A couple of weeks ago, here on Bleacher Report, I discussed the possible outcomes of the Patriots franchising Matt Cassel. In that article, I proposed five possibilities. One of those—that another team could sign Cassel to an offer sheet—is off the table now that Cassel has agreed to the tender contract.
After thinking about this further, though, I now believe that there are only two possible outcomes: the Patriots must either trade Cassel before the draft or shortly thereafter, or sign him to a long-term contract. They simply cannot wait to see how Brady does in training camp.
The simple reason for this is economics: Cassel's franchise tag salary has counted $14.6 million off the Patriots' salary cap since the day they extended the offer. Until they trade him or sign him to a new deal, it will remain there. If the Patriots had $40 million in cap space, it probably wouldn't matter.
Unfortunately, after Cassel's offer, the Patriots only have about $5 million in cap space (and quite possibly less). Moreover, thanks to the CBA's poison pills in place because of the impending disappearance of the salary cap in 2010, it will be difficult—not impossible, but difficult—for the Patriots to obtain significant amounts of additional cap space by reworking player contracts (on the other hand, as you'll see in a moment, those same rules might also help the Patriots with Cassel).
Keep in mind that the Patriots also face a deadline to extend Cassel: if the Patriots do not sign Cassel to a long-term contract by July 15, then the only contract he can sign with the Patriots is a one-year deal, at the franchise tender, which means no salary cap relief.
Thus, the Patriots' two options:
1. Sign Cassel to a long-term deal
The main advantage to this is that the Patriots can spread out any signing bonus over five years, rather than having to absorb it all in 2009. Thus, they could sign Cassel to, say, a five-year, $47 million contract and have a salary cap hit of just $7 million in 2009. The main disadvantage to this type of contract, however, is that the poison pills require that any dead money incurred in 2009 must be charged against the 2009 cap—which means that the Patriots would be unable to trade Cassel in 2009.
On the other hand, such a move would not prevent the Patriots from trading Cassel in 2010. If the salary cap is preserved, the likely worst case scenario would be the Patriots spreading out the remaining signing bonus over 2010 and 2011, while the best case scenario would be no salary cap at all, in which case the dead money would be irrelevant.
Even better still, Cassel would arguably become even more attractive: teams trading for him would be able to take on the remainder of his contract, which would likely be significantly less than the going rates for quarterbacks in the top 10-15 picks of the draft, so the Patriots might actually get significantly more for Cassel than they could in 2009 (when the team signing Cassel would also have to pay his signing bonus).
2. Trade Cassel soon
Of course, unless a team is willing to give up draft picks and pay Cassel $14.6 million for a one-year rental, Cassel will need to sign a new long-term deal with whatever team trades for him. The biggest advantage, again, is that Cassel's cap hit for the Patriots would drop to zero.
All in all, a trade is probably the best-case scenario for the Patriots, if they feel that 2008 rookie Kevin O'Connell can hold the fort if Brady's not ready to go when the season begins. The longer Cassel remains with the Patriots, though, the less likely this becomes. Nevertheless, I'd say right now the probability of Cassel being traded is at least 60 percent.
So, where are the likely landing spots for Cassel? I'll answer that question soon—in fact, part of my answer will be a response to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who says he'll talk about this in Monday Morning Quarterback this week.
But for now, let me just point this quote out to the Chiefs fans who believe that either Tyler Thigpen is the long-term answer or that Chiefs GM Scott Pioli should be able to find another Matt Cassel in the back end of the draft: "Quite honestly, there is no other Matt Cassel." So said Pioli himself. It may be an admission of the difficulty in finding another quarterback with as much upside as he and Bill Belichick saw in Cassel in 2005.
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