Matt Cassel Rewarded for Perseverance, Performance

normal_matt_cassel1In the opinion of this life-long Patriots fan, Matt Cassel was the most intriguing story of the 2008-09 NFL season. 

Cassel, in the last year of his contract, at 27 years old, was given the keys to a Patriots’ high-performance offense that rewrote the NFL records books the previous season.  Here is what I wrote about Cassel’s make-or-break opportunity before his first NFL start against the Jets:

Adding to the pressure of replacing the NFL’s best field general since Joe Montana, Cassel’s performance this season could make or break his NFL career.  A strong season could land Cassel a starting job with another team in the quarterback-poor NFL and the accompanying multi-million dollar contract… A poor season could relegate Cassel to clipboard holder or even his release from the Patriots, which many speculated would occur after his preseason performance.

Cassel took advantage of his opportunity.  After he gained a feel for the game and his pocket awareness improved, Cassel displayed the talent that made him a top recruit coming out of high school (14 TD passes against only 4 interceptions in his last 8 games).  His ability was on full display when he threw for 3 TDs and 345 yards against the Arizona Cardinals. Matt Leinart, whom Cassel backed up at USC, only entered the game for Cardinals for mop-up duty.

casselNow Cassel has finally cashed in on last year’s success.  According to ESPN’s John Clayton, Cassel has signed a 6-year, $63 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.  Since NFL contracts are not guaranteed, the key figures are the $28 million that Cassel is guaranteed, and the $40.5 million that he’ll earn in the first 3 years of the contract.

The Cassel story is not only about the value of perseverance, preparation and opportunity.  Cassel’s success shed some light upon the changing culture of sports, sports business and sports fans.  As I wrote last season, I heard more people say “I wish I was Matt Cassel’s agent” than “I wish I was Matt Cassel,” quarterbacking the Patriots.  That was indicative of the attitude of today’s sports fans, who seek more than the scores, the betting lines and the injury reports.  Fans are interested in contracts, the player’s agents and even the league’s labor relations. 

This deeper interest in the business of sports enhances, but does not displace, a time-honored interest in the underdog.  Last year Matt Cassel was the ultimate underdog.  This season he is the face of the Kansas City Chiefs and a starting quarterback in the NFL with the contract to prove it.

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