The early reaction from some folks around New England, and from many NFL fans around the Internet, appears to be the belief that Scott Pioli robbed the Patriots blind in receiving both Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel for the 34th overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Let's first think objectively about the market value for Matt Cassel, in terms of what Bill Belichick would prefer to receive. Given Belichick's past history of disliking any draft pick which falls in the top 10 spots due to its subsequent salary requirements, we must assume that Belichick was negotiating with teams with 2009 draft picks falling from No. 10 to No. 31 (Pittsburgh is in no need of a quarterback at No. 32). This, of course, reduces the bidders for Cassel's services.
With that said, it would seem logical that Belichick determined Cassel's value by way of negotiating with those teams. Once Cassel's trade value was established, Belichick then began to determine who would bite on a deal. Teams falling between selections No. 10 and No. 31, presumably, must not have been ready to deal New England their first round pick.
This thought process - that Belichick wanted to steer clear of draft slots No. 1 through No. 10 - also helps to put some logic behind the rumors which placed Detroit and Tampa Bay assisting Denver's effort in making a run at Cassel. I say this because Denver had a mid-1st round pick, which is ideally where Belichick wanted to land. Once those deals fell through, we move on from there.
This brings us to Kansas City. Belichick certainly did not want pick No. 3, due to the amount of money that the player selected at No. 3 is required to command in his rookie contract. Paying a rookie such a high figure is not a risk New England (and many other NFL teams) is willing to take. So, pick No. 34, or the Chiefs second round selection, was the logical answer.
Receiving the 34th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, in return for a guy who was a backup quarterback and a seventh round selection, would appear to be a great return on your initial investment. Especially when you consider the key point that the 34th pick is a quasi-first rounder, without the salary requirements of a first round draft pick. Brilliance displayed by Belichick.
It's also trivial and a tad naive to think that Cassel's trade value wasn't cemented in the weeks leading up to this weekend, so to those reactionaries claiming that Belichick pulled the trigger too quickly, give it a rest.
I see this trade as a win for both teams; Kansas City receives a budding quarterback and an aging - albeit, wise - veteran linebacker. New England receives their third second round pick for 2009, most importantly one which falls at the start of the round.
New England fans are certainly emotional about the loss of Vrabel. This is understandable, given all that Vrabel did during his time in New England. He gave his heart and soul to the Patriots, and for that, fans are certainly thankful.
I am under the impression that Vrabel was a "throw-in" in this deal. Figuring that he was due a roster bonus in the coming days, and his salary cap figure was rising to approximately $4.5 million for 2009, New England may very well have been on the verge of cutting him. An easy way to save yourself from what would have been an even larger media snow storm, is to trade him away as opposed to cutting him.
From here, the offseason looks to get even more interesting. The Patriots have just freed up an enormous chunk of salary cap space, and they have several players waiting to be extended (most notably Vince Wilfork).
Look for New England to address cornerback and linebacker in the draft and via free agency. Let's hope it's a youthful movement and not one of adding any more age to the defense.