On the first possible day to designate players the franchise tag, the New England Patriots swooped in and placed it on Matt Cassel. Michael Smith of ESPN first reported the news.
This is obviously big news for the Patriots. And essentially, it leaves them with two options.
The first option is simply keeping Matt Cassel in 2009. The Patriots can bring him and Brady into mini-camps and training camp, and if Brady isn’t ready to go, Cassel can step in and retake the throne of the offense. While I doubt there would be any quarterback controversy, if Brady struggles or gets hurt again, Cassel would be ready to go. This is clearly the safer option, especially with rumors like the one reported yesterday by WFAN New York’s Mike Francesa reporting Tom Brady suffered another setback.
Then there is the option of trading Cassel. The Patriots would trade Matt Cassel if and only if there was a guarantee of Tom Brady being ready to go week one. Sorry to say Pats fans, I doubt that conclusion could be made before the draft, so I wouldn’t lean to heavily on the Cassel-to-Chiefs rumors (for now, of course). Still, getting a first rounder, and possibly a second would be a great step towards helping to rebuild the defense.
There actually is a third option, and it involves the first one as well. What if the Patriots could sign Matt Cassel to a two year contract worth somewhere in the range of $20-25 million with about $18 million guaranteed? That would leave both Brady and Cassel to expire in 2010. At that point, Brady would be nearing 34 years old, while Cassel would still be 28 years young. If Brady wasn’t the same and was still struggling from coming back from the injury, the Patriots could look to extend Cassel big time and hand him the offense.
Now before we go any further on speculation, I wanted to break down some of the facts. Cassel will cost the Patriots $14.65 million against the cap next year. He is the fourth player in franchise history to have had the franchise tag. Cassel is still free to yield offers from other teams (once free agency starts). However, the Patriots will have the right to match any offer he gets, and if they choose not to match, the team that signs Cassel will owe the Patriots two first round picks. The Patriots could also still negotiate a contract extension with Cassel (they have until sometime in July I believe). One last fact to sit on; as it currently sits, about 25% of the team’s 2009 salary cap will be between two quarterbacks.