Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

23 Feb 2009

ESPN INSIDER: Pats Shouldn't Overestimate Cassel

This week's feature for ESPN takes a look at Matt Cassel and points out that the Patriots have another alternative to Tom Brady: Kevin O'Connell. You also might note a piece on speed scores at ESPN today; that one will be re-run over here on FO later in the week.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 23 Feb 2009

4 comments, Last at 25 Feb 2009, 1:23am by Rich Conley


by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 02/23/2009 - 8:01pm

Interesting article. I agree with it, as far as determining the objective value, if you will, of Cassel versus O'Connell, both in the long and short term.

However, the problem facing the Pats is timing and the surrounding context. I think the combination of Brady's injury, Cassel's good performance, O'Connell's inexperience, and the upcoming changes in the league financial and overall economic environments all factor into the Cassel decision.

First, the combination of the economic climate and the upcoming changes due to the CBA expiration has resulted in a "ticking clock" from the Pats perspective. Pats are "haves" when it comes to revenue, but not income (because of stadium debt). Kraft has always said that he would never have become an owner without the salary cap parameters, because without it, the financial costs of fielding a potential championship team would not be known. I'm guessing Kraft won't spend with Snyder and Jones in an uncapped environment. Given all this, I think the Pats feel it's a something of a "now or never" situation for Super Bowl shots with the current team.

Given the shorter term goals, the Pats are unwilling to risk losing the first few games of the season if Brady is not ready to go. Cassel has faced NFL competition ("live bullets", in Belichick's words) and succeeded and O'Connell has not. O'Connell's learning curve would coincide with exactly the games that the Pats may need a sub for Brady. Oh, and this is a case where the "inferior AFC East competition" doesn't matter when evaluating Cassel's ability: that's exactly who the Pats NEED to beat if Brady's out.

Finally, another financial climate reason: Cassel's contract is big, but for only one year, so no long term committments. In addition, I think (but I'm not sure), that the rules of the uncapped year (2010) means that Cassel would no longer be an unrestriced free agent, so the Pats essentially have his rights for 2 years. I'm not sure about that, though, and that's not as big a consideration in my mind.

What are the consequences of paying Cassel this much? No other big FA signings and less room to upgrade contracts for guys like Wilfork to prevent them from hitting free agency. Their biggest need is youth on defense, which means draft, not FA's, so I think that's not a big loss. As to the long term stuff with guys like Wilfork, well, that one's gonna hurt, just like the Asante Samuel situation did. However, because of the financial environment described above, it's not clear how much locking up the Krafts would be willing to do anyway.

All of the above discusses the situation where the Pats keep Cassel, which people keep describing as the "worst case". As a fan, I think that's the best case. We get one more shot at the title before it all (potentially) goes to hell. Known good (but limited) QB, is better than unknown QB with potential in this situation.

With respect to trading Cassel, I think what the Pats will be willing to take in trade will depend on how ready they think Brady is. I think they'll be willing to let Cassel go for lesser value if Brady is really ready (oh to be a fly on the wall...) in which case the franchise tag is moot.

One last comment on the league financial climate: Somebody at the National Football Post, I think, pointed out that almost none of the lower coaching staff positions are contracted past 2010, so teams may be preparing for a work stoppage. It's this type of uncertainty that will affect the Pats more than the other "haves" because the Krafts are more conservative business wise. In fact, it was that uncertainty surrounding the CBA extension in 2006 that I think ultimately contributed to Samuel and Deion Branch leaving. They weren't going to make committments until they knew the CBA was going to be extended.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 1:23am

"It's this type of uncertainty that will affect the Pats more than the other "haves" because the Krafts are more conservative business wise."

I'm not so sure I agree with that. Over the last couple of years Kraft has spent a fortune spinning businesses off the patriots name. The Patriots Place shopping center is a HUGE revenue generator, and the team, despite the financial issues the country is facing, is in better shape than it has ever been.

by Megamanic (not verified) :: Mon, 02/23/2009 - 9:00pm

Er, AFC West 4 downs? It's apparent;y been up on ESPN for a week. Can us cheapskates get a look now? :)

Ironically the CAPTCHA includes the word "neglect"

by g mack (not verified) :: Wed, 02/25/2009 - 12:11am

The "rap" you placed on Cassel, that his record was suspect when the defenses he faced are considered could equally be made of a "legitimate" starter named Rivers.

Check out the "Ds" he played against. Not a legitimate contender in the bunch again except for Pittsburgh. Does that mean that Rivers is equally overrated. The average rank of the defenses faced by Rivers was 20. Pretty far below the standard expected mean of 16.5.

On the flipside if a QB faced a slew of superior defenses, such as Roethlisberger facing a defenses with an average ranking of 10. Six plus above the mean. Does this mean that Ben's stats should be asterisked up.

In fact, where is FO's "adjusted for the defenses faced QB rankings"?