EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 29, 2008

The other franchise QB

With Brady's status uncertain, Pats have to keep Cassel

On Pro Football

What is franchising

The talk is New England may have to "franchise" Matt Cassel.

That means pay him the average of the five highest paid NFL quarterbacks.

So what happens now?

Today, New England football fans will lament the one thing Matt Cassel didn't do in the last four months, that is drive his team to the National Football League playoffs.

We're spoiled here. This team had made the postseason five straight years, going 11-4 with three trips to the Super Bowl. Even the brief elation from yesterday's inspiring 13-0 blanking of host Buffalo couldn't ease the pain.

Instead of joy and anticipation, January will be a time for angst.

Do the Patriots open up the bank vault for Cassel, who showed signs of being the next best thing?

Or do they let him walk to some deep-pocketed suitor, say the New York Jets?

Clearly, the Pats can afford both Tom Brady and Cassel, at least for one year.

Perhaps no other team could pull it off.

The prudent Patriots can. There are no giant, amortized signing bonuses lingering at Patriot Place.

All the upfront cash to Richard Seymour, the smart front-loaded contracts to Adalius Thomas and Ty Warren, this is where the dividends are collected.

New England, according to reports, is one of a handful of NFL franchises to close the books on 2008 at millions under the salary cap, yes even with all the injuries and desperate moves that followed.

Because of New England's frugality, the "franchise tag" is an ally, not a fear.

Elsewhere, players accept the tag with glee, knowing they'll be compensated like one of the top players at their position.

Here, the players use it as a bargaining tool, accepting one-year deals from the team, as Asante Samuel did in 2007, just so he could escape it in 2008.

New England, without blinking, can toss Cassel $13 million for 2009, at least on paper, meaning if somebody else wants him, they'll be paying more than just cash.

Cassel threw for 3,693 yards and 21 TDs with only 11 interceptions. He won 11 games, all in his first real action since high school.

He's much more of a sure thing for Detroit, Kansas City or St. Louis, each of whom owns a top-three pick in the April draft.

At $13 million for 2009, Cassel is an asset.

Eagle-Tribune sources familiar with Brady's situation confirmed the MSNBC.com report that he was well behind in his recovery from knee reconstruction.

There fear is that the infection did lasting damage to not only the ligaments but the bone surrounding the joint.

The best recovery scenarios from an injury like that are about nine months. Brady's could now approach a year, costing him all the mini-camps, training camp, the entire preseason and possibly cut into the first month of the regular season.

Cassel is now more than just an insurance policy. He's a need.

Folks point to Carson Palmer making the successful return from an injury similar to Brady's.

Palmer threw 50 TDs with 30 picks before the injury, 57 and 37 after it.

More importantly, he was 19-13 before the injury and 15-21 since.

In a best-case scenario, Cassel makes for a priceless bargaining chip if Brady returns.

In the worst, he keeps New England a championship threat in 2009, if Brady doesn't return.

It's sad that New England did not make the playoffs. This team, which ends on a four-game streak in which it outscored the opposition 133-54, is the third-best in the conference, behind Pittsburgh and Indianapolis (maybe).

If Matt Cassel proved one thing, there is life after Brady, even though it doesn't include this year's playoffs.

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