Matt Cassel Became a Very Rich Man by Losing to the Jets
Unless you prominently work for one of the major oil companies, chances are that -- especially in this economy -- you might look at Matt Cassel's 2008 salary of $520k and consider him rich as it is. To which I say: Yes, but, with Obama's tax plan, the wealthy will actually have to pay more, if you can believe that. Ahhhh, the plight of the physically gifted and financially secure.
So it wouldn't surprise me if, upon completing the game-tying, last-second touchdown pass to Randy Moss last night, Cassel thought not of the impressive comeback he'd just led, but of the thirsty teams who will line up in 2009 to make him something he's not accustomed to being -- a legitimate starter.
Oh, and let's not forget obscenely rich.
Because Cassel made himself a name last night, even in a loss. And it couldn't have come at a better time, as his rookie contract with the Pats expires this year. But he's not the first to recently parlay a limited starting sample size into a big-money deal. The success rate? A little spotty. Where might Cassel go, and for how much? And how will we look back on the deal years from now?
Three recent examples of the American dream:
Matt Schaub - Backing up Mike Vick, Schaub had a pre-money career line of 84-for-161 for 1,033 yards, six touchdowns, and six interceptions. Decent enough, but hardly savior-worthy. He was also 1-5 in the games he threw more than 10 passes in. That didn't stop the Texans from sending a pair of second-rounders to Atlanta for the right to pay him a six-year, $48 million deal with $7 million guaranteed to not be David Carr. His post-money career line thus far? He's 346-for-516 for 4,003 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions in 18 games. The Texans are 7-9 in games he's thrown over 10 passes.
A.J. Feeley - Backing up Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia in 2002, Feeley got a chance to step in when McNabb suffered a rare injury at the end of the year. Just wanting him to keep the Eagles' playoff hopes afloat, Feeley had a pre-money line of 83-for-151 for 994 yards, five touchdowns, and five interceptions. In those five starts, he went 4-1. Though he didn't see a snap in 2003, the Dolphins liked enough of that late run to trade a second-round pick for him in 2004 along with giving him a five-year, $18 million deal to start (a lot of money back then). That year, his post-money line was 191-for-356 for 1,893 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. The Dolphins only went 4-12 that year, including 3-7 with Feeley under center. He was promptly moved back where he belongs on the depth chart, then shipped to San Diego and again to Philadelphia.
Derek Anderson - We all know this story. Anderson was average in limited time as a rookie, but exploded onto the scene after entering the season as a backup last year. The pre-money line in his first two years was 364-for-644 for 4,580 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions in 20 games, with an 11-9 record. The Browns paid him $24 million over three years with $14.5 million guaranteed last offseason. And, of course, Anderson is no longer starting after throwing up (apt term) a 2008 post-money line of 121-for-243 for 1,454 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions in eight games.
Two other slightly relevant names
After a little more than a season as the starter, the Cowboys gave Tony Romo a six-year, $67.4 million deal with an amazing $30 million in guarantees, as well as an insufferable marketing crew who have inexplicably turned him into a celebrity. Say what you want about Romo, one of the most divisive players in the league, but you have to admit that the Cowboys' investment on this one hasn't turned out too badly yet.
Likewise, after one year as a starter (though many more as a backup), the Jaguars decided this past offseason to give David Garrard six years at $60 million, with $18 million guaranteed. Jacksonville as a team has been on the decline, but Garrard's passing totals are on pace with his career averages.
The difference in these two players is a bigger sample size. Garrard was a backup in Jacksonville for five years before taking over as a starter, and Romo was in Dallas for two before taking over. Though their starting experience wasn't much larger than the three above, their teams had better ideas of the types of investments they were making in those players.
What does it mean for Cassel?
Though PFT suggests that the Pats might franchise Cassel and then attempt to trade him to a quarterback-hungry team in the offseason, I don't see it happening, even given the shrewd franchise we're dealing with.
And, rest assured, if Cassel hits free agency there are going to be a lot of teams interested. The Lions, Jets, 49ers, Vikings, Rams, and Buccaneers will almost assuredly be in the market for a top signal-caller, and there are likely to be a few others that emerge between now and then, as well.
This high demand, paired with a rising salary cap, growing distrust of rookie quarterbacks, lack of other realistic options, and continued disdain for free agent frugality will lead to Cassel getting a deal somewhere in the market of six years and $70 million, with $25 million guaranteed.
Yeah, that's a lot of money, but, as is usually the case with NFL contracts, it's the guaranteed money that matters, and $25 million is actually right in line with what the second tier of NFL stars receive; elite players are now going for $30-plus million.
Will it be worth it? Well, if you look at the examples provided, no. But that's hardly a reason to write off young Cassel just yet. The fact that he's getting better as the season goes on is important; Anderson, for instance, began to crumble as teams got game film on him.
My prediction? I think Cassel will develop into an above-average player, yet will hardly become star material. Still, the he chooses to sign with will have a better team to root for because of his presence. But that won't stop what I imagine will be numerous complaints that said team "overpaid" for Cassel, even though "overpaying" in an economic system where market values are constantly in flux is a flawed concept, anyway.
But, in the end, it probably won't matter to Cassel -- he'll remember this year's salary like we remember our days at the lemonade stand. And he'll even have some leftover cash to stow away after those pricey taxes.