The New England Patriots traded quarterback Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs for an early, second-round draft pick this weekend. If you listen to some of the chattering class of reporters/analysts, this is apparently because Bill Belichick became a non-competitive idiot overnight and wouldn't accept better trade offers.
There are a lot of people around the NFL who speak with such certainty on subjects that they can make anything sound believable. Pull it off long enough and you can make a good buck doing it.
Then there's logic, reason and common sense.
In this case you can believe one of two scenarios:
1. Someone's anonymous source alleging that Belichick, for inexplicable reasons, turned down superior deals. (It might be worth considering someone's track record with anonymous sources when considering this scenario.)
2. Belchick's decade-in-the-making reputation as the best personnel man in football.
Is anyone out there buying No. 1?
There's no question the news Cassel and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel were worth only the 34th pick in the draft was a stunner.
Cassel, after all, threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions as he led the Patriots to an 11-5 record last season.
He looked like at least an upper-half-of-the-league quarterback. It's why when the deal with Kansas City first broke, many assumed it was for the Chiefs' first- round selection, the third pick overall.
The way NFL front offices value players, picks and cap space is different than the way fantasy football-mad fans do.
The reality is the market for Cassel was limited to begin with and shrunk when teams considered his likely asking price in a contract extension.
The "Belichick-got-conned" debate centers on the interest of those other teams, most notably Denver.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen cited an unnamed source who said that the Broncos were willing to give up the 12th pick overall for Cassel. Turning it down, according to Mortensen, "defies logic" and suggests Belichick got played.
Anything's possible, but it probably defies logic because the report isn't logical. You don't need any sources to know that if that was a serious offer, then Belichick, perhaps the most competitive person in the NFL, would've taken it.
He's not turning down a pick 22 spots higher in the draft and the chance to keep Vrabel. Even if he didn't want to spend the money a high pick commands, he could've traded it for two picks worth more than just the 34th.
Belichick has plenty of critics, but no one thinks he's a fool.
Whether it was concern about Cassel's ability or signability, that Denver trade (and others involving multiple teams) might've been discussed, but couldn't have been on the table. Belichick took the best deal available.
There are two telling facts that suggest it was actually the only one.
First is that Cassel did not agree to a long-term contract before being sent to Kansas City. Cassel is signed for just one year at $14.65 million. The logical question is if he wasn't willing to come to pre-trade terms with the Chiefs, why assume he would have with any other team?
The pending contract negotiation is a huge risk for the Chiefs. New general manager Scott Pioli was Belichick's longtime, right-hand man in New England, so he likes Cassel's ability and was willing to take it.
It might cost him $80 million long term, though. Cassel is 27 and until Tom Brady went down with an injury, Cassel hadn't started a game since high school. With an unexpected opportunity to set his family up for life, he's going to try to milk every last penny out of this contract.
That's a lot of trust and a lot of cap space wrapped up in a guy the Pats almost cut last preseason.
The second fact is that Vrabel was thrown in. If there was even a second offer, Belichick would've had the upper hand and demanded another pick from Kansas City, even if it was just a late-round selection.
Instead, Pioli knew Belichick had no other options and secured the extra, throw-in value – in this case a slowing, but still viable, linebacker.
The deal was a good gamble by Pioli. While not everything he hoped for, it was a no-lose one for Belichick.
There was just no way to ease concerns around the league about Cassel.
Despite the big numbers, he had plenty of shaky games. He took many snaps out of the shotgun, which won't work for every offense. He was aided by a good offensive line, two pro bowl wide receivers in Randy Moss and Wes Welker and, of course, the leadership of Belichick.
You give Cassel a different supporting cast, a different coach and the challenge of dealing with a losing culture, is he the same quarterback? Is anyone?
That's why New England took what Kansas City offered. Logic says it was all that was available.
Unless, when it comes to Bill Belichick's intelligence, you want to believe unknown sources over history and common sense.
- Bill Belichick