Saturday, February 28, 2009

Cassels Made of Sand

The very second general manager Scott Pioli went to Kansas City, it was clear that he would find a way to take Matt Cassel with him. The Patsies would have had to franchise Cassel in order to keep him on the roster, and they are too thrifty to throw that kind of money at a career backup with one decent year under his belt as a starter. This may prove to be problematic for them, as they still don't know how well Tom Brady has rehabbed for next season, or if Brady figures that three Super Bowl rings, more money than he can spend, and Gisele Bundchen are enough for him. Not that he'd up and retire, but one could understand if his heart wasn't entirely in it next year.

Anyway, some of the commenters on the Boston site are of course beefing that Pioli stole Cassel cheap, for a mere second-round pick. This is where my systems-analysis antennae get perked. As much as I loathe Team Tuck Rule, I'll be the first to admit that Bill Belichick is one of the ultimate systems coaches in the game. He has been able to set up systems that maximize the players' strengths, yet work well no matter who you plug in there. They went 11-5 last season in one of the toughest divisions, without their starting quarterback, using five running backs in various states of disrepair, and with a positively ancient linebacking corps.

Part of the success of Belichick's system almost certainly revolves around the pattern of eschewing high draft picks, rarely trading up and frequently trading down for more advantageous picks. He's been a master at not biting on the "hot prospect" guff, preferring instead to develop picks that slipped past everyone else. (Brady, for example, was a sixth-round pick.) So another second-round pick is perfect for the Pats, high enough to get top-drawer talent still on the board, at a fraction of some overrated top-10 bust.

That said, I think the Pats' arc of success may be on the downside, with a rapidly aging roster and the poaching of their best assistants. At least I hope so. I mean, fuck Randy Moss in the neck, am I right?

As for the Chefs, they are still a team with a great many holes to fill, and next year will be a rebuilding year. And the jury's still out on whether Cassel is a QB that you can build a franchise around. Tyler Thigpen actually improved quite a bit in the second half of the season, without much of a running game. But Pioli has no doubt learned much from Belichick, and he (Pioli) is also the son-in-law of Bill Parcells. And the Chefs are in the miserable AFC West, which helps. (Though it obviously hasn't helped the Raiders, who've been the source of much of the division's misery.)

One of the things parity and the salary cap have brought the NFL is a greater degree of churn year-to-year in the playoff pool. Out of twelve playoff teams, usually five or six were not in the playoffs the previous season. If they can find some help in the running game through the draft or free agency and tighten up their D, KC might be one of those churn teams.

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