Matt Cassel Coming into His Own

Cotey BelliveauContributor IFebruary 1, 2009

As the Patriots enter the offseason, the quarterback situation has grown more interesting. 

The Patriots finished the year with an 11-5 record and weren’t able to make the playoffs, even though they won their final four games.

New England started off shaky but came on stronger as the season went on, even though they lost numerous players to injuries.

In Week One, the Patriots experienced their worst nightmare. They lost Tom Brady for the season due to a torn ACL and MCL. But not all was lost as they still had backup quarterback Matt Cassel.

Matt Cassel, 26, who spent four years at USC, played as a backup to Heisman winner Carson Palmer and also to Matt Leinart. He was drafted by New England in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft and has remained a backup to Brady ever since. 

Cassel finally had his chance to show what he could do as a starter in the NFL after Brady went down, and he didn’t waste any time.

In his first career NFL start he completed 16 of 23 pass attempts and went for 165 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions against the New York Jets. The Patriots had started the season 2-0.

Cassel’s first big game came in Week 11 when he threw for 400 yards, completing 30 of 51 passes. He threw for three TDs and zero INTs in a 31-34 overtime loss to the Jets.

The following week against the Miami Dolphins, Cassel continued his great play as he passed for a career-high 415 yards with three TDs and one pick. All three touchdowns were thrown to Randy Moss. Cassel also ran one in for a score, and the Patriots went on to win in Miami 48-28.

Cassel also came up big in the Week 16 romp of the Arizona Cardinals. He threw for 345 yards, completing 69.8 percent of his passes. He threw for three touchdowns in the game as the Patriots won 47-7.

For the season, Cassel completed 63.4 percent of his passes and threw for 3,693 yards with 21 touchdowns (along with two rushing touchdowns) and 11 interceptions. His QB rating on the season was 89.4.

There have been many reports that Brady is recovering nicely from his procedures and will be ready for the start of the 2009 season. Meanwhile, Cassel's contract with the Patriots has expired and there is much speculation as to whether or not he will return to the Patriots.

New England has the right to place the franchise tag on Matt Cassel this March and his contract is expected to be around $14 million.

In an ESPN interview, Cassel has stated that he wouldn't mind returning to a backup role next season, but also wouldn't mind going to start for another team. He said that the Patriots were "Tom's Team" and that he didn't want to take the starting job away from him just because he suffered an injury.

For a guy to have such a good season as a starter and then say he would return to a backup role, even though there are plenty of other teams seeking his services—that's a pretty brave statement for him to make, I think, but there’s nothing wrong with that. You can’t blame the guy for wanting to stay in New England, right?

If Cassel does choose to go elsewhere, where would he go?

Well, think of the teams who struggled with their quarterbacks this year. There's Detroit (obviously 0-16 proves my point), St. Louis (enough said), Oakland (Russell's not quite there yet), Kansas City (Thigpen was good but not long-term), San Francisco (they got some options but not consistent), and the New York Jets (if Favre decides to retire).

That’s a pretty long list of teams who could use Cassel's services, but who knows what's going to happen. No Matter where Cassel goes he should be a successful starter in the NFL.