They are also bidding farewell to a quarterback (Cassel) who threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first year as a starter, and a Pro-Bowl linebacker (Vrabel) who has been the heart-and soul of the Patriot defense since his arrival in 2001.
And what are the Patriots getting in return? A second-round draft pick (No. 34 overall). I’m not a math major, but for some reason a second-round pick doesn’t equal Cassel and Vrabel.
It’s not as though the Patriots needed another first-day draft pick anyway. After the trade, the Patriots now have four picks in the first two rounds of a draft class that is considered by experts to be weak.
Let’s face it: the Patriots had two great quarterbacks, and they had to get rid of one. They decided to keep Brady, and justifiably so. He’s led the Patriots to four Super Bowl appearances and three championships. He has been to four Pro Bowls, has a career record of 101-27 as a starter, and most importantly, is the face of the organization.
But Cassel, at this point moving forward, is the better quarterback. While it is hard to swallow for many Patriots fans, Brady will be playing on a surgically repaired left knee, and his mobility and ability to step through throws will be compromised. By the time the season rolls around in September, Brady will be 32 years old. Cassel, on the other hand, will be entering his prime at age 27.
It’s hard to say which quarterback will have a better season in 2009. Cassel will inherit the quarterback position on a Chiefs team that finished with a dismal 2-14 record last season. Kansas City’s offensive line gave up 37 sacks, and there is no Randy Moss or Wes Welker to speak of. But Cassel and the Chiefs will benefit from incoming coach Todd Haley, the play-calling mastermind who served as the Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator during their Super Bowl run.
The Kansas City Chiefs just pulled off one of the greatest trades in NFL history. Cassel will prove to be worth every cent, and Vrabel will give the Kansas City defense the leadership that it desperately lacks. While people will continue to debate over which team benefits from the trade, one thing is certain: the Chiefs will climb out of the cellar and be the NFL’s most improved team in 2009.