Matt Cassel: The Humblest Who in Whoville

Either Matt Cassel’s being genuine, or he’s an idiot. Let’s dissect.

Cassel told ESPNEWS on Thursday:

“This is Tom’s team. The Patriots have been Tom’s team. He’s built that franchise up with his own two hands. He’s the guy, and he was the MVP the year before. I realize that. He’s been such a mentor for me that I would say, ‘No, there is no quarterback competition.’ But I’ve learned so many things from Tom, and hopefully it’ll help me in my career.”

He also told Comcast SportsNet:

“If the situation is what it is, then I would accept it and I would continue to do what I have done my entire career which is work hard, put my best foot forward and continue to work on the things that I need to and put out my best effort.”

Now, it’s been rumored that the Patriots would slap Cassel with the franchise tag in order to avoid losing him. But it’s a bit absurd to expect Cassel to revert to his clipboard-holding duties after leading the Pats to a 10-5 record while managing games in the way Tom Brady did en route to stardom.

That’s especially true when Brady’s tortured rehab is considered: there’s no guarantee that Brady will be ready when training camp starts or when the first weekend rolls around, and he’s definitely going to be more immobile after major knee surgery.

The Patriots know they have one healthy quarterback who acquitted himself nicely this year, and it isn’t the guy who led them to Super Bowls.

But Cassel’s also let them know, through these comments, that he’s going to be fine with at least sticking around for the early results on Brady’s knee. This gives the Pats the flexibility to keep either or both of the two for 2009, shop one of them before or during the season, or let the situation resolve itself in open competition.

For a franchise that avoids turmoil at every turn, that’s a wonderful thing; I highly doubt that Bill Belichick would have been eager to keep a player who demanded a starting spot, and that would have forced New England’s hand.

This lets them play all of the angles.

Now, Cassel’s also taking a risk here: it’s unlikely his stock is going to be higher after next season, with only playoff success likely to burnish it, and anything from injury to regression from the mean lurking to torpedo him. He’s got a great, cushy situation in New England, with a couple of wonderful receivers, the NFL’s sixth-best running game in 2008 and a stout defense that allowed him to win games by being a part of the team rather than the key cog.

But if he’s banking on Brady not being able to go, or being a less effective iteration of himself, Cassel could slide into that role by the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010, and there are few better situations for a quarterback than New England’s.

So Cassel gets to look humble with a shrewd move, and New England gets to keep all its options thanks to the supposed humility of its backup quarterback.

This, folks, is football politics at its finest.

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