Patriots Plan on Franchising Matt Cassel

Will Matt Cassel get the franchise tag? Former NFL Exec Michael Lombardi believes that's the case. He even claims to have heard that news from the Patriots.

Now that the Patriots season has concluded with the team becoming the first 11-win victim of the tiebreaker snub since the 1985 Broncos, it's time to look at what will happen with the roster. More importantly the question at quarterback.

New England's troubles started in the first game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. Once Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard got to his feet, it was season over for Patriots signal-caller and league MVP Tom Brady. Torn ligaments from the hit Pollard just delivered ended Brady's season, and possibly part of next season. Not to worry, in stepped seventh round draft pick Matt Cassel, a player who hadn't started a game at quarterback since his high school days.

Cassel struggled early, but eventually learned on the job. Posting new marks in the Patriots record books, Cassel managed to lead the Patriots to an 11-5 record, tied atop the AFC East. Even after a 4-0 December finish, Cassel's efforts weren't enough to get New England into the postseason, but his accomplishments on the field served notice that he could be a starter for New England, or any other team that would give him the opportunity..

Cassel earned recognition as one of the top 10 biggest snubs for Pro Bowl honors as determined by a survey of AFC and NFC personnel, by Pro Football Weekly. Cassel's stock is at an all time high. That's exactly what Cassel needed, as his rookie contract is set to expire and the kid from California is ready to cash in after seven years of clipboard holding.

But there's a rub.

Cassel can only cash in if he gets a new deal. Well, that's not altogether accurate. He can cash in, but not as a long-term starter unless he gets a new deal. The Patriots are too smart to just let Cassel go without getting something in return. Patriots Insider has been advocating that the team will clear some cap space to use the Franchise tag on Cassel

Mike Lombardi, a former GM for the Raiders and the Browns under Bill Belichick's tenure in Cleveland recently said Cassel may not be going anywhere. Lombardi commented during Showtime's INSIDE THE NFL program that the Patriots would use the Franchise tag on Cassel rather than allow him to sign with a rival like the New York Jets.

"The Patriots are way to smart, and I've talked to people in the organization," Lombardi said of New England's ability to prevent Cassel from joining the Jets. "They are going to franchise Matt Cassel. He's an asset and they can control their ability to trade him if they franchise him. "

Lombardi echoed what Patriots Insider has been reporting for weeks. There's no way the Patriots would allow Cassel to sign with a rival, or leave without some sort of compensation. His stellar 11-5 season made him a hot commodity and the Patriots are well versed in commodity trading in the NFL.

Placing the tag on Cassel would cost the Patriots $12 to 14 million in cap space, and guarantee the money to Cassel should he sign the offer. It will also limit his options to become a starter for another team -- a team where he can build an identity as something other than a backup who had a good year in place of Tom Brady.

After contradictory reports surfaced regarding the health of Tom Brady's knee and the time frame for his return, Franchising Cassel isn't just a luxury to ensure good compensation, it may be a necessity. If Brady's not ready to go by training camp, the Patriots will need a plan B. The Patriots always have a plan B. If Plan A is to have Brady back as the starter for 2009, then plan B is could be for Brady to rehab while Cassel runs the offense. Knowing how these Patriots like to plan for contingencies, New England may even have a Plan C - keeping Cassel long term.

For now, we're just going to have to wait till March to find out.

More:
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Hot Topic: Is Cassel Worth A First Round Pick?

More:
Patriots News
Patriots Roster

Patriots Newswire

Hot Topic: Is Cassel Worth A First Round Pick?

Members Area:
Patriots Insider has been discussing the Cassel situation in the insider's lounge. For more on the Lombardi statement and what we're haring, check eere: Insider's Lounge (members link)

EXCLUSIVE: Scott Pioli updates from KC, Cleveland and out insider sources: The Pioli Watch

[Editors Note: The Franchise comment was from Michael Lombardi, former NFL executive]

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