New England Patriots Examiner: Is The Franchise Tag in Matt Cassel's Future?

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New England Patriots Examiner: Is The Franchise Tag in Matt Cassel's Future?

It’s the question every Patriots fan is asking right now. Walk into a bar, start talking about the Patriots, and the discussion will inevitably turn to this.

What are the Patriots going to do with Matt Cassel after this season?

When this season ends, Cassel will become an unrestricted free agent. Three months ago, nobody in New England cared. Two months ago, everyone in New England wanted Matt Cassel cut. A month ago, everyone wanted Matt Cassel benched.

Today, everyone in New England is worried that our suddenly desirable former backup quarterback is going to leave without the Patriots getting anything in return.

Only one thing is certain: Matt Cassel will not be a New England Patriot next season. He may be a Viking, he may be a Buccaneer, or he may be a Lion (or some other quarterback-needy team), but he will not be a Patriot.

Cassel has been paying his dues since the day he graduated high school. He backed up Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Tom Brady. He hadn’t started a game, or even seen significant playing time, until week two of this season.

Since then, he’s morphed into a quality, dare I say above-average NFL starting quarterback.

Today, he’s far better than both guys who’s clipboards he carried in college. He’s no Tom Brady, but he’s closer to Tom Brady than he is Matt Leinart. More proof (as if Patriot fans needed any) that Pete Carroll doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing.

Two weeks ago, he leaped from “nice story” to “potential franchise quarterback” with his all-world performance against the Jets. He had one of those games. The type of games you dream about as a kid. The only thing missing from his performance against the Jets was a happy ending, but that was hardly his fault.

Then he was even better against the Dolphins.

Matt Cassel has come out of last two games smelling like roses. Green-colored roses. With dead Presidents’ faces on them.

So the Patriots have two options:

1) Let Matt Cassel go

He took over a team that was destined for a high draft pick and turned them into a contender. He didn’t fill Brady’s shoes, but he proved his own were pretty big as well. He earned a starting job somewhere, and the Patriots could let him go with no hard feelings.

After all, the Patriots drafted his replacement already. They knew he was likely gone after this season.

I can’t imagine the Patriots allowing this to happen, but it certainly is an option.

2) Franchise Cassel, then trade him

Any talk of franchising Matt Cassel was laughable just three weeks ago. Now, not only isn’t it laughable, but it seems likely.

The Patriots will be about $20 million under the cap this offseason. The franchise number for a quarterback will be about $11 million. The Patriots could easily franchise Cassel, then trade him before the draft.

I don’t expect anyone to give up two first-round picks, but if he keeps playing like he did against the Jets there’s no reason you can’t get one. Or at least a second-round pick.

The Patriots have holes on the defensive side of the ball. They need help in the secondary, and Jerod Mayo aside, their linebackers are getting old. The Patriots could use the pick(s) they get from a Matt Cassel trade to help replenish their defense.

If this season taught us anything, it’s that Tom Brady won’t be around forever. Let’s say he bounces back and is 100 percent next season. How much longer will Tom Brady be Tom Brady?

Three years? Five years?

Are we going to saddle the greatest quarterback of our generation with an old and slow defense? Brady should have five Super Bowl rings right now. His defense has let him down two years in a row. They fell apart against the Colts, and failed in the final seconds against the Giants.

Matt Cassel is the best thing that could have happened to the New England Patriots. Not because of what he brought to the table this season, but because of what he can bring them next season.

The Patriots must franchise their former backup quarterback this offseason. Matt Cassel has waited eight years to be someone’s starting quarterback. He can wait a few more months while the Patriots work out a trade with his next team.

This article was originally published at the New England Patriots Examiner. If you liked this, please check them out.

Sean Crowe covers the New England Patriots for Examiner.com and writes a bi-weekly column for Sports-Central.org.

He is a Senior Writer and an NFL Community Leader at Bleacher Report. You can email him at scrowe@gmail.com. His archive can be found here.

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