King of the Cassel
Fans run a reverse on opinion of QB
That was the first word that came to mind when reading through the questions emailed to this weeks mailbag. About half of them half! were specifically on the future of quarterback Matt Cassel. Fans are concerned that Cassel might flee as an unrestricted free agent for a megabucks offer.
That had me going back to the mailbag archives this season to see how this Cassel story has evolved. On Aug. 19, our mailbag headline was Life without Brady? The second headline read: As backups struggle in preseason, fans have questions about QBs.
One question that week read this way:
What is it about Belichick and the Patriots that they refuse to even address the pathetic situation at backup QB? How can they continue to ignore the glaringly obvious? I know you said earlier if Cassel has a bad game at Tampa he might be done, but Cassel's time for getting cut is way overdue. He gets worse every year.
Two weeks later, after the Patriots made roster cuts, this was the start to one question:
I'm not going to lie, the way the Patriots have compiled their 53-man roster is perplexing to say the least. Matt Cassel has done not one positive thing this entire preseason, yet he makes the team. Why?
After quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury, there were similar questions in the ensuing mailbag. Then, three weeks later, after the Patriots lost to the Dolphins 38-13, this was another question:
Do you think that if Matt Cassel puts up a stinker against the Niners we could start hearing the "bring in O'Connell" chants?
Those emails seemed to intensify a few weeks later after the Patriots 30-10 loss to the Chargers. One example:
Do you think it is now time to pull the plug on Matt Cassel and give someone else a chance?
That question was part of the mailbag published Oct. 14.
Now, here we are in mid-November and the tone has been completely reversed. It is remarkable to me.
At the start of the year, I personally doubted Cassels long-standing position as the teams quarterback, but hes proven me wrong. I told him that in the teams locker room a few weeks ago because I didnt want him to think I was telling him one thing to his face, but then writing something else. I give him a lot of credit for what hes accomplished and I also credit Scott Pioli and the teams scouting staff, as well as the coaching staff.
Now, on to the questions.
What are do you think happens to Cassel after this year? The Patriots would be exposed if they lose Cassel and Brady cannot come back from his knee injury. Could the Patriots somehow deal Cassel for picks or is it already too late for that? Why is Cassel a free agent after his fourth year when most players out of the draft are signed for 5-6 years? Also, we don't hear much on O'Connell these days. He must be getting more snaps in practice. Are you witnessing any progress in his development?
Watson, Canton, Ohio
A: Watson, I think the Patriots will let Cassel know theyd like him back, but will be up front with him that they cant pay him starter-type money. So I expect Cassel to explore starting possibilities, at starter-type money. All it takes is one team, and chances are he will find a suitor, although Im not as convinced that the list of teams lining up is going to be as long as some prognosticators have predicted. The Patriots could potentially restrict Cassel with the franchise tag, and then trade him, but I think that is unlikely. The reason is the salary cap that decision, until a trade is worked out, would restrict other moves. As for OConnell, I have not seen him in practice to accurately answer. But I think the fact hes been the No. 2 quarterback all season is indication of progress.
I know he is a free agent but do you think the Pats try to keep Cassel, franchise him, or just let him walk away. If you keep him, since Tom Brady is coming back from a serious knee injury, then you have two expensive QBs on the roster, but if you let him walk away, then you have nothing to show for him. Your thoughts?
Mike, Pflugerville, Texas
A: With the salary cap, Mike, I dont think its smart business to pay two quarterbacks at starter rates. That will handcuff you and leave you thin and vulnerable in many other areas. So I think a lot will come down to if another team is willing to open the vault for Cassel, and all it takes is one. If Cassel walks, I see what youre saying about having nothing to show for him, but I dont necessarily completely see it that way. What theyve gotten from him this year, playing for $520,000 and leading the team to a winning record, has to be factored into the equation. Not to mention what hes contributed from 2005-2007 behind the scenes.
Mike, I know it is still early to make a definitive projection, but with Matt Cassel's contract expiring after the season and entering free agency, what teams do you think are the best landing spots for a young quarterback like Cassel? Do you think he would consider re-signing with the Patriots? Might the Patriots franchise him and get picks for him? Do you think the Jets would try to make a grab at him? All remains to be seen, but an interesting thing to think about.
Mikey, East Haven, Conn.
A: My list would start with the Lions, 49ers, Jets, Panthers and Vikings. However, the one thing I would say and we see this a lot in the draft quarterback is a tricky position to project because not every team needs them or is willing to pay for them. Furthermore, not every quarterback fits every system. So while it wouldnt surprise me if Cassel lands a starting gig, I still think a lot of pieces need to fall in place, and I personally feel some reports that suggest hell be making $8-9 million per year next season are premature. Most often, you have to have two teams bidding against each other for that to happen. With that in mind, thats why, even though I see it as a long shot, I wouldnt definitively rule out his potential return to New England
The NFL Network crew mentioned that Matt Cassel has shown steady improvement (especially his pocket awareness). If he continues to perform well on a consistent basis, do you think Brady becomes expendable like our previous fan-favorite players like Bledsoe and Milloy, especially given the severity of his injury and past history to other players at that position within the NFL (e.g. Carson Palmer)? I don't think this scenario is far-fetched, as much as others may deny it, but I believe Pioli-Belichick would not hesitate to make this "unpopular" decision if it was best for the future of this franchise. Your thoughts?
A: Jon, I happen to think it is far-fetched. While there are no guarantees with Tom Bradys recovery, I just dont see a scenario where the Patriots keep Cassel and get rid of Brady. While Belichick-Pioli have made unpopular decisions in the past, I dont think this one is under any iota of consideration.
What do you think about Matt Cassel landing with the Texans? More was expected from them this year but their two quarterbacks seem to lose games for them. Andre Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in football and Cassel's brother is in the Astros organization. I could really seem him there with Gary Kubiak.
Leslie, Albuquerque, NM
A: Leslie, I remain a believer in Matt Schaub and Id be surprised if the Texans go in a different direction at this point. If Schaub stays healthy, and I know thats a big if, I think hes the type of quarterback you can build around and win with.
I read on SI Peter King's Monday Morning QB this following tidbit: "9. My Matt Cassel team of choice: Wherever Josh McDaniels coaches next year. If the Pats' offensive coordinator doesn't get a job, which would surprise me, then the quarterback-neediest team with cap room." Cassel is leaving via free-agency after the season, unless the Pats can keep him, but why is Josh McDaniels leaving too? He is young and the Pats need to keep him. If they both leave where do you think they could end up?
A: Christopher, I believe its only a matter of time until McDaniels is hired as a head coach. We could see as many as 12 openings this offseason, and one that potentially stands out to me is Detroit. The Lions could also be looking for a general manager and Id think Scott Pioli would be at the top of their radar. The 49ers are another team that comes to mind.
Hey Mike, in your Football Notes section of the Sunday paper you laid out the financial terms of Ty Law's deal with the Jets. If I read correctly the Jets guaranteed $183,230 and only have to pay him for seven-17ths of the veteran minimum of $830,000. Are you kidding me? My impression was that the Patriots didn't sign Law because his contract demands were too high. It now seems like there's something below the surface that prevented his signing. Surely Bill Belichick and Co. felt Ty could still be a contributor, right? What am I missing?
A: I dont have the answer, Andy, but Ill take a stab at it. I think it might have been specific to what type of role Law would have with each team. Perhaps Law liked the way he would be used in New York more than New England. The only other thing I can think of is locker room considerations (e.g. chemistry concerns, perhaps). When I saw the contract, I was surprised that Law returned to play for that. It seems like a bargain for the Jets.
I've noticed that that despite the reports that he would put on injured reserve, Adalius Thomas is still on the active roster. Does this indicate that the coaching staff believes he may still be able to play this year? Or is there some other less obvious explanation?
Phil, Sunnyvale, Calif.
A: It doesnt necessarily indicate that, Phil, as we just saw rookie cornerback Terrence Wheatley, after fracturing his left wrist Nov. 2, just land on injured reserve Nov. 17. Sometimes the delay is connected to the team not feeling it has another player to put on the 53-man roster at the time.
Mike, after a brilliant comeback and Cassel showing to me for the first time he can really shine as a quarterback, this was a tough loss. Cassel never even got a chance to get the ball back in his hands in overtime. I've never liked the way overtime is handled in the NFL - it seems to me the advantage is based upon luck, the coin toss. Which brings me to my question: How often does the team that wins the overtime toss end up winning the game and how often does that team win on their first possession? Am I alone in disliking this rule or could we see a change down the road?
Tom, Medford, Ore.
A: [Updated Thursday, 10:45 a.m.] Tom, teams winning the opening toss of overtime win the game on their first possession 29.5 percent of the time since the overtime rule was adopted in 1974. I believe the competition committee discusses this on a regular basis I brought it up in a Q & A session at one recent league meeting and there isnt enough consensus at this time for a change. If I recall, the feeling is that having a timed overtime period say for 10 minutes isnt good for the health and well-being of the players because of the potential of longer games. Ironically, the NFL is considering lengthening the season to 18 games, though. .
After the games, is there any communication between the referees and the coaches or players? Or more importantly, between the referees and the media? As fans, it would be nice to hear the rationale and the details behind some of the "iffy" calls (e.g. Mike Vrabel holding call.) Is there a forum that you know of that allows questions to be asked to referees? If not, could you speculate why?
A: Yes, there is Cegeon, and it comes in two forms. It is commonplace for most teams to request explanations from the NFL on specific penalties, or non-calls, in the days following a game. But those correspondences are generally kept confidential. As for media members, there are two designated pool reporters who can ask officials questions after games, but that set-up is not designed for penalties such as what was called on Mike Vrabel (a judgment call). It is designed for situations such as what happened in Pittsburgh this past weekend when a late touchdown was waved off. As for why the NFL doesnt allow for more free question-and-answer sessions with officials, I think the league likes it when the players and teams are the story, not the officials.
Why not go for two and try and end it? They had converted on one earlier in the game, certainly had the momentum in the fourth quarter and the Pats defense had not been real successful stopping Favre from driving down field all night. The bigger gamble for me would be losing the coin toss and giving the Jets the momentum back. Your thoughts?
A: At the time, I think the right play was to kick the extra point. The way I look at it, even though they lost the toss, they had the Jets in third-and-15 with a chance to get the ball back in good field position. They couldnt make the play and thus, they didnt deserve to win. I dont think it was about going for two, or kicking the extra point, but more about rising up in the critical situation to stop the Jets when they had the chance. I bet if we look at statistics of third-and-15 plays in the NFL this year, offenses probably have a 15 percent conversion rate, if that. Furthermore, Bill Belichick mentioned that the team felt it used its best 2-point play earlier in the game, and if they were going to go for it, they wanted to have a play they felt really good about. They obviously didnt. I cant quibble with that.
Not just drawing from last game when some passes were thrown behind him, but is there an injury to Ben Watson we don't know about? It seems I have yet to see him either take a ball away from a safety, or take a hit and stay on his feet. For such a physical specimen, why isn't he a more physical player?
A: I wondered the same thing Mike. Something doesnt look right to me in the passing game, and I wonder if confidence is an issue as well. I know Watson has played a lot of snaps in recent games, so I dont think hes injured, but maybe something is bothering him that we dont know about.
Hi Mike, after Thursdays game, I can't help but feel this season is all but over. The defensive struggles on that last drive, just once again painfully reminded me of the Super Bowl, and the inability of the defense to get off the field. And I can't help but feel these problems won't be fixable this year. My comment would be this: I think its time the Patriots shift direction on defense, and I think it starts with replacing Dean Pees.
I think for some reason, they have gotten away from unpredictable complicated schemes that used to drive opposing teams crazy, to the past three years where its has gotten much simpler and predictable for the Pats.
A: Im going to agree with one aspect and disagree with another here, John. I do think the defenses ability to close out some big games is troubling, and while I think Dean Pees is an excellent coach, it wouldnt surprise me if there is a change in the future. Sometimes players need to hear a different voice and as weve seen in recent years, Bill Belichick has made changes (e.g. Joel Collier out this year, Dom Capers in). But where Id disagree is that the Patriots have become simpler in their approach. I think the team runs a lot of different packages and is very diverse. In recent weeks, Ive seen things simplified a bit as injuries have struck. I think that has led them to limit what they do.
Mike, the Pats' defense was horrible in the first half. In the final two quarters they adjusted by blitzing constantly and rattling Farve. So what happened with that reasoning in overtime? The defense went back to trying to cover receivers (which they don't do well) and gave Farve all the time he needed to look around. Another coaching blunder?
Paul, Acworth, Ga.
A: Paul, I didnt see it that way in terms of the blitzing in the second half. What I saw was the same rush schemes but more Jets breakdowns on the offensive line that created a perception of more pressure. Some of the Patriots better defensive plays, such as a red-zone stop in the first half, came when they rushed just three players.
There seems to be a perception around the league that the Pats D is old and slow. Do you think this has more to do with the schemes they run as opposed to the players on the field and do you think the coaches have made enough adjustments to new players such as Mayo, Guyton and Meriweather?
A: Ronnie, I dont understand that perception, but it might be that the defensive line with its top four players in their prime seem like theyve been around forever. Ive also heard some NFL folks say that an older mike linebacker (in this case Tedy Bruschi) can make an entire defense look that way, and perhaps that fuels the perception. It also might be the big-and-physical style they play, which is different than the small-but-attacking Colts-like style. On the whole, I think referring to the Patriots defense as old and slow is overlooking the facts.
Hey Mike, I think this was a devastating loss, and not just in the way it ended. In terms of playoffs, the Patriots now have lost the upper-hand not only with the division, but now with multiple tie-breakers. They are currently behind every playoff contender and have the toughest remaining schedule within the division. I am thinking this loss will define the season itself in a nutshell: almost but just not enough. Don't get me wrong, I think they've played very well given the injuries, but do you think the Patriots still have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs given the current makeup of the AFC?
A: Absolutely, I can still see the Patriots making the playoffs Glenn. I think this game against the Dolphins is crucial, given all the tie-breaking procedures. If they lose Sunday in Miami to drop to 6-5, then Id say its a longer shot.
So if on the first play from scrimmage the Dolphins line up in the Wildcat with Pennington split wide, should one of the bigger hitters take his head off? I assume Pennington wouldn't be protected by the same rules as he is when he plays quarterback, because lined up on the outside, he's a receiver, right? So if a big guy like Vrabel lays a big hit on him, it's legal, right? If the Pats send someone over to harass Pennington every time he splits wide, how many times do they line up like that? It seems like that'd be an easy fix for the formation.
Rick, this exact question was asked to Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Monday. Here was his response: If you want to take that player out of there and go hit [Chad] Pennington you could do that, but I think most teams have tried to play with that extra player [in the running game] rather than give one up. Letting him block the guy, you are just giving up one for one on that. You could do it and a couple of teams have gone up and pushed him around a little bit but like I said, you are just giving up one for one on a guy that probably cant make a block out there.
Mike, I'm curious as to the tiebreaker scenario in the AFC East. If two teams have the same record, what is the next criteria? If the Pats and Jets end up tied at the top, who has the tiebreaker?
Mike, Blacksburg, Va.
A: Mike, this is a good time of year to review those tie-breakers. NFL.com details the top tie-breakers, which are: head to head record, winning percentage in the division, winning percentage in common games, winning percentage in AFC games, and strength of victory.
Hey Mike, this may seem somewhat of weird question. I see after every NFL game, members of both teams kneeling to pray at midfield. Do the players around the league have some kind of religious based organization they join? If so, do you know any members of the Patriots that might be part of this or other faith based groups?
Rick, Louisville, Ky.
A: Rick, I know Benjamin Watson, for example, is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Heath Evans and Chris Hanson are other players that have spoken openly about their faith.
With 6 games left, what do you think will be the toughest match up for the Pats. Personally, I think if they can improve their consistency (I know Cassel can hit the long bomb to Moss - I saw it in SF!) and avoid the self-inflicted mistakes, I think they can overcome most teams on the schedule - with the exception of the Cardinals. The combo of Kurt Warner/Boldin & Fitzgerald vs. the Pats secondary gives me fits. I can only hope AZ continues to have trouble with their East Coast trips. Your thoughts?
A: Not just because its the next game, but I think the toughest game will be the Dolphins, on the road. That Wildcat package is tough to handle. One thing to consider on that Cardinals game is that they might have already wrapped up the NFC West division and it could change the complexion of how they approach the game.