February 06, 2009
The Patriots have designated Tom Brady's understudy, Matt Cassel, as their franchise player. The organization is now on the hook to pay Cassel $14.65 million (the average yearly pay of the top five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league) next year on a one-year deal.
What's it mean, other than Matt Cassel can now call up his former USC teammate Matt Leinart and call him "poormouth"? Not much, really. It means that one way or another, Cassel's getting paid, but what his 2009 football season will look like is still very much up in the air. Here are the most likely scenarios:
1) Cassel could be traded. If your favorite team is in need of a quarterback, Matt Cassel's still available. Teams can call up the Patriots and make them an offer just as they could before Cassel got the franchise tag. Any team that did this would need Cassel to agree to a new contract that doesn't pay him anywhere near $14.65 million per season.
2) Another team can still sign him as a free agent. Cassel will still be free to negotiate a free-agent contract with another team, but once he agrees to terms, the Patriots would have the right to match the offer and keep Cassel if they wanted. Alternatively, they could let Cassel walk, and the team who signed him would have to give them two first-round draft picks.
That one, I see as unlikely. If they can avoid it, they Patriots would rather not sign Cassel to a lucrative long-term deal because they have this Tom Brady character you may have heard about. And any team who wanted Cassel that badly could probably get him from the Patriots for a price cheaper than two first-round picks.
3) Cassel can just take the $14.65 million and chill. If Tom Brady's knee isn't ready for the 2009 season, Cassel might have to play for a while. If Handsome Tom's knee is good to go, Cassel makes a lot of money for doing absolutely nothing.
All of it, really, depends on Brady's knee. Slapping the franchise tag on Cassel essentially means that now the Patriots can kick back and wait to see if Brady's knee will recover in time for the '09 season without having to worry about losing Matt Cassel and getting nothing back in return. The risk they run is having to pay Cassel the $14.65 million for being a backup.
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