Matt Cassels departure from the New England Patriots has left many fans excited, several confused, and a few unsurprised. The trade shows two things: that Cassels 11-5 season has impressed the NFL community and, that the Patriots are perfectly satisfied with Tom Brady as their starter. Cassels experience as a back-up quarterback has provided him with a solid foundation to finally be the starter in Kansas City.
A seventh round pick ( 230th overall ) in the 2005 NFL Draft becomes the savior of a three-time Super Bowl winning franchise during the 2008-2009 regular season. In the off season, he was traded to a team in need of a smart, healthy and experienced quarterback to finally build an offense around, Kansas City, just may be preparing for a winning season. Matt Cassel is ready to show what he's learned and Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen especially, should feel the pressure of who will be in the starting quarterback position for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009.
Cassel has never had to be more than a back up. His collegiate and professional football resume says so. Cassel's time backing up 2002 Heisman Trophy winner and current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer at USC gave him a glimpse of what a powerful arm can do on a solid offensive system. After his departure, Matt Leinart was chosen to be Palmer's successor as the starter for Pete Carroll and the Trojans. Cassel was left to back up the eventual 2004 Heisman Trophy winner and during his senior year, the 6-foot-5 signal-caller threw passes in just five games completing 10 for 15 for 97 yards. He was drafted by New England, and spent the entirety of his career playing backup, again, to another talented player, four time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady.
Cassel was finally given the opportunity to showcase everything he's learned from past starters due to the unforeseen, season-ending hit on Tom Brady during the first game of the 2008 season against Kansas City. Based on Cassel's 11-5 debut season, he proved to be an excellent learner and closed the season with 3,946 yards and 23 touchdowns during his time in New England.
Cassel was ready to be the top quarterback on several teams' depth charts. His success as a starter raised the value of the former Trojan requiring the Patriots to place the franchise tag worth over $14 million on him to prevent him from signing with another team. With the combined cost of Brady's contract and Cassel's cap charge, the Patriots invested $29 million in their top two QB's.
Despite their affinity for Cassel, and his proven track record as a starter, he was traded to Kansas City (along with longtime Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel). The compensation was a mere second round pick in the 2009 draft.
Awaiting Cassel in Kansas City, are potent receivers, a top tight end and an experienced veteran in the running game with Larry Johnson. With that talented group of weapons on offense, Cassel should have no trouble improving upon the 2-14 record and last place finish the Chiefs had in 2008.
Johnson led the Chiefs rushing attach which finished 16th in the league averaging 113.1 yards per game. Johnson gained 874 yards in 193 attempts (4.3 avg.) and five touchdowns. Backing him up is former Texas star Jamaal Charles who 357 yards in 57 attempts (5.3 avg.).
Though Cassel won't have Wes Welker and Randy Moss to throw to, he still has options. The Chiefs receivers are led by former Seattle Seahawks wideout Bobby Engram, signed in the off-season. Engram has 7,690 receiving yards and 35 total touchdowns. He was part of the Seahawks team that reached Super Bowl in 2006 and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10. At 36, the wideout has only had one 1,000-yard season (2007). Breakout receiver Dwayne Bowe from Louisiana State has found substantial success in his first two seasons with the Chiefs. He has stockpiled 2,017 yards, 12 touchdowns and is averaging 12.9 yards per reception. As the 23rd overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, chosen right before New England's own DB Brandon Meriweather (24th overall), Bowe's numbers will improve with Cassel
The Chiefs aren't going to just give Cassel the starting job in Kansas City; he will have some competition. Brodie Croyle (Alabama), drafted 85th overall in 2006, started week one and was hurt in the season opener against New England - the same game that knocked Brady out. After returning to the starting lineup in week seven he suffered a torn MCL against the Tennessee Titans. Croyle's injury issues are a concern having a sprained knee, a separated shoulder and most recently, the torn MCL. He was officially the number one quarterback for the Chiefs with Tyler Thigpen as his back up last season. Thigpen (Coastal Carolina) was the first quarterback to be drafted from the school and was picked up late in the seventh round, 217th overall in 2007. Being drafted late in the 7th is an interesting similarity to newly acquired Matt Cassel (who was drafted even later in the round, at 230th).
No matter who starts in Kansas City, the acquisition of Matt Cassel was a smart move by the Chiefs new Head of Football Operations, Scott Pioli. Pioli liked what he saw from Cassel in New England and hopes Cassel can bring that success with him to Kansas City. Whether it's by creating a competition at the quarterback position, or by giving wide receivers the opportunity to improve their value and numbers, it can be assured that many of the winning techniques that Cassel uses is derived directly from his time in New England.