Cassel Cashes in on One Season of Starting

Imagine if the real world worked like the NFL.

Terry Tate would be the office sensitivity trainer. The vending machine in the break room would offer cortisone shots. And one good year of production would warrant a 2,000 percent raise.

Now you have some idea of what it feels like to be Matt Cassel, who landed a six year, $63 million contract from the Chiefs after making $500,000 with the Patriots last year.

Cassel is rich in more than spirit these days — $28 million of his new deal is guaranteed. To quote Robert DeNiro at the end of Midnight Run, that’s a very respectable neighborhood. And not too many NFL signal-callers get to call such a zip code home.

All it took was one Tom Brady blown knee to get an
opportunity. But producing enough to never have to worry about money
again in his life was all Cassel’s doing.

He is the one who stepped up and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record
in 2008. He is the man who completed 327 of 516 passes for 3,693 yards,
21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions in his first year as a starter.
He is the career backup who emerged from the shadows to handle the
pressure of Sundays with the aplomb of a bomb disposal expert.

Some might say his success was blind luck, a mere byproduct of running an offense in a Bill Belichick
system. Naysayers will rant and rave that anyone with a pulse and the
ability to throw a spiral 15 yards could do what Cassel did. But that’s
like saying there are only a few steps to solving an advanced calculus
equation.

The NFL gridiron is a maze of speed and danger at every turn for
quarterbacks — 300-pound monsters with lightning speed and bad
intentions, stunting linebackers looking to turn out the lights for
good, and ballhawks whose main objective is to embarrass and punish.
Anyone who thinks it’s easy to navigate a minefield like that probably
thinks Iraq is a nice place to vacation.

Is Kansas City taking a risk by locking up somebody long term who
has only produced for one season? Sure. But so is stepping onto an
airplane or crossing the street.

Matt Cassel deserves to be getting paid. He was thrown into the crucible and didn’t flinch. Look at some of the other quarterbacks in the NFL. How many would you take over Cassel? Maybe a handful.

The Chiefs are making an educated guess based on 16 games worth of
performance and projection. Not so long ago, the Patriots did the same
thing with a guy named Brady. That worked out pretty well for New
England.

Cassel is a better natural athlete than Brady, and the new
millionaire, at 27, hasn’t even entered the prime of his playing days.
Cassel won’t have the same complementary parts with the Chiefs as he
did with the Pats, but Scott Pioli — who played a big role in building a Super Bowl champion in Foxborough — is doing everything in his power to change that.

Time will tell if we ever see Cassel hoisting a Lombardi Trophy on
his way to Disneyland, but one thing’s for sure: He owes a debt of
gratitude to everyone in the Patriots’ organization who gave him a
chance to hold a clipboard and collect a paycheck.

Belichick didn’t do it out of the kindness of his heart. The NFL is
a business. The mastermind wouldn’t have just given away a roster spot
because he liked the way Cassel looked in a uniform. The Patriots saw
something in him.

And now Cassel is being rewarded.

He could buy steak dinners for everyone who helped him to get this
point to celebrate. But don’t be surprised if he buys the whole
steakhouse.

He can afford it.