Last week the Kansas City Chiefs gave quarterback Matt Cassel a six-year, $63 million extension before he had ever played a game for them.
Kansas City acquired Cassel, along with linebacker Mike Vrabel, from the New England Patriots for the Chiefs’ second-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Matt Cassel has just one year under his belt as a starting quarterback in the NFL, so are the Chiefs taking a gamble giving him that contract?
Let’s look at why Kansas City made this move. For starters, the Chiefs haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Len Dawson. They’ve tried drafting one in Steve Fuller and Todd Blackledge.
And they’ve tried acquiring skilled veterans. In the mid 90s the Chiefs had some great teams and all that was missing was a stud quarterback. Joe Montana was the best, but he only lasted two seasons before retiring.
They then tried Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac and more recently, Trent Green. Green had a stellar 2003 campaign and was by far the best QB to play at Arrowhead Stadium since Montana. So this franchise is desperate for a front-line quarterback.
Matt Cassel is 27 years old and is headed for what should be his prime. In 2008 he filled in for superstar Tom Brady and with all the weight of the world on his shoulders, led the New England Patriots to an 11-5 record, tied for first place in the AFC East.
The best way to predict how Matt Cassel will perform with the Chiefs is to take a look back at his ’08 season. He threw for 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 3,693 yards. KC’s front office really liked how he got better as the year went on and how strongly he closed out the season.
He won five of his last six games, with the only loss coming to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. In November he threw six TD passes and four interceptions, and even more impressively, in the month of December he threw for eight touchdowns and only one interception (on a tip by the receiver).
Cassel turned it up in crunch time. In the last two minutes of a half he was 37 of 64 for 425 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He was also strong in the middle part of the ball game. He had 15 of his 21 touchdown passes, and just five of his INTs, in the second and third quarters of games.
When trailing, Cassel had eight touchdown tosses and five interceptions. A key for him was to throw the ball at least 21 times. In attempts 21-30 he had 6 TD’s and just 2 picks.
His best two weeks of the season came in week 11 and 12. First, on a Thursday night affair with the division rival New York Jets, he single-handedly kept New England in the game. After trailing 24-6, Cassel led the Patriots on a furious comeback that culminated with an under pressure, game-tying touchdown pass to Randy Moss with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter.
It was the type of throw a Pro Bowler would make.
Hell, it was the type of throw Tom Brady would make.
The Patriots ended up falling in overtime to the Jets, 34-31. Matt Cassel however, ended the night 30 of 51 for 400 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, and the first quarterback in over 35 years with 400 yards passing and 60 yards rushing in the same game.
The following week, the Pats bounced back by defeating the future division champion Miami Dolphins in south Florida, 48-28. Bouncing back from a defeat was common as Cassel and the Pats didn’t lose back to back games all year. In Miami, Cassel lit up the Dolphins defense for 415 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.
In week 16, Cassel kept up his late season surge as he carved up the future NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals for 345 yards, 3 TDs, and no interceptions in a 47-7 rout.
In 2008 the Patriots faced off against the AFC West division, so let’s analyze how he fared against the Chiefs' rivals. Versus Denver he was 18 of 24 for 185 yards with 3 TD’s and 0 INT’s in a 41-7 blowout on Monday Night Football.
Against the Oakland Raiders, the week his father passed away, Cassel was 18 of 30 for 218 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception in 49-26 victory. In San Diego on a Sunday Night Football contest, he was 22 for 38 for 203 yards but had no touchdowns and one interception as the Pats were beaten soundly 30-10.
Overall, pretty good numbers against the division and in the one loss he still threw for over 200 yards and had just the one interception.
The fact remains however, this Chiefs team is nowhere near as good as the Patriots from last season. This could greatly affect how Cassel performs and how he could potentially be viewed throughout the league as a one hit wonder.
But the 2009 Kansas City Chiefs aren’t horrible. They will surely be better than last year’s 2-14 squad. For starters, they have a fiery, energetic, smart coach in Todd Haley.
They also have Scott Pioli as the new general manager who worked with Matt in New England and saw his talent first hand. Obviously, Scott saw something he believes in as he went out and acquired him this past spring.
Haley and Pioli have stated they went guys who are football players first and truly love the game. The word around Arrowhead is Matt Cassel is just that. He spends all his time watching film, or practicing, or just talking football. He takes the game seriously and the staff in KC believes he wants to be one of the greats.
From the player standpoint, running back Larry Johnson could be a huge help for Cassel. LJ looked to be on his way out of Kansas City at the end of the season. But perhaps the new coaching staff and the new direction of the franchise has reinvigorated him.
A brash attitude and trouble with the law has surrounded Johnson the last two years. But he was at every voluntary workout and practice and has kept his mouth shut all spring and summer. If Larry Johnson could come back to what he was in ’06 and ’07, it will be a huge advantage for Cassel and the Chiefs offense.
Matt Cassel’s weapons at the receiver position are slim, especially after the trade of future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez. Dwayne Bowe has all the talent and will be Cassel’s number one target. Todd Haley hopes he can be KC’s Larry Fitzgerald, but he has had drop troubles and struggled with inconsistent play in the past.
A receiver that will help is veteran Bobby Engram, signed in free agency this offseason. A surprise at the position could be Mark Bradley who came out of nowhere in the second half of the season for the Chiefs and became Tyler Thigpen’s favorite deep threat.
The offense line has a couple sure things and a couple question marks. Second year pro Branden Albert seems to be the real deal and will play left tackle. The Chiefs picked up guard Mike Goff as a free agent from San Diego and it is one of the underrated signings of the NFL off season.
All Pro guard Brian Waters wanted out of Kansas City and missed all of the voluntary workouts. But he showed up for the mandatory mini camp and looks ready to go for training camp. He is one of the few veteran leaders on offense and Waters play will be huge for the stability of the o line.
At center it looks like it will be Rudy Niswanger. Nothing special, but a capable starter for the time being because there’s not much behind him at the position.
The tackle spot opposite Albert is a question mark. It looks to be a two man competition between Damion McIntosh, last year’s starter, and big Barry Richardson. Rookie Colin Brown from Missouri could also be an option here, depending on how fast he progresses.
As any NFL fan can tell you, a quarterback is only as good as his offensive line. If Cassel can get a running game with the help of Johnson, a breakout year from Dwayne Bowe, and time to throw the ball from his o-line, it could be a real good first year in KC for Matt Cassel. He will have to go up against some of the top defenses in the league.
He will get tested big time right out of the gate as the Chiefs travel to Baltimore in Week 1. Cassel must also go up against defenses from the Cowboys, the Giants, the Eagles, the Steelers, and the Chargers twice.
Only time will tell if Matt Cassel is worth the $63 million contract. But analyzing his play last year and the team Kansas City is building around him, it is surely the right investment.