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Matt Cassel is an unheralded signing from the worst-performing team in the league last year, ranking last not just in wins but in time with a lead, Football Outsiders’ DVOA and Pythagorean wins, suggesting not just that they happened to have the worst record, but that they were truly the worst team in football.
Because of that, the Cassel signing was largely met with indifference or even derision. That’s not quite fair.
In 2009, Cassel was paired with Todd Haley, who operated as both the head coach and offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.
But in 2010, offensive coordinator duties were handed to Charlie Weis, who was immediately followed by Bill Muir the following year. Brian Daboll came in 2012, and coached the worst version of that Kansas City offense, despite having impact players like Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe.
When paired with competent coordinators, Cassel looked good enough to make the Pro Bowl, posting career highs in yards per attempt (6.9), adjusted yards per attempt (7.4) and adjusted net yards per attempt (6.64, nearly two yards higher than any other year with the Chiefs).
Not only that, his passer rating was 93.0, far better than anything the Vikings had seen since 2009.
Weis’ tenure featured a Kansas City team that was relatively pass-happy, despite featuring the NFL’s best rushing attack, with 165 rushing yards a game. That is, when correcting for situation, the Chiefs were slightly more willing to run in 2010.
But the “game script” database, which accounts for time remaining and the lead a team holds, found that Brian Daboll had the most run-heavy offense since 1940.
That is never good for a quarterback, and easily points to mismanagement as a bigger reason for Cassel’s decline.
While it might not be true that Cassel is better than Christian Ponder, it’s clear that he can perform at a high level in a balanced offense when asked to manage the game. And the game script database finds that Bill Musgrave runs a relatively balanced offense, with a small but understandable bias for running the ball.
Cassel is a smart quarterback who can take care of the ball and joins the Minnesota Vikings as one of the best (if not the best) backup quarterbacks in the league—rarely do teams have the option of fielding a veteran with proven success as their secondary option, and he’s a big upgrade over Joe Webb.
Instead of nail-biting anticipation, the Vikings can remain confident that there will be a cool head who can execute the offense should emergency strike.
After all, the backup quarterback is the most important player who hopefully never sees a snap (unless you’re Dan Pompei).