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Tainted with the tag

The big news in Boston sports yesterday was the Patriots trading Matt Cassell to the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Matt Cassell story last year was a great one.  He hadn't started a game since high school.  Brady gets hurt in the first game of the season.  Cassell comes in, plays very well, and leads the team to 11 wins.  They just missed the playoffs, but a weakened defense and not Cassell's play was the primary reason.

Cassell's contract was expiring.  If the Patriots just let him go, they'd receive a compensatory pick at the end of the third round of the draft.  So, they franchised Matt Cassell, guaranteeing him  $14.65M in salary for next season.  If the Patriots madea mistake, it was in not signing Cassell to a contract extension coming into 2008.  But, he played poorly in the preseason and almost got cut.  No one foresaw that he'd play as well as he did when givn the chance.

When the Patriots traded Cassell and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for their high second round pick (#34 overall), many fans howled.  How could the Patriots get so little for Cassell and Vrabel?  But, I think of the trade as Vrabel and that end of the third round compensatory pick for the #34 pick in the draft.  That's not bad.  #34 is where the best value is.  High talent, but not a big contract.  The Patriots have four picks in prime range: their late first round pick (#23), the Chiefs pick (#34), as well as a 2nd round pick from the Chargers and their own second round pick.  This should help them shore up their defense.

There was no way the Patriots were going to keep Cassell.  He had a chance for a multi-year contract with a lot of guaranteed money, which the Patriots couldn't afford to do for a backup.  So, they franchised him to maintain control.  This, however, lowered Cassell's trade value.  But, in the Patriots' mind, he wasn't anything other than that end of the third round pick, which is all they would have gotten had he departed without the franchise tag.

Money drives everything in the NFL.  Matt Cassell with a $14.65M contract isn't as valuable as just 'Matt Cassell'.  Maybe the Chiefs will sign him to a multi-year deal.  But, with the 'uncapped' season coming up in 2010, Cassell is guaranteed to make 110% of $14.65M in 2010.  It's going to take a big contract to tie him up for longer than that.

Good for Matt.  It's nice to see a great guy like him get the big bucks and a chance to lead a team going into the future.  Let's just hope that Brady is healthy for 2009.

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