The Cassel Trade and Kansas City Odds for the Super Bowl
by Trevor Whenham - 03/02/2009
Call the cops, there has been a theft. The Kansas City Chiefs have benefited from one of the biggest sweetheart deals in recent NFL history. They got a very good quarterback, though one without a long history of proven success. They also got an aging linebacker who is still useful, and will be a good influence in the locker room. Both players are at least as good as you would hope to get with a second round pick, and both can step right in and be starters, so the fact that Chiefs got both for a single second round pick is almost unbelievable.
Dealing for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel makes all the sense in the world for the Chiefs, but does it make sense for the Patriots? From a business perspective they really had no choice. They signed running back Fred Taylor early in free agency, and that put them right at the salary cap. They needed some flexibility to fill some gaps, so something had to be done. Cassel had been franchised, so he would cost more than $14 million this year. Vrabel was set to earn more than $3 million. This move gives the Pats $18 million in cap flexibility. Moving the players had to be done, but the issue is whether New England got enough in return for them. There are all sorts of theories out there - the Pats preferred a second round pick to a first rounder because good players can be found cheaper, Cassel was unattractive because of his franchise tag and his likely contract demands, and so on. Still, at least one deal was rumored to be on the table including a first round pick - Denver's. The best and most likely theory is that Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli made the deal because they are good friends, and because the deal could be made with a minimum of effort or problems. That's probably not enough to appease New England fans. It shouldn't be.
Whatever the reasoning behind the deal, one thing is clear - the public is giddy about it. Before the deal the Chiefs were at 100/1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Right after the deal went down, the price dropped all the way to 40/1. A drop of that much is, of course, ridiculous. The Chiefs were a long, long way from the Super Bowl, and this only changes that a little bit. The question, though, is what kind of impact this deal can reasonably have. Here's a look:
Cassel the QB - It's well known by now that Cassel hadn't started a game since high school before this season. His play last year, though, made it pretty clear that was irrelevant. He might not have played, but he was surrounded by the best of learning environments - USC is a quarterback factory, and there are worse ways to learn that shadowing the best quarterback in the NFL (Tom Brady). The education paid off, too. After being thrown into the fire last year, he ended up with an 11-5 record. Not too shabby. There are statistical signs of progress as well - after throwing seven interceptions and just seven touchdowns in his first nine games he settled down and threw 14 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions after that. He threw the ninth most passes in the league (516), but no one ahead of him threw fewer than his 11 interceptions. You can't even argue that Cassel was successful because he had a great team around him. He certainly had the receivers to help him, and his running game was solid, but he was sacked more than any other quarterback in the league. The Chiefs are maligned for their line play, but they were better at protecting their QB than New England, and Kansas City is likely to get some significant offensive line help in the draft or through free agency. In short, Cassel showed the ability to play well, and some statistical signs that it wasn't just a fluke like Scott Mitchell or the like.
The Chiefs - This is where it gets more difficult. On one hand, the Chiefs are unquestionably getting an upgrade at quarterback - Cassel is better than Tyler Thigpen and significantly better than Brodie Croyle. The problem, though, is that there are all sorts of questions about the talent that Kansas City has to surround Cassel with. The pieces are there in many spots, they just aren't happy - Larry Johnson and Tony Gonzalez both want out. Dwayne Bowe is a solid receiver as the No. 1 option, but the team lacks depth there. They also severely lack depth on the offensive line. Scott Pioli is the master of finding talent at cut-rate prices, but he has his work cut out for him this time.
Despite the talent issues, the Chiefs have one thing going for them - new coach Todd Haley. Haley has never been a head coach, but his preferred style of free wheeling offense is a good fit for Cassel. At the very least, Haley won't get in Cassel's way, and he will do everything he can to help him succeed.
The bottom line - To put it bluntly, the Chiefs are not a Super Bowl team. Few teams are after winning just two games the previous year, especially when two games is all they really deserved to win. I have seen predictions that Cassel will help the team win between three and five more games next year. That would be great, and isn't impossible by any means, but there aren't many Super Bowl winners that have gone 7-9 in the regular season. By your future tickets on the Chiefs if you are a fan and it makes you happy, but the price would have to be closer to 400/1 than 40/1 before it represented real value.