September 1, 2014

You Make The Call

logoby Scott Benson
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Matt Cassel’s less than inspirational performance in the Patriots’ first two pre-season games – and Tom Brady’s absence from same – has some observers wondering if Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli could have done more to fortify New England’s quarterback position in the off-season.

Of course, they did draft Kevin O’Connell in the third round of April’s draft, but it’s a proven veteran backup that most critics have in mind, I figure, especially as the team progresses through August sans Brady.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. No, I’m not going to mount a Brady-like defense of Cassel here. Whatever improvement that Brady sees in his backup is lost not only on Marshall Faulk and Sterling Sharpe but on the masses as well. But at the same time, a veteran backup comes at a cost that exceeds that of Cassel and Matt Gutierrez, which could cause a possible financial ripple effect¬†across other areas of the roster.

Given the team’s lethargic performance in Tampa the other night, and the uncertainty surrounding Brady’s second foot injury this year, I expect that most Pats fans would be willing to take that chance. Which begs the question: what quarterbacks have been there for New England’s taking over the past several months?

To answer this question, we turn to the free agent trackers at Walterfootball.com, who make it their business to (among other things) inventory the comings and goings (or the not goings) of NFL free agents. Let’s take a look at their list of free agent quarterbacks and see what players we think could, and should, have ended up taking snaps for the Pats over the past couple of weeks.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing any sure bets there. It seems like a good chunk of these free agents – the Penningtons and Voleks and Grossmans, for example – eventually commanded an open market price that put them out of the Patrots range. I mean, even 36 year old Todd Collins got three years at $9 million from the Redskins. Should the Pats be committing that kind of coin for a guy that may never play? After all, Brady has started 110 straight regular season games since Mo Lewis came into our lives lo those many years ago.

Quinn Gray made about $1.3 million as David Garrard’s backup last year, and since then has bounced from the Texans to the Colts at an undetermined price. He played well in Garrard’s absence last year, but is Quinn Gray the guy you have in mind when you say Belichick and Pioli could have done more?

I don’t have any answers, mind you. Only questions. Take a look at this list and make¬†your call in our comments section (link above). Your input is, as always, much appreciated.

Comments

  1. While I am not thrilled about the prospect of Cassel, I thought he actually looked much beter in Tampa than in the Raven game. I think the greater concern right now is the offensive line. Overall, it’s been awful. Light and Neal returning, whenever that may be, should help.

  2. We wanted to believe the Cassel myth, i.e. “The only reason he wasn’t a college starter was he was locked behind two Heisman winners.” Plus, we like to believe any story that makes it look like our guys are smarter than their guys, Belioli finding a needle in the haystack of the seventh round. Maybe the reality is Cassel was never that good to begin with.

    But that only explains his drafting. What explains his rise to backup QB? You gotta think Belichick, a guy who leaves no stone unturned, no angle unanalyzed, would have had to seen something in Cassel. Right?

    As for where to find that vet backup – if they do feel the need – I think they’d go the trade route. Offer a late round pick for somebody’s vet backup. Don’t know who’s out there that would be available.

    Scott, you’re right: there’s not much on that list of FAs. I suppose if you really want a vet back there, you could coax Holcomb or Dilfer out of retirement (although I think Dilfer has an achilles injury).

  3. Where are Rohan Davey and Michael Bishop when we really need them?

  4. I’d go the Testaverde, Flutie, Rich Gannon route. Not sure who’s the current version of that crew. Chris Chandler has to be in a nursing home somewhere I’d imagine.

  5. Just to clarify, I don’t want to claim that there’s not much there on that list of FA quarterbacks I posted earlier. I’m not trying to prove that they didn’t have any options at all. Shaun Hill of the Niners pretty much took a top five draft pick away from the Pats all by himself with some impressive play in December 07, and after signing his deal, he’s back at the bottom of the depth chart in SF (strangely, behind former Pats practice squader JT O’Sullivan). That might have been an option, I guess, though it would have cost them. I think the real point of the post was that its easy to talk in the abstract about FA’s and trades, but when you really start naming names, it gets a lot harder.

  6. where have you gone Chris Redman?

    “Just Slingin’ It”… love that.

  7. F that, just sling it!

  8. Atlanta, I think (Redman).

    I really wanted to go with “F**k it, just sling it” but it turns out that phrase is owned by the league.

  9. should’ve signed gus frerotte

  10. One thing I neglected to recognize in the column is that it goes beyond simply someone being available. The other shoe is of course whether that quarterback’s skill set matches up with what the Patriots ask their quarterbacks to do. That adds another (most important) dynamic to the whole thing.

    for example, sull, what is it about Gus that leads you to believe he would have been a good choice?

  11. Apparently, Peter King thinks Frerotte is the best option to win in Minnesota (now that Favre’s slipped through their fingers). So there’s a vote against Gus.

  12. It will definitely come down to who is cut this pre-season. I just can’t imagine BB putting this team, which last I checked was still loaded, into the hands of Cassel should Brady go down. Or at least not for a long stretch anyway.

    If/when Chris Simms is cut, he’s the guy. Hurts to type that, but it’s true. The Phil Simms connection makes it happen.

  13. I’d say whoever gets cut from the Falcoms (Redman or Harrington). I can’t imagine that they’d keep all 3 QBs without one of them demanding to be cut or traded. Based on the last year and a half, the last thing that Arthur Blank wants is the new coach embroiled in any type of QB controversy.

  14. They missed out on Byron Leftwich. Jamie Martin wouldn’t be a bad vet backup.

  15. Redman makes sense to me, Britt, since he’s been here before. I wonder if he (or most anyone else who may be available) would provide enough of an upgrade in Belichick’s eyes that would cause him to shoo both Cassel and Gutierrez in the last couple of weeks.

    Wait until James Garner Is God gets wind of my bringing up the latter. Have mercy, JGIG.

  16. FYI, Mike Reiss just blogged that Brady participated in light practice today and did not appear limited in his movements.

  17. Good point, Scoot. The risk/reward with bringing in a new QB (outside of Redman) would probably be too great for Belichick to consider. But you got to figure at some point with things remaining the same that Cassel will play himself out of Foxboro just like Bishop and Davey before him. Some QBs, like Sorgi for instance, can make a decent NFL career just by executing the offense during the pre-season and in mop-up assignments during blowouts. Right now, I just don’t see that same type of quality in the current #2 QB.

  18. To me what you need from a back-up is someone who can just move the offense – either score points or give the D some rest. Expensive back-ups are a waste of cap space (like old offensive linemen who get hurt).

    I think Harrington could be the guy but for the money I’ll put myself in the minority (and open to ridicule) by believing the Pats already have that guy in Gutierrez. Seems everyone has judged him on what, 4-5 series and 2 bad decisions. Unlike Cassel, who when he walks on the field the entire O seems to hang their heads, Gutierrez’s presence makes the O look like they’ve got hot peppers in their shoes. The offense comes alive when he’s in there. O’Connell seems to have “it” too but Gutierrez can be a very good back-up if he cuts down his mistakes. He appears to be smart enough. 2 more games to see.

  19. When you think about one flaw of this regime since 2000 was not being able to draft a QB capable enough to backup Brady. All misses: Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt Cassell, is Kevin O’Connell the next miss? Looks like Brady was just plain luck.

  20. I think that most starting quarterbacks in this league would quickly fall out of favor if they had to start in Foxboro in Brady’s place, certainly any marginally affordable ones. Is the upgrade worth denying ourselves a free agent WR like Welker or corner with the pay grade difference? I don’t think so.

    Let’s not forget that a significant part of the backup QB job is preparing the defense and to be an extra arm in practice all through the summer. Do we really want some tired old semi-retired rag-arm throwing itself to pieces all through the summer? Better to wait for late-preseason cuts probably.

    I think that you really do need a young arm during the week to get the team ready and we have some decent ones who are working hard.

    Now, if the backups are getting practice squad (other team) plays to run against our 1st team defense all week, a shortened vanilla play book to operate in the preseason, and playing with a patchwork offensive line and CJ Jones and Ray Ventrone, they are not going to look great in the preseason. I remember how Michael Bishop seemed to easily outplay Brady in the preseason when they were both on the team. But wait, Bioli saw something in Brady that they didn’t see in Bishop and how did that end up?

    I mean, if Ray Ventrone was close to starting at WR, I might worry about the WR position but he is no closer to starting than Cassel or any of the other QBs so the drama factor for me on this issue is “ZZzzzzzzzz….”

  21. Scott
    A point well taken. I see nothing but rejects in that list.
    Guys who have tried and not made it big. I think that our new rookie seems like the one to keep and train with a lot of attention from now on. He has the upside and should get the extra time and work. But dump Cassel now. Don’t keep the newly-bearded, life-time backup one minute longer.

  22. Corner Blitz says:

    Scott, great article as usual. My opinion, I don’t have a problem with the lack of a veteran backup. Tom Brady has proven to be highly durable in his NFL tenure. Secondly, Matt Cassel has seen and studied this offense for 4 years. The coaches see him every day, and they know better than anyone the grasp he has on the offensive system. Thirdly, drafting quarterbacks, rather than other positions can pay dividends down the road, whether they play for your team or if they are used as chits to parley with other teams. Quarterback is the hardest position to acquire on a football team, and teams will pay a premium to acquire someone they believe can fit their system(see Johnson, Rob as an example). Lastly, from a salary cap standpoint it makes sense to lock in young players at multiple years at cap friendly rates. To do this at the QB position is cost effective from a financial standpoint and also from a system standpoint, where a staff can indoctrinate a player into playing and training the Patriot way. This year it frees up money so the team can bring in veterans to other positions where the need is greater, and giving the team flexibility in how it fills out it’s roster.

  23. Looky Lou says:

    …….Jeff George is always looking for work…..Ryan Leaf is out there somewhere………..YES, I’m kidding

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