Would you believe Matt Cassel is the third-highest paid quarterback in football this season? Cassel is due to make $11.75 million of the $63 million contract ($28 million guaranteed) he signed a year ago. Cassel obviously did not live up to his paycheck in Year One with the Chiefs. He didn’t secure the full trust of Todd Haley during training camp, got hurt early in the regular season, looked anything but confident when playing from behind and even got benched for Brodie Croyle at one point.
Part of the problem was that Haley had fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey less than two weeks before the season. And the Chiefs had no weapons in the passing game. Cassel finished the year with 16 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 42 sacks and a completion percentage of 55. But in a recent phone interview with ESPN, Haley made a very valid point about his quarterback.
“We had 50-plus drops last season,” Haley said. “If those don’t happen, people would look at Cassel differently … If we get the improved offensive play around him that we hope to, I think people will feel better about Matt Cassel.”
Improved offensive line play is inevitable. Newly re-acquired center Casey Wiegmann is old but still a huge step up from Rudy Niswanger. Mike Goff was a major liability at right guard and has been replaced by underrated ex-Colt Ryan Lilja. A stable interior offensive line should not only provide a workable pocket, but also allow the Chiefs to run inside – which opens up play action passing – and aid the young offensive tackles.
Still, Cassel must get better at throwing with bodies around him. If he can do that, he’ll read the field and anticipate passing lanes (two things he didn’t do well in ’09). He’ll have a great teacher in new offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss. Weiss’s system is essentially the same as the one Cassel played in under Josh McDaniels in New England.
That comfort and familiarity will be critical for the quarterback in 2010. If Cassel thrives, the Chiefs have their building block. If he still doesn’t perform, the Chiefs have a problem.
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