Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cassel, Vrabel

So, the inevitable trade came, as we all knew that it would, and Matt Cassell has finished the New England Patriots portion of his career.

Cassel was acquired in the 7th round of the 2005 draft, the 230th overall selection. After three years backing up Tom Brady, he was thrust into action early in the first quarter of the first game of the 2008 season and led the team to an 11-5 record. (They missed the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, but the offensive shortcomings were early in the year, and the defensive shortcomings were greater and longer lasting. Matt Cassel did not prevent them from reaching the playoffs. The 2001 team that won the Super Bowl was the 2nd seed in the AFC with an 11-5 record, and a young QB with worse statistics.)

The Patriots acquired Mike Vrabel as a free agent during their spectacular 2000-2001 off-season, and he was a key component of the four Super Bowl teams. He's a fan favorite, and the news that he was traded preceded the news of Cassel's involvement by nearly a day, and the news was fairly shocking. But here's the thing - as great a player as he's been, he's a 34 year-old linebacker who looks to have lost a step that he couldn't afford to lose, and who would have cost the team fairly significant cap space. There are now reports trickling out that, had he not been included in the trade, he would have been released. Those reports would seem to be credible, including the fact that by trading him, he gets paid, rather than taking his chances on the open market.

On the other hand, it is easy to see why Scott Pioli would want to take Vrabel. He's taking over an organization that needs a complete overhaul, and a roster with more youth than experience. Vrabel should provide exactly the kind of veteran influence that can help a team, providing value exceeding his on-the-field performance value.

So the Patriots took a player that they were ready to release, and a player that, if Tom Brady is healthy, won't play, and turned them into the 34th pick in the 2009 draft. Patriot fans should be happy with that, and some are. But there's a touch of disappointment, too. Certainly, many are disappointed that Vrabel is gone. And there are many others that had visions of greater compensation for Cassel. I expect that one or more teams are going to spend higher draft picks than the 34th on quarterbacks that won't play as well as Matt Cassel will. But if that's the market, than that's the market. Obviously, the Patriots couldn't be spending that much money on a backup quarterback, so they needed to move him. They got a valuable draft pick, while opening significant salary cap room to improve the team at other positions where the need is greater. While it would have been nice to get more, you cannot complain that it wasn't a good trade - it was.

Oh, and for all of the fans and pundits throwing out the "Scott Mitchell" comparison, give it a rest. Right now. Seriously.

Mitchell started 7 games for the Dolphins in 1993, and went 3-4, including losses in the last three to knock them out of the division championship that appeared to be almost locked up three weeks earlier. Cassel started slow and saw his performance increase with his playing time, while leading his team to an 11-5 record.

  • Cassel has twice as many starts* as Mitchell.

  • Cassel has been significantly more accurate (63.2% completion rate) than Mitchell was (57.1%)

  • Cassel has thrown over twice as many passes for over twice as much yardage as Mitchell had.

  • Cassel has a much better TD/INT ratio (21/11) than Mitchell had (12/8).

  • Mitchell saw his QB rating tank, from 100.63 in his first four games to 69.025 in his last four. Cassel's went up from 83.4 in his first eight to 94.35 in his last eight.

Other than the fact that both were previously unheralded backups replacing superstars and then moving on, Mitchell really isn't a good comp for Cassel. Cassel spent three years learning the system, and improved weekly when given the opportunity to play. Yes, the Patriots have substantial offensive talent, but I saw Matt Cassel do everything that I want a Quarterback to do. He can make all of the throws, he can protect the ball, read the defense, move around in the pocket, take yardage on foot when it's there - I expect him to have a successful NFL career, and be a top-half of the NFL QB.

* - Each entered a game early that they did not start, but played most of the game. I've just counted those as starts.

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