LONGSHOTS: In Bill we still trust?
by Dave Long
Well, the deal putting an end to what the Patriots should or would do at the quarterback position came down during the weekend. That’s when not-so-old friend Scott Pioli made his first deal as head man in KC by getting Matt Cassel AND Mike Vrabel for the 34th pick overall in the upcoming NFL draft.
That turned out to be a head-scratcher for some, including me, and here is a series of thoughts that have gone on in my mind since the deal was made:
The first reaction was that Tom Brady’s recovery must be fine if they were willing to move him so soon. So yippee!
The second was: Are you kidding me?!!! Where’s Scott Boras when you need him? Because if this is all they could wrangle out of the NFL for a rising quarterback and aging player with the qualities of Vrabel they need someone else doing the negotiating. If the deal winds up as is with nothing to follow, it’s a major swindle for the Pioli as it looks like Coach B panicked and blew it.
Here’s how Don Banks described it in SI.com: “but the second-round pick compensation the Chiefs gave up for both Cassel and fellow Patriot, linebacker Mike Vrabel, is so laughably low that we must ask whether Bill Belichick has grown soft before our very eyes.”
My suspicion is he made the lopsided deal to quickly clear the cap space Cassel was clogging to let him be active in the free agent market. So maybe I should hold judgment until we see how well he maneuvers with that new space in the weeks leading to the draft.
But it seems like there has to be more, though here’s what Bank’s colleague Peter King had to say about the deal on Sunday: “Bill Belichick either didn’t get a better offer, or he did one of his best friends, Pioli, a favor with a player Belichick wanted to put in a good situation; Belichick is very fond of Cassel. It would not be surprising to see Belichick make the deal with Pioli because both were trained under Bill Parcells, and Parcells always made sure he watched out for his lieutenants and helped them whenever it didn’t hurt him.”
But not getting a better offer was contradicted in his own publication, which, along with several others, reported he turned down the 12th pick overall in a deal that would have sent Jay Cutler to Tampa and reunited Cassel with Josh McDaniel in Denver. That seems incredible to me.
I’ll buy the haste to clear cap space, but I am not buying there was no market. Not with Tavaris Jackson still at QB in Minnesota and huge holes at that spot in Chicago, Detroit, SF and Tampa Bay — not to mention in New York with the Jets.
I’m also not buying the Pats he did a favor for Pioli. In fact, I think it may be the other way around. Tell me if you think Coach B is dumb enough to pass on the 12th pick in lieu of the 34th while also giving up Vrabel — unless a future wink, wink deal is coming with KC that’s more favorable to him?
But if that’s all he could get while giving up an important piece of the fading defense, I’m even more convinced that they should have shopped Brady to see what they could have gotten. First, they need more help on defense than the 34th pick can provide. Second, I’m convinced you can win a Super Bowl with Cassel (as apparently are Pioli and Daniels), so why not see what you can get for Brady? If it’s not enough, take the 34th for Cassel, but if it’s a lot, do it.
Here’s a trade made and one not made that should make you wonder if what I’m saying makes sense:
Brett Favre to Green Bay: I’m not saying Cassel is going to be as good as Favre. But I doubt Green Bay thought he’d turn into the player he did when they got him and I know Atlanta didn’t since all they got back was a number two for the then second-year player. But he did turn into Brett Favre as Atlanta sank to the bottom of the league (except in 1998) after one of the biggest heists in league history. It’s not quite the same thing, as Tom Brady is light years better than Chris Miller and Billy Joe Tolliver, who the Falcons kept over Favre. But the fact is the Falcons paid a big price for trading the wrong guy while Green Bay reaped the windfall.
Ladainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner: Not the same position, but a case of a team sticking with a big star over an emerging understudy when the walk year came after he had real success filling in for that star. Turner then went to Atlanta and ran for 1,699 yards and 17 TDs while LT had 1,110 and 12 TDs in ’08. Not bad, but not worth the highest-paid back in the NFL. And that’s why there are rumblings the Chargers will ask him to take a pay cut, or they’ll cut him just a year after letting the younger Turner walk. That doesn’t sound like real great long-term planning to me. Branch Rickey’s great line still applies today and particularly in the case of the 30-in-June LT, “I’d rather trade a guy a year too soon than a year too late,” because if they’d kept Turner and traded LT they’d have gotten a boatload of picks and probably even have had enough left over to get the franchised Darren Sprowls for a lot less than they are paying him now.
Johan Santana for Jon Lester (Jacoby Ellsbury): Glenn Ordway and the boys said this was a no-brainer, just as they have in the Brady-vs.-Cassel debate, because they always take the sure thing over the rising prospect. And while there is merit to that, it’s not ALWAYS right. Lester demonstrated that last year by having a year every good as Santana’s, which included a no-hitter and a one-hitter, as he made $20 million less and is six years younger. And even though they lost out, the money saved let the Sox get into the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, which might not have been the case if Santana had been on board.
We’ll need a few years to judge how it all turns out, but the one thing I’m sure of is that in five years when the subject comes up of getting just the 34th pick overall for Cassel, while having to throw Vrabel in as well, Pats fans will be rolling their eyes in the same way Red Sox Nations does when the names Jeff Bagwell and Larry Anderson come up in the same conversation.
Back to my second reaction — you’ve got to be kidding me.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts the Absolute Sports Experience at Billy’s Sports Bar in Manchester each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon that is broadcast live on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.