Overshadowed by the Jets’ 34-31 overtime win against the Patriots is the stellar performance of New England quarterback Matt Cassel. With New York intent on taking away the run, Cassel completed 30 of 51 passes for 400 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks. He also rushed for 62 yards, making him (or so they told me on ESPN this morning) the first player in league history to throw for 400 and run for more than 60 in the same game.
Cassel capped his night with an ’81 Montana-esque rollout to the right sideline and a needle-threading throw to Randy Moss, for the touchdown that forced the extra session. Here’s the video.
But the seventh-round pick from the 2005 draft will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and he likely has done at least enough this season (especially after last night) to prompt a team that otherwise would be inclined to take a flier on a passer in round one of the draft to offer Cassel something along the lines of $60 million over six years, with $25 million or so guaranteed.
With Brett Favre possibly retiring (and costing $13 million in salary and cap space if he doesn’t), the New York Jets might be very interested Cassel. Other potential suitors could include the Chiefs, the Vikings, the Bears, the Lions, the Buccaneers, the 49ers, the Rams, and the Seahawks.
Of course, this presumes that the Pats won’t try to keep him. But while guys like Marshall Faulk of NFL Network think that Cassel could pull a Bledsoe on Tom Brady, it’s highly unlikely that the Pats would ink Cassel to a long-term deal and put Brady on the block. (As Cris Collinsworth jokingly observed after Marshall made his case during the pregame show, perhaps someone has dropped something on Faulk’s head.)
The Pats knew in 2001 that Brady could be better than Bledsoe ever was. But Cassel is no Brady.
Still, we don’t rule out the possibility of the Patriots using the franchise tag on Cassel (which would guarantee him a 2009 base salary of more than $10 million), and then perhaps trying to trade him. (They’ve done that before with safety Tebucky Jones.) The challenge will be to have enough cap space available to devote to Cassel. But if a trade can be lined up before the clock strikes twelve on the opening day of the 2009 league year, the Pats could unload Cassel’s cap space — and then use it on new free agents immediately thereafter.
In our view, that’s the more likely scenario. Cassel will still get a starting job of his own, and he’ll still be paid more than handsomely. But the Patriots will also legitimately finagle the system in order to get something of value in return.