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Could Matt Cassel Return to the Patriots?

Tom Brady's former backup is on the chopping block and the Chiefs' talks with Dwayne Bowe are heating up. Is it inevitable that Matt Cassel ends up back in Foxborough?

Matt Sullivan

On Thursday night, the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport broke a bit of news when he announced that the Kansas City Chiefs were aggressively pursuing a long-term extension with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. Bowe was fully expected to hit free agency after another tumultuous season forced the Chiefs to enlist a new regime in head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey. While nothing has been officially signed, it seems the Chiefs' new front office is comfortable with dropping a considerable amount of cash to retain Bowe's services for the foreseeable future.

Without even taking Bowe into account, the Chiefs have roughly $14 million available in regards to the salary cap. They've made it clear they also want to re-sign LT Branden Albert, who is reported to be seeking top-five left tackle money. It becomes pretty clear the Chiefs will need to make plenty of cuts at key positions to afford them some financial flexibility in free agency.

QB Matt Cassel is set to earn a little more than $9 million during the 2013 season. While cutting Cassel would only save the Chiefs around $6 million in regards to the cap, they're very likely to make the move for both financial and performance reasons. Cassel posted an abysmal 66.7 quarterback rating (QBR)--a hair under Mark Sanchez' 66.9.--which qualifies for worst in the league among starting quarterbacks. Cassel never became the quarterback the Chiefs thought they were getting when they shipped over their second-rounder to the New England Patriots for Cassel and OLB Mike Vrabel.

Rumors of current Tom Brady backup Ryan Mallett being traded to a quarterback-needy team during the offseason were accelerated after the 2013 quarterback class reared its ugly head, consisting of Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and everyone else. Reports surfaced naming the Cleveland Browns as one of Mallett's strongest suitors--including a high-round draft pick being placed on the table--but were stifled just as quickly as they began when the Browns backed off their perceived interest. But was it a ruse?

After all, Mallett's measurables made him a bona fide first-round talent in the days leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft. Character issues and a regretful press conference in which Mallett was pestered about a public intoxication charge in 2009 caused his draft stock to take a precipitous fall. Mallett dropped to the third-round, and the Patriots--seemingly not in the quarterback market at all--liked the high ceiling of the Arkansas product far too much to pass up.

It all combines to create a perfect storm for the transaction-savvy Patriots. A strong showing in the preseason could generate an even larger market for Mallett with teams currently hesitating to bid on the unknown. If a team is offering a second-round draft selection or better to pluck Mallett from the Patriots, I think they're forced to bite and cash in on tremendous value. With Mike Kafka as the only other quarterback to round out New England's current depth chart, they could take a very serious look if the Chiefs end up following through and send a struggling Matt Cassel packing.

Aside from the memorable 2008 season when Cassel stepped in for an ACL and MCL-less Tom Brady and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, Cassel represents more value to the Patriots than any other team. In being a New England draft selection that was groomed and developed in-house, Cassel's knowledge of Josh McDaniel's offensive schemes and terminology are second-to-none. The financial commitment to Cassel would be predictably low as several consecutive underperforming seasons have all but doomed Cassel out of a full-time starting job in the league.

An incredible amount of upside, ability and athletic prowess make a strong argument for the Patriots to retain Ryan Mallett; but if the coaching staff envisions several more productive seasons with Tom Brady under center, Mallett's value may never be higher than it is now while he sits on the bench and learns from one of the game's greatest. Matt Cassel may never emerge as a viable starter in the National Football League, but his ability to preserve the Patriots' playoff hopes if the unthinkable happens provides an undoubtedly secure option. It would be difficult to see Mallett dealt--especially tied to the hopes of being Brady's heir apparent--but collecting some valuable chips while being stuck with a consistently elite Brady? The quarterback of the future can wait.

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