But before Cassel hits the free-agent market, the Patriots will look long and hard at the medical reports of star quarterback Tom Brady. And, according to a league source, those reports will give New England pause.
Brady, who had the ACL and MCL in his left knee ripped in the first quarter of the season’s first game, is well behind schedule in coming back from the surgery performed in early October, the source said.
The problem began with the infection that set in soon after the Oct. 6 surgery performed by Los Angeles-based doctor Neil ElAttrache.
After the infection was detected, Brady went through six weeks of antibiotics and surgical irrigation of the infected area. The infection finally cleared but as it currently stands, both the ACL and MCL remain “loose,” the league source said. Meanwhile, scar tissue that built up in the knee as Brady’s body battled the infection is still present and might need to be surgically removed.
Additionally, because of the scar tissue, Brady’s knee doesn’t have close to full mobility, the league source said. That means the process of regaining strength in his quadriceps — the most important muscle to build up after a knee injury — hasn’t begun in earnest.
Even if Brady gets the scar tissue removed, regains greater mobility in the knee and is able to get the strength back in his quad, the looseness in the ligaments won’t go away without a second surgery, the source said. At this point, deciding to have that second surgery would cost him the 2009 season because a second surgery wouldn’t be recommended this soon after the first, especially with the current condition of the area.
If he doesn’t have a second surgery, he’ll almost certainly have to wear a brace on the knee when he returns and the area will be susceptible to another blowout, the source said.
If that occurs, what then for the Patriots?
That’s where Cassel’s situation becomes interesting. After three full seasons working as a backup to Brady, Cassel has played brilliantly this season, especially relative to the expectations of how much he could deliver.
He’s thrown for 3,615 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 picks and completed more than 63 percent of his passes. And the Patriots, entering Sunday, are 10-5 with a chance to win the AFC East. This after spending his entire college career at USC without starting a single game.
On the free agent market, the 26-year-old Cassel would certainly be as appetizing an option as any quarterback coming out in April’s draft. By way of financial comparison, Matt Ryan, the third overall pick last April, got a six-year, $72 million deal from the Falcons, which included more than $34 million in guaranteed money.
Brady’s 2009 salary is $5 million and he’s also due a $3 million roster bonus. Relative to the league’s other successful quarterbacks, he’s a bargain. But if the Patriots opt to franchise Cassel as insurance, that means the team will have close to $20 million in salary to be paid out to their two quarterbacks. Additionally, $6.6 million of Brady’s pro-rated signing bonus will count against their 2009 cap. That would mean the Patriots would be spending close to $26 million of the projected $123 million salary cap on these two quarterbacks.
That’s a lot of coin. And even though the Patriots are one of the league’s most highly-valued franchises ($1.3 billion according to Forbes.com’s team valuations in early September), it will certainly cause them to think long and hard about whether they want to let Matt Cassel walk as a free agent or keep him around a litt le bit longer. Just in case.
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