Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Bridegroom Wore White, Red and Gold

Here's an etiquette question. If Tom Brady was the quarterback who got married, why did Bill Belichick send Matt Cassel a present?

Make that three presents. First, the New England Patriots sent Cassel a tasteful franchise tag, meaning he instantly acquired a guaranteed salary of $14 million for 2009. Then, perhaps fearing the neighbors would gossip about such a miserly show of affection, Belichick traded Cassel AND Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs. This in effect gave Cassel the two things every pro quarterback wants most-his own team to run and even more money. The Chiefs will soon award Cassel the traditional franchise quarterback's long-term contract, featuring probably twice as much guaranteed dough.

In return, the selfless Belichick asks for nothing more than a second-round draft choice and a nice thank-you note. If the pick doesn't work out, the coach can always frame the note.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Belichick, as very smart people sometimes do, razzled his own dazzle in the Cassel matter. If, as the reliable Mike Reiss states, the idea was that the Pats would franchise Cassel, then trade him to some quarterback-starved club for a king's ransom, well, a second-round pick, while more than a court jester's ransom, isn't all that much more. It is what the Browns got for Kellen Winslow, Jr., whose picture is next to "damaged goods" in the NFL dictionary. The Chiefs got Cassel and the venerable but still useful in spots Vrabel. A good haul, that.

To be fair, Cassel came with his own built-in dilemma. To trade him, the Pats had to franchise him. But to franchise him, they had to make Cassel so expensive, they limited the market for his services, by telling all 31 other NFL teams they HAD to deal the guy, or have the most insupportable quarterback situation of modern times.

Set aside the dire salary cap setup. Consider public opinion. There are nitwits in New England right now who think Cassel is better than Brady because their short-term memory loss prevents recalling 2007. Should Cassel have been holding a clipboard for approximately $875,000 a game, the din from the birdbrain section after every Pats loss would have been deafening. My personal guess was that even if Cassel was still under Pats' contract for half-a-million a year, Belichick would have dealt him away the moment he decided Brady was going to be healthy for the 2009 season.

Add to that the other teams' knowledge that a trade for Cassel meant a new deal for Cassel at franchise quarterback rates, and you have what CNBC calls a thin market. Very thin. According to reports, the only clubs to make serious offers were the Chiefs and Broncos. Those teams, not coincidentally, are run by Scott Pioli and Josh McDaniels, two men who were Cassel's supervisors with the Pats last season.

To me, that's the most interesting part of this trade. Opinions on the shape of this quarterback sure differ. Every club has the same films to study. About a dozen teams need quarterbacks desperately. And yet, the only decision-makers who saw Cassel as their QB of the future were guys who were involved with Cassel as their quarterback of the present in 2008. Everybody else passed, including some teams Cassel lit up like the Bellagio last fall. They'd rather take their chances with the Sage Rosenfels of the world, or pay as much or more than Cassel will get for some rookie.

Doubtless these teams will say that Cassel was a product of the Pats' "system," that is, he only played well because he was on a good offense. Well, duh. Find me a quarterback who plays better with lousy personnel around him. I want to be that guy's agent.

It could be that all those quarterback-starved clubs (yo, Brad Childress, we're talkin' to you! Hey, Lovey Smith, listen up!!) are planning to make Kurt Warner wealthy beyond imagining. If so, they get a pass. But I don't think so. My guess is that many teams pass on Cassel for the same reason they'll pass on having a quarterback who anyone could call a "franchise" player and keep a straight face.

Beef up the offensive line, and fans and owners can't really see whether or not the money spent is delivering return on investment. If it doesn't work, you'll get fired, but not for a season or three yet. Pick a franchise quarterback who isn't one, and you get fired faster.


Post a Comment

<< Home