Cassel's New Start and McDaniels' Low IQ

Luis AlbertoCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2009

Josh McDaniels woke up on the couch with the TV blaring.  He was still wearing his outfit from the night before—a No. 16 Cassel road jersey. He was surrounded by a half eaten bag of Cheetos, a pizza box full of crusts and an empty bottle of Patron.

It took a few minutes to get his thoughts together, but, when he finally did the activities of the previous day and night started coming into focus. 

The day started out well.  He and Brian Xanders, one of the youngest head coach/GM combinations in NFL history, had managed to sign eight free agents in the first day of free agency—including Brian Dawkins, Correll Buckhalter, and Jabar Gaffney. 

Their signing of JJ Arrington fell through, but the message was sent that these two baby faced executives had arrived.

Then, there was some celebratory drinking and dancing at the hotel bar...a few high fives with Xanders...McDaniels tried to remember a bit more—but the later part of the night was a little hazy.  

He took a sip of coffee from his custom made “Cassel” mug—complete with Cassel’s stats and a picture that McDaniels had always found “dreamy”.

McDaniels had a strange feeling. He couldn’t pinpoint it, but something didn’t feel right.  He reached for his cell phone to call Xanders and get going on the second day of free agency.  But the phone wasn’t in his pocket...interesting. 

He always kept his phone on him.  He looked around.  It wasn’t in his jacket pocket.  It wasn’t on his bedside table.  He kept looking. The strange feeling got worse.  He went to the couch where he had unintentionally spent the night and there it was. 

McDaniels panicked.  He had obviously been drunk dialing...but who?  He looked at the caller ID and that’s when he saw it.  Twenty-seven calls to Bill Belichick ...NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Rule No. 1 of being an NFL executive was never to negotiate with Belichick unless absolutely necessary.  Rule No. 2 was to make sure you’re on your game if you decide a negotiation is necessary.  Get a good night’s sleep.  Have a healthy dinner.  McDaniels had done not of that.

McDaniels turned on ESPN and everyone was talking about it.  Suddenly, it all started coming to light. Calling the Pats. Begging them to let him have his Matty back.  Offering a first round pick. Including Cutler in the negotiations. INCLUDING CUTLER IN THE NEGOTIATIONS!!!

Josh texted Cutler. But he received a text back that his number had been blocked.  He called Bus Cook—Cutler’s agent.  No answer.

Meanwhile, at a Vail lodge a vacationing Pat Bowlen received a phone call from an “M. Shanahan” with a Colorado area code.  He answered, but all he heard was loud cackling laughter.  The person on the other end was trying to speak but couldn’t through his own giddiness. 

“You [laughter...] fired me [more laughter] [coughing fit] fired me for [outrageous laughter]...[more laughter] enjoy the babysitting Pat.”  And then the dial tone.

Honestly, the Cassel deal May have an impact on the careers of a number of NFL players and executives.  I thought it would be interesting to dig into two of the more intriguing storylines: 

  • The ramifications of McDaniels’ brain fart
  • What we should expect from Matt Cassel in his new role – and how Cassel went from nearly being a member of the pre-season cut list to Paul McCartney circa 1969.

First, McDaniels...

Let’s put McDaniels’ actions in their true perspective. 

  • Cutler’s one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL.  You could probably count on one hand the teams that wouldn’t immediately throw out their current starter for a chance at Cutler.  Let’s go through the teams.  The Patriots, Colts and Falcons definitely wouldn’t.  The Saints, Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, and Chargers would probably think twice as well.  Other than those teams, I think Cutler would be considered a huge upgrade.  (I’m well aware that I only have five fingers and I listed eight teams – deal with it.)
    Cutler’s young, charismatic and has a rocket arm.  (And he throws into triple coverage nine times per game – but we’ll ignore that.)  And, he’s been one of the few first round guys to actually earn his huge rookie contract.
  • McDaniels supposedly offered the first of the picks he would have acquired for Cutler – the twelfth overall (rumors had Cutler going for a first and a fourth to the Bucs) - to the Patriots for Cassel.  Why would McDaniels do this if the best deal the Pats had was the 34th pick they ended up taking?  Once the Vikings, Bucs and Lions looked elsewhere for a quarterback, the market was fairly light for Cassel.  Still, McDaniels (if the rumors are true) went and offered a pick that was 22 spots higher than the next highest offer. 
    This got me thinking.  Does McDaniels walk into dealerships and vow to walk out if they don’t take his offer of 10% above sticker?  Does he send Netflix an even $20 every month?  Did he go to the Shelley Long school of decision making?  I could go on…..
  • Let’s take a look at the numbers.  Cutler threw for 3,500 yards in 2007 while he was in the process of losing 20 pounds due to undiagnosed Type I diabetes.  Keep in mind that was only his second season in the NFL.
    He followed that up with a 4,500 yard season – the 17th best in NFL history.  In 17 years, John Elway had exactly one 4,000 yard season (1993).  No, I’m not saying he’s better than Elway.  I just think there’s a good chance Cutler will be a star for a long time.
  • By being so clumsy about their communications, McDaniels and Xanders (and you almost have to figure Bowlen was at least tacitly involved by his non-disapproval) the Broncos have become the easy girl at a rural high school.  The phone is ringing off the hook…..other NFL executives must be convinced they’ve finally found the “mark”.  The sucker who is going to give you a guy like Cutler for a sandwich and a pat on the head.  All leverage is gone.  Other teams know McDaniels would consider trading Cutler.  At least for now, Cutler would rather go to a Bah Mitzvah with Mel Gibson than play for McDaniels.  If Cutler forces a trade, the Broncos could end up with Patrick Ramsey or Kyle Boller as their quarterback.  Ladies and gentleman of Denver, how about a round of applause for your new head coach!!!
  • Yes, Cutler is being a bit of a baby about this.  But, McDaniels has been around professional quarterbacks for a long time.  He knows they’re divas.  It’s not just Cutler.  Teams know how to coddle their stars while making it look like the team is in control – not the player.  Would Manning, Brady or even Carson Palmer sit quietly if they were dangled in trade talks?  Aikman?  Marino?  Elway? Montana? 
    If you go into a coaching situation expecting to be the one coach who doesn’t have to deal with his quarterback’s ego – especially if you still wear footsie jammies and watch Elmo – then you probably aren’t very long for this job.
    Cutler’s big mistake was in talking to the media.  Guys like Manning and Brady know how to keep their gripes in-house. 
    I know the “youth” thing has been overdone as an excuse (especially recently), but Cutler’s young and he just doesn’t realize that he’s not going to get the public to sympathize with a millionaire athlete’s wounded ego.  He lives in a silo where people cater to his every need.  Manning and Brady have been around and they know this.  Cutler will probably learn how to better handle situations like this in the future. 

McDaniels screwed up and now he has to fix it.  It was a classic case of trying to fix something that was far from broken.  The effort should have been on upgrading other areas.

McDaniels learned his trade from Bill Belichick, who was run out of Cleveland for, among other things, cutting Bernie Kosar.  But, even at the time, Bill’s move was considered brazen, but not necessarily wrong.  Kosar was past his prime and, given the fact that he never got another starting job, you can draw the conclusion that most people around the league agreed with Belichick ’s assessment of Kosar. 

This situation is different.  There are daily rumors of teams contacting the Broncos to get Cutler.  Unlike Kosar, Cutler is a valued commodity.

McDaniels can get past this.  He either misplayed his hand or is exceptionally feeble-minded – I’ll guess the former.  Most coaches are given at least three years to fix a team.  McDaniels shortened his window.  He needs to win and avoid anymore mistakes that make him and the organization look stupid.  Or, fairly soon, he’ll be drunk dialing Belichick again – looking for a job.


And then there’s Cassel himself……

Matt Cassel will finally get a shot to lead his own team.  Hopefully. We do need to remember that this guy misplaced his rabbit’s foot a long time ago. After a successful high school career, Cassel went to USC on scholarship. 

Now, you can say what you want about his underdog story, but if a kid gets a scholarship to be a quarterback at USC he’s probably played catch once or twice.  Unfortunately, a couple of guys named Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart decided to attend the same university. 

Even more unfortunately, both of those guys figured—since they were there anyway – they would give the QB position a shot.

You know the rest of the story.  I guess it wasn’t a completely unfortunate situation for Cassel.  A lot of USC fans would have paid top dollar for field level seats to watch three (Reggie Bush won too) Heisman trophy winners ply their trade.  He got these seats for free.

Now he gets to leverage one pretty good season into a starting job with a new team. 

I understand that good young starting quarterbacks don’t become available every day.  But, I have to say that Cassel seems awfully hyped up to me. 

A month or so ago, people were throwing around the notion of multiple first round picks (mostly fans and opinionated sports radio hacks—not the Kings and Silvers). 

If you do even a tiny bit of research on the recent history of trades in the NFL, the number of players who have been traded for multiple first round picks is very small.  When it came down to it, there was nobody old enough to shave willing to offer even a single first round pick.

There’s just a part of me that wonders if all of this excitement was a result of the expectations being just a little too low. Truth be told, when Brady went down it was silly to think this team would win less than 10 games (and this isn’t hindsight – I said it at the time. 

Nobody listened and it’s not documented anywhere… wife made believe she was listening, but she wasn’t.  I said it though.)  There are a few reasons I say this:


  • Six players from the Patriots’ 2007 offense made the all-pro team.  An offense with six legitimate all-pro players should not see a huge decline if one of them goes down – even if it is their Hall of Fame quarterback.  In fact, I can’t understand how Patriots fans get upset when [fill in the blank national sportswriter] says that one or two of the aforementioned all-pros maybe didn’t quite deserve the honor…..maybe.  But, after the big injury, these same fans act like the team was Tom Brady and a bunch of gingerbread men.  It can’t be both.  They can’t all suck except for Brady and still be all-pros.  Five all-pros on the offense is still more than just about any other team in history.  (That’s not even counting the three defensive players who made all-pro and Richard Seymour who was hurt much of 2007). 
    Cassel stepped into an unbelievable situation and did a good job (his touchdown to Randy Moss at the end of the Jets game – actually the entire Jets game – was a thing of beauty).  But, the fact is, the market was fairly light for his services and, from what I’ve read, most teams just decided it was too risky to jump on a player who stepped into the best offense of all time and managed not to embarrass himself.  (Although he actually was in charge of an offense that saw an11% decline in yards, a 30% drop off in points and a 31% decline in wins)
  • The Patriots schedule was insanely easy.  Going into the season, the Patriots were considered to have the easiest schedule (based on the results of the previous year) in the league.  The improvement of the Jets and Dolphins made the schedule slightly more difficult, but the Pats still played eight games against the two worst divisions in football – the AFC West and the NFC West.  Seven of their eleven wins came against the teams in these two divisions (they lost to the Chargers) – which had only one winning team between them.
    Their other four wins were in the division – two against the Bills and one each against the Jets and Dolphins.  They lost the two non-divisional games they played outside of the western divisions – against the Steelers and Colts. Where does that leave us?  With a team that won a bunch of games they should have won.  They beat three teams with winning records – the Cardinals, Jets and Dolphins.  Can you honestly scan the Patriots schedule and find one game they won that they shouldn’t have?


I’m always the first to say that fans attribute way to much credit for winning and losing to individual players—especially quarterbacks. 

But, in this case, I’m seeing a player get a ton of credit for “saving the season” (I actually heard that one on TV last night) when, in reality, his insertion into the offense was the only difference on a unit that had an enormous drop-off in production. 

I obviously don’t blame him for the entire drop off, but given all of the above facts, I can’t make my way to the line of reasoning that has him as this guy who should be courted like a horny Paris Hilton after two mojitos.

I’m pulling for him.  He seems like a nice guy and a pretty good player.  He says all the right things when a microphone is in front of him.  But, Dwayne Bowe is not Randy Moss, Tom Haley is not Bill Belichick and whoever the hell the Chiefs number two receiver is...who the hell is their number two receiver?  

(Seriously, I just checked their roster and I’ve never heard of any of these guys!  Who did Scott Pioli replace?  A piece of sheetrock?!?  Oh right, Carl Peterson.  Was Peterson doing Soduku puzzles during the last five drafts?  Devard Darling?  Will Franklin? Kevin Robinson?  Mark Bradley?  I just checked Wikipedia and it said that in 2006 “Bradley caught two touchdown passes for 202 yards.”  Impressive.  I may not know who Bradley is, but his experience of averaging 101 yards per catch should come in handy.  Ahh….open source Wikipedia—It’s fantastic!)


What I was about to say is that the Chiefs number two receiver is no Wes Welker—but then my ADHD kicked in.

Cassel will have his hands full this year, but, if Pioli gets time to work his magic Cassel may become a solid long term answer that hasn’t had a good young quarterback since...Len Dawson? 

Trent Green was good but I feel like he’s been 37 for fifteen years now.  Speaking of Len Dawson, with Dawson’s number sixteen retired, the big question for Cassel will now be his number selection. 

Weak send segway—I know…..I’m still learning here, cut me some slack.

Cassel’s great day was a McDaniels would just as soon forget.  We don’t know what the future holds for these guys but there was certainly some entertainment value in a day that set them each on what should be a wild ride.


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