Matt Cassel: Once A Back-Up, Always A Back-Up

By Shahab Khan
Matt Cassel Kansas City Chiefs Matt Leinart Oakland Raiders
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I am sure you have heard the saying, a tiger’s stripes never change. Today the saying once a back-up always a back-up rings true. The Kansas City Chiefs released former starter Matt Cassel opening the door for any other team to sign him. Rumors are adrift the Minnesota Vikings will sign him as a back-up to Christian Ponder or Joe Webb. The one time perennial second stringer at every level is going back to do what he does best:  hold a clipboard.

When the Chiefs acquired Cassel from the New England Patriots they thought they had the next Tom Brady in the fold. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way, and it surprises me that the franchise thought it would end up differently.

Cassel is the only quarterback in NFL history to start a game without making a start in college. At Southern California, he initially was the back-up to Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. Palmer graduated and then Cassel lost the job to former third stringer Matt Leinart. Leinart, himself, went on to win the trophy. Cassel only started one game at USC and that was as a half back. He only completed 20 passes and threw the ball only 33 times in all his four years in school. He couldn’t cut it as a starter in the then PAC 10.

He had a good pro day, got great reviews by his ex-offensive coordinator Norm Chow and was drafted in the seventh round by the Patriots to hold a clipboard. Cassel got lucky and had one good season as Brady went down with an injury. It wasn’t that he had a good season but it was more that he was surrounded by a good team. The Patriots gave him the franchise tag and paid $14 million to keep him around when Brady returned. They were smart adding the tag to Cassel as they inflated his value of and started a bidding war for his services. They eventually got a draft pick from the Chiefs and the rest is history.

He failed horribly with the Chiefs. The fans even cheered him when he got hurt. At the end of last season the writing was on the wall. He wouldn’t return.

As to why anyone would think that a career back-up could start every game and play every down for an average team in the NFL is above my intelligence. If you can’t start a single game in college with a team as loaded with talent like USC was in four years, why would anyone think you could lead a team in the pros? All the scouts, general managers and armchair fantasy owners missed on Cassel.

Now, he goes back to where he belongs. A back-up or even third stringer on a very good team. It seems fitting that he will end his career wearing a ball cap and holding a clipboard as he might have had a better pro career as a baseball player. The irony is that I am sure he will make a fine coach one day. As a starting quarterback it just didn’t work out.

Shahab Khan is a Football and NFL Columnist with Rant Sports

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