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I know what you are thinking. A starting quarterback and our defensive leader for a measly second round pick? Isn’t Matt Cassel less of a risk to a bad team than taking an unproven starter in the first round? What is Bill Belichick thinking turning down a top 15 pick from Denver and instead making a deal with an old pal?
Fair questions sure enough. Instead of taking a Madden ’09 GM approach to the Patriots-Chiefs trade earlier this week and looking at what could have been in hindsight, it’s important to look broadly at the move. The Patriots made the best deal that made the most financial sense at the time it was offered.
A year ago, Matt Cassel was worthless. At the end of the pre-season it was widely believed he would be cut. After a great year replacing Tom Brady, the Patriots were able to acquire a high second round pick for a guy who hadn’t started a game since high school. There is no guarantee that Cassel will continue to blossom as a star quarterback, but it’s fair to say he has a much better shot than Mark Sanchez or Matt Stafford. That said, there just wasn’t much of a market out there willing to give up much for Cassel; once the Vikings acquired Sage Rosenfels, there just weren’t many teams offering any sort of value for a starting quarterback. Enter Scott Pioli and the Chiefs.
Reports out there say the Patriots could have acquired the No. 12 pick overall in a three team deal involving the Broncos and Buccaneers, with Cassel ending up with Josh McDaniels in Denver. There’s a lot of chatter in the blogosphere that Belichick either dropped the ball or decided to give his former colleague two of our best assets for below market value. However, there’s no conclusive evidence that the deal was actually offered and so the Patriots would have risked losing a guaranteed trading partner in Kansas City if they would have said no to Pioli and went after the three team deal. What’s forgotten in this line of thinking is the mindset of the Patriots. My belief is that Belichick feels he can get the same talent at No. 23 than he can at No. 12 for a lot less money. Yes, the Patriots drafted Jerod Mayo at No. 10 last year but every class is different and now the Patriots have four picks in the first 58 and can either trade them for future picks or stock up on young talent. The Patriots are in great position to pick up quality defensive players and not get stuck in paying the large signing bonus that comes along with a top 15 pick.
Yes, the hardest part of the deal to understand is the inclusion of Mike Vrabel. Would I rather have seen the Patriots trade Cassel for an early third round pick and keep Vrabel? Yes, I probably would have. However, the Patriots over the years have shown they are all about the business and as fans we have to, again, take a step back and look at the big picture. Mike Vrabel was entering a contract year and saved the Patriots about $3 million on the cap. He had an off year in 2008 and is 33 years old. He is very important to the team chemistry and was one of the few players left from all three Super Bowls. There is no doubt he will be very difficult to replace but the Pats have a lot of young options at the position and could still make a move in free agency (Jason Taylor was just released by the Redskins today). His inclusion was surprising but I’m sure it was necessary to get the deal done.
The sky isn’t falling on Foxboro now that Mike Vrabel has moved on and we’re stuck with Kevin O’Connell as the backup quarterback. The inclusion of Vrabel may have been the only way the deal got done and there doesn’t seem to have been any similar offers ON THE TABLE at that time. The more time that passed the more the risk increased for the Patriots that they would be stuck with nearly $30 million locked up in two players. For a few years now we’ve been grumbling that the Patriots defense needed to get younger and now they have a chance to build from the draft with young studs at linebacker. In Bill I trust that he knows what he’s doing.