Perspective is defined as the faculty of seeing all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship. There hasn’t been much opportunity for perspective in the past two months for writers covering the Chiefs. On one hand, that’s a good thing. As a fan, I’d rather have my head coach focused on the draft than on hearing himself talk, even if that makes my job as a writer more difficult. On the other hand, lack of communication on any level with anyone garners the potential for epic misunderstandings, as was witnessed in the Brian Waters incident two days ago. Brian’s timing was bad, as was Todd Haley’s response. Both men walked away with egg on their face, and nobody other than Jason Whitlock (and possibly Wade Smith) came out any better off.
On Friday the Chiefs traded an undisclosed draft pick for Mike Vrabel. “Undisclosed draft pick” is the football equivalent of baseball’s “player to be named later”. Neither inspires a lot of confidence in the fan base, because a botched transaction can have damning consequences for several years. In the case of Vrabel the risk/reward potential was low. Thirty-three year old linebackers–even good ones–don’t command high draft picks in trades, so there was no concern in fans’ minds that the team had mortgaged the draft to get him here. At worst he’ll be a stopgap that provides veteran leadership, much as Donnie Edwards did in 2006. At best he’ll have another standout year like he did in 2007, when he singlehandedly posted more sacks than the 2008 Kansas City Chiefs. After last year’s travesty, I doubt there’s a Chiefs fan out there that wouldn’t give away even as high as a 4th round pick for a player that could guarantee at least four sacks.
I wasn’t wowed by the Vrabel move, but I wasn’t unhappy either. New GMs and coaches like to have at least a few players around from their last stop, and that’s what Vrabel represents. Of the players Scott Pioli could have brought with him, Vrabel was far from the bottom of my list. I would have rather seen Wes Welker, but I can wish that in one hand and shit in the other and I know which is gonna get full first.
Matt Cassel, on the other hand, was close to the bottom of my list. Not once have I been hesitant to say that I do not think Matt Cassel is a good quarterback. He won 11 games taking snaps from Dan Koppen and passing to Wes Welker and Randy Moss. The Patriots’ lineup could make Seneca Wallace look like Warren Moon. In Cassel’s case, they made him almost look like Tom Brady.
Without them, my guess is that he’ll look like the guy that couldn’t beat out Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
Still, he completed 63% of his passes and posted an 89.1 passer rating, and that was enough to catch the attention of teams like Detroit, who carries the #1 draft pick and has no greater need than quarterback. The Pats decided it didn’t behoove them to get nothing for something, so they took a calculated risk and put the franchise tag on a player who has 15 cumulative starts since graduating from high school, none of them in college. Casselmania swept the land, and pretty soon ESPN was posting articles about how Chase Patton (Chase Daniel’s backup at Missouri) might be the next benchwarmer to get drafted. Houston’s trade for Matt Schaub two years ago made anything possible, and with the demand for quarterbacks with winning records so high (remember that in 2008 a team intentionally started Jon Kitna because they had no better option), New England’s decision to invest a little less than a quarter of their payroll to a single position didn’t look entirely unreasonable to some.
That didn’t make me want him on my team any more.
On Saturday the Chiefs traded an undisclosed draft pick for Matt Cassel. The initial assumption was that the Chiefs had traded away their #3 pick for a player who is no more of a sure bet than the quarterback they already had. I very openly disclosed my frustration to any and all who would listen. While I think it’s woefully unlikely that any player selected with that #3 pick in this year’s draft will live up to the paycheck they receive, I think it’s far less likely that Cassel will earn his keep. I doubt Cassel so much that I was not even happy with the idea that my team had given up their #34 pick for him. That #34 pick could likely be used on Alex Mack, who is easily the best prospect at center since Kevin Mawae.
Here’s where perspective comes into play. I couldn’t see all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship, because not all the data was immediately available. Cassel alone for the #34 pick would have been a bad trade. Add a Pro Bowl linebacker to the mix, however, and the story is different. Vrabel alone isn’t worth the #34 pick, but Cassel is our player to be named later. Because his playing time has been so limited, my impression of him could be sorely mistaken. The relevant data on Cassel isn’t available because nobody has seen him face true adversity. When your only experience beyond high school is chucking the rock to Moss and Welker, the data is skewed. It could very well turn out that Cassel is every bit as good as his 2008 QB rating. I hope so. I’d rather be wrong than right. It would certainly make all those late Sunday night film breakdowns a lot more palatable.
But here’s the beautiful part of this transaction: it doesn’t matter. If Matt Cassel turns out to be the next David Carr, Kansas City already has a potential replacement in Tyler Thigpen and a suitable stopgap in Quinn Gray. Nothing is guaranteed in football, but it’s very likely that they’ll get two or three good years out of Mike Vrabel, to say nothing of the sorely needed veteran leadership he provides in the absence of Donnie Edwards and Pat Surtain. Second round picks (Brandon Flowers notwithstanding) usually take at least a year or two to blossom, so it’s fair to say that the team is getting the same level of production from Vrabel that could reasonably be expected of a 2nd round prospect over the course of his first contract, only without the delayed gratification. In essence, Cassel is a freebie.
Besides, the Chiefs haven’t exactly fared well in recent years with their 2nd round picks. Flowers turned out to be a steal, but the jury is still very much out on Turk McBride and Bernard Pollard. Prior to Herm Edwards’ reign, it was even uglier: Junior Siavii, Kris Wilson, Kawika Mitchell, Eddie Freeman, William Bartee, Mike Cloud, Kevin Lockett, Darren Mickell, Matt Blundin, Joe Valerio, and Mike Elkins round out the rest of the last two decades, with Tim Grunhard and Reggie Tongue as the only bright spots. Quite frankly, even one productive year from Mike Vrabel would look like a steal in comparison to most of those draft day blunders.
I have a lot of hope in Cassel, but very little faith. I see a signal caller with very poor accuracy more than ten yards past the line of scrimmage who is now paired with a head coach who likes to stretch the field. I see a guy who clutches the ball so long that even Matt Light can’t keep pass rushers off of him. Chan Gailey may be a miracle man, but I’ll bet he’d love it if, just once, a GM wouldn’t test his mojo quite so much.
As fans, our saving grace in the matter is that neither Scott Pioli nor Todd Haley marries themselves to their players. Pioli and Bill Belichick traded away (then) two-time Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe in favor of a skinny kid taken with a compensatory late round pick who fought for playing time with Drew Henson in college. Haley, likewise, benched a 1st round selection who was meant to be the future of the franchise for a washed up has-been who couldn’t fend off Eli Manning back when Eli sucked. If Cassel comes in and demonstrates that he can’t play, neither one will blink twice at the prospect of putting a clipboard in his hands.
And when Mike Vrabel shames Derrick Johnson into finally living up to his potential, it won’t matter one bit whether or not Cassel panned out. How’s that for perspective?