One of the first and most substantial moves Scott Pioli made when he arrived in Kansas City was acquiring quarterback Matt Cassel. At the time, the Chiefs had no clear direction at what is widely regarded as the most important position in professional sports. Oddly enough, after a trade in which the Chiefs relinquished a second round pick in exchange for the unproven Cassel and an aging legend in Mike Vrabel, the fan base in Kansas City was still uneasy about the team’s choice at quarterback, yet that was only the beginning of what has proven to be an absurd amount of scrutiny.
In July of 2009, Matt Cassel signed a six-year, $63 million contract with a staggering $28 million guaranteed; all this for a player with one season of starting experience? These figures seemed astronomical considering Cassel’s limited playing since his days as a High School standout. His tenure at both Southern California and in the NFL is well documented—mainly because there was nothing to document.
Prior to Cassel’s departure from New England, he had just completed his first season as a starter due to a devastating injury to Tom Brady. The little-known Cassel was thrown into the fire without warning and seemed to weather the storm rather well, winning 9 of his 15 starts with very respectable statistics. However, his inaugural season in Kansas City brought about many questions regarding his ability to play solid football without one of the best supporting casts in NFL history. Given his 55 percent completion rate and 1 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio, that scrutiny was well deserved.
Despite a few ugly outings sprinkled throughout the season, Cassel showed great improvement in 2010. For some reason, the lion's share of credit was linked to the presence of Charlie Weis rather than hard work, poise and overall development by the quarterback himself. The statistical changes in just a year's time were remarkable, tossing 11 more touchdowns while reducing his total turnovers from 19 to eight.
With Charlie Weis gone, the question begging to be asked is, can Matt Cassel take the next step? Maybe even more accurate is not whether he's capable but rather how and where we can expect him to progress.
Enter Kenny F.Powers, a folk hero of sorts played by the incomparable Danny McBride. Powers— the brash former athlete turned CEO of K-Swiss—recruited Cassel this offseason in an attempt to market a new line of athletic shoes, the K-Swiss "Tubes." In what has basically amounted to a number of ridiculous Youtube commercials, Matt Cassel is portrayed as a savvy up and coming QB with killer accuracy in the meeting room (video).
What on earth does this have to do with football, you ask?
First and foremost, this campaign shows that Matt Cassel is starting to find his swagger. One of the issues he's faced in his abbreviated professional career is not so much a lack of leadership but one of command. A noticeable hesitance to take the reigns in Kansas City has undoubtedly slowed his development. To see him cursing and slinging cross trainers while retaining an unmistakable amount of charm is a welcome change after two seasons of towing the company line.
Some of Cassel's reluctance to take the lead in the past could be attributed to the presence of Kansas City's (former) elder statesman Brian Waters. When the Chiefs decided to move forward without Waters, they were essentially turning this team over to its rightful leader: their QB.
Through three weeks of training camp, Cassel has looked very sharp throwing the ball and more at ease than ever before.
There's no question that his continued emergence is paramount to Kansas City's success this season and beyond. So, rather than relying solely upon Cassel and company's development, Scott Pioli aggressively added to the offensive arsenal with the first round selection of Pittsburgh receiver John Baldwin and the signings of Steve Breaston and Le'Ron McClain. Also new to the team are Jim Zorn (quarterbacks coach), Jared Gaither (potential starting offensive tackle) and highly decorated rookie interior lineman Rodney Hudson.
On paper, the Chiefs have one of the youngest and potentially one of the most explosive offensive units in the NFL. This is something many fans believe Matt Cassel requires in order to be a quality quarterback.
No matter what you believe about him, the one thing everyone can agree on is there are no more excuses to be made on Cassel's behalf. As a staunch supporter since his acquisition, I for one am elated that time has come. In the past, those doubting Kansas City's quarterback could explain away his triumphs and never failed to squawk about his shortcomings. More than ever before, the world will have a definitive portrait of what Matt Cassel can be.
I recommend you jump on the bandwagon while there's still room.