We all know his story. Perennial backup at USC, drafted by New England to essentially serve the same role, and then called upon to replace a legend when disaster struck.
The success he had while performing the latter made him a hot commodity overnight. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, the same guy who pulled the trigger on drafting Cassel as vice president of player personnel for the Patriots, wasted little time in making a deal that brought him to Kansas City.
Cassel was introduced as the franchise quarterback. The Chiefs had their guy—a young, fresh face who had already earned the stamp of approval from the most successful franchise in the league. All that was left was putting pieces around him and beginning the journey back to NFL relevance.
That hasn't gone quite as planned.
The pieces have arrived. Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe, when healthy, are among the best in the league at their positions. The offensive line has been respectable. The defense has been competitive.
The only thing missing has been consistency from Cassel.
Since his arrival in Kansas City, he has yet to break the 60 percent completion barrier and has a 1.68-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. If you take his 2010 season out of the equation, those numbers get even uglier.
As the 2012 season approaches, one can’t help but think this is the last chance Cassel will have to realize his full potential in a Chiefs uniform. All the pieces appear to be in place. His playmakers are healthy. The defense appears to be on the brink of elite. His head coach has been around the block.
If he falters, the buzz around Kansas City is that fans will demand Ricky Stanzi, the second-year Iowa quarterback who is turning heads in OTAs. Stanzi has big game experience, playing in the Big Ten and winning a BCS game in college. He’ll be ready if he’s called on.
For Cassel to keep his job, he’ll have to play it safe and let his skill players do what they do best. If at any point he takes it upon himself to force things and fails, that will be the end of his run. With a roster as talented as Kansas City’s, Cassel must become the ultimate game manager, as few teams the Chiefs play will have the same type of weapons.
Manning or no Manning, the AFC West is up for grabs, and Kansas City has never been in better position to take advantage. If they fail to do so, people will point the finger at Cassel, and his unlikely run as an NFL starting quarterback could very well be over.