Where would the Chiefs be without Matt Cassel?
Obviously, they wouldn't have a quarterback with more than one NFL win under his belt. But you can also come to a less obvious conclusion – without Cassel, the Chiefs might be without a leader.
Can a quarterback with less than 20 career starts really be the primary leader on a football team that claims several veterans over 30? If it was true in 2001, there's no reason it can't be true in 2009.
Yes, there are several intriguing parallels between Trent Green and Cassel, including the fact they were drafted in almost the exact same spot (230th overall compared to 222nd overall). Before quarterbacking a game for the Chiefs, Green had only 19 starts in seven NFL seasons. Cassel had just 15 in four seasons. But the biggest similarity has to be their immediate leadership, especially in bleak situations.
When he arrived in 2001, the cupboard was practically bare at wide receiver, the Chiefs had a lousy defense, and Green was still busy rehabbing his left knee. But he did not shirk his responsibility as KC's new starting quarterback. He shouldered the lion's share of the leadership duty from the beginning. He was a five-days-a-week fixture at Arrowhead Stadium all throughout the offseason, even during rookie camp, when all he could do was stand on the sidelines.
Green took direct hits from the media all year long for the Chiefs' poor record and his lousy statistics (24 interceptions). But each week, he faced the firing squad, sometimes with a grin on his face. It's easy to lead when everything is going great, but real leaders show up when other players would rather hide.
Fast forward to 2009. Other than Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs don't have much at wide receiver and still have a lousy defense. Cassel isn't rehabbing any injury, but does have another headache – his contract situation. Despite all of that, he has been a consistent participant in offseason workouts with the Chiefs, and we recently learned Head Coach Todd Haley has to pretty much boot his quarterback out of the building most days.
Cassel has already taken a few hits from the media over whether or not he is worth a $15 million one-season rental, or if he was simply the product of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Bill Belichick. There is also no shortage of fans who would have liked to have seen the Chiefs pick Mark Sanchez in April's draft. But Cassel has taken it all in stride, and if you watch his press conferences, yes, there is often a grin on his face (no word on whether or not he'll throw 24 interceptions this season).
Maybe you don't think it's all that noteworthy that Cassel has chosen to make Arrowhead his second home this offseason. Hey, he is the starting quarterback. But if leading by example is the best way to lead, what exactly are Brian Waters and Mike Vrabel doing? If you blinked, you may have missed them this offseason.
Both only bothered to show up for Haley's mandatory three-day Mini-Camp before promptly disappearing back into the mists when the weekend was finished. Isn't Waters supposed to be the veteran everyone looks up to? Wasn't Vrabel brought in to teach the Patriot Way?
How can either player take a leadership role when they've barely even taken the time to strap on a red helmet this year? The absence of Waters and Vrabel should only make us appreciate Cassel's efforts even more. Especially since you can argue he actually has a reason to hold out – his contract situation.
There are several players around the league that have skipped voluntary workouts due to contract squabbles this offseason. The most notable of course, is Arizona's Anquan Boldin, but Green Bay's Nick Collins, Cleveland's Josh Cribbs and Arizona's Darnell Dockett have also held out. An unreported-but-assumed contract dispute in Cleveland with kicker Phil Dawson has also resulted in his absence from offseason workouts.
Cassel arguably has more leverage than any of those players. For one thing, he's a quarterback (slightly more important than kicker or safety), and of course Kansas City is in desperate need of a true franchise quarterback. Yes, an open competition with Tyler Thigpen has been advertised, but the Chiefs didn't give up a second-round pick to make Cassel a backup.
The Bears, Colts and Dolphins, three potential playoff contenders, have all had nearly perfect attendance at voluntary workouts this offseason. None of their team leaders (except Reggie Wayne, who works out at Miami) have gone missing.
Since Waters and Vrabel apparently have no apparent contract squabbles, what exactly is the issue? Are they just going through the motions? Do they want to be traded or released? Are they simply collecting one last paycheck?
No one can say for certain. So it certainly appears that Cassel is the only leader the Chiefs truly have for the present. At least no other player is having praise heaped upon him in USA Today (except Trent Green, eight years ago).
"You step into the role as a quarterback as the known leader. You have to show that first by going out there and demonstrating it in workouts and your day-to-day activity. You have to show everybody by example rather than what you say."
- Matt Cassel, 2009
Cassel – The Lone Leader?
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