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Monday, January 5, 2009

Pats Tag Cassel: Good or Bad?

Three Super Bowl rings. Two Super Bowl MVP's. Four Pro Bowls.

That's just a few of the accomplishments that make up New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's long resume in the National Football League. But, Brady's 2008 campaign was destroyed right off the bat after suffering a serious knee injury week one of the season, against the Kansas City Chiefs. Both the ACL and MCL in his knee were torn after Kansas City defensive back Bernard Pollard rolled on top of it during the first quarter. The injury forced New England to place him on the injured reserve, abruptly ending his season.Former University of Southern California quarterback, Matt Cassel, stepped in right away and led the team to the week one victory, 17-10. With little NFL experience, not much was expected of Cassel--who hadn't started a game since high school before Brady went down. Many TV analysts and fans considered New England's season spoiled.

In three and a half quarters of play, Cassel went 13 of 18 for 152 yards and a touchdown pass against the Chiefs. Not bad. The following week, against division-rival New York Jets, Cassel threw for 165 yards in a 19-10 victory.

In the end, Cassel--the unlikely hero--threw for 3,693 yards, 21 TD's and just 11 interceptions for the 11-5 Patriots. Yes, the team failed to make the playoffs, but that doesn't take away from the successful season the 26-year old Matt Cassel had under center. Cassel started off a bit on the rough side of things, but towards the end of the regular season, Cassel was as cool as "Joe Cool'' himself while in the pocket.

His success brought up an interesting topic this Sunday. The Patriots' organization decided to use their "franchise tag" on Cassel, keeping him in town for at least one more season. For those that don't know, the franchise tag is a designation that each NFL team are allowed to place on one player--usually of high importance to the team--that is scheduled to be a free agent that year. This strategic manuever allows teams to keep a highly-talented player for one extra year. For that season, that player's salary is guaranteed for that season.

The announcement made by New England's front office can only mean two things: A. Tom Brady's rehabilitation isn't going very smoothly or B. New England wishes to keep Cassel as their starter for next season.

Say it's crazy, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brady started the 2009 season off on the bench. Cassel is five years younger than the all-pro Brady, and knee injuries are one of the worst injuries to sustain in a game like football. Brady doesn't want to return too early and aggravate the knee, which has already been operated on several times.

The smart thing for head coach Bill Belichick to do here is sit Brady to begin the season, no matter how well Brady says his knee is. I suspect that's the reasoning behind the franchise tagging of Matt Cassel and fully agree in this move, considering the situation.

I mean, what's the worst that can happen? Ok, so Cassel has a rough start to the '09 season. Big deal. Brady has overcome many obstacles in his nine-year career. Cassel has displayed the leadership skills, and overall talent this season, I'm sure he can manage. Besides, football is a team game. It will take more than a few quarterbacking mistakes to fall in an early hole.

Keep Cassel another year for stability, Brady gets back to his normal winning routine and the Patriots could get a lot in return for a quarterback of Cassel's caliber. But, it's never a bad thing to have two capable quarterbacks on your roster.

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