It was thought quarterback Matt Cassel would stick around Minnesota to serve as a transitional starter while the Vikings developed a new franchise passer. As it turns out, the veteran plans on making a transition of his own.
In a somewhat surprising move, Cassel has exercised his player option, effectively voiding the last year of his Vikings contract and making him a free agent, as originally reported by KSTP.com. By doing so, he forfeits the $3.7 million he was scheduled to make in 2014 and passes on a solid opportunity to enter next season as the Vikings' starting quarterback, at least in the short term.
Cassel signed a two-year deal with the Vikings last March. He can still technically re-sign with them as a free agent, but that seems highly unlikely given this move. With Josh Freeman also hitting the open market, that leaves Christian Ponder as the only signal caller under contract in Minnesota.
Cassel was the Vikings' most consistent option under center last season and finished the year as the starter, though given the ineptitude of his competition, that's not saying a lot. He threw for 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 81.6. Those numbers aren't terrible, but it seems wishful thinking that he'll find another team willing to match what he was scheduled to be paid by the Vikings.
After bombing out with the Kansas City Chiefs, the boat has sailed on his opportunity to be a franchise quarterback. His best shot at a starting job is as a placeholder, which is why it's surprising that he bolted from a golden opportunity in Minnesota, explains Vikings blog Daily Norseman:
Yes, the Vikings will more than likely be drafting a quarterback [with the No. 8 pick in upcoming NFL Draft], but even so, I think Cassel would have a realistic chance to start in Minnesota. I don't know that he would get a shot somewhere else in 2014, but anything is possible. Cassel's obviously not the long term option in Minnesota, or heck, for anyone, but he would be a decent option for one, or maybe two seasons.
Working in his favor is the fact that Cassel will be one of the stronger options in a comically weak quarterback free agent class. However, signing with any of the quarterback-needy teams in the league -- Cleveland, Houston, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay -- will essentially land him the same position he found himself in with the Vikings, as all of those clubs are likely to take signal callers high in the draft.
The Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans will be looking to bring in possible replacements for Matt McGloin and Jake Locker, respectively, so Cassel could look to either as a landing spot. Still, he'll have to hope a high draft pick doesn't arrive as well.
After that, he's looking at a backup job. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport threw out the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons as possibilities, given the fact they both have executives on staff that have brought Cassel in previously.
Regardless of where he ends up, Cassel has thrown a wrench into the Vikings' plans. Reports indicate they've given up on Ponder, the former first-round draft pick, and are poised to release or trade him this offseason. Cassel's departure means they may have to keep Ponder around for the time being. Look for them to grab a veteran backup in free agency.
Whoever ends up wearing a Vikings hat onstage at Radio City Music Hall in May better have a helmet handy as well. He may be starting earlier than expected.