The rumored Matt Cassel to Kansas City deal is official, and it turns out it was a package deal, shipping both Cassel and former Pro Bowl linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for draft pick compensation. So the Pats got some good draft picks back, right? Nope. In exchange for a guy who emerged as arguably the best backup quarterback in the league and a Pro Bowl linebacker (and not even the team’s old one), New England received a single, second-round pick in April’s NFL Draft. No. 34, to be more specific. Wait, what?
(Is this man secretly the reason behind the Cassel-Vrabel trade?)
If anyone can come up with a compelling reason why this trade makes sense, we’d love to hear it. As far as we can tell, Scott Pioli left New England to take over a struggling franchise and Bill Belichick was so worried that his legacy for mentoring bright minds was being soiled that he sent two of his best assets to Kansas City as a way to ensure Pioli won’t fail. Why else would New England give up one of the team’s most beloved assets — Vrabel — and another guy who could have commanded two first round draft picks if they’d let another team come and sign him? Salary cap space is sure to be cited time and again, but we think there might be another reason for the deal: Julius Peppers.
Now, if there was ever a front office in which to place blind faith, it’s New England’s. But of all the questionable moves over the years, this seems like the strangest … and least defensible. In fact, Peppers is the only one way that giving up Cassel and Vrabel in one fell swoop make any sense.
The perennial Pro Bowl DE has said he wants to play in a 3-4 system, and there have been rumors that the Patriots are intereted in getting him (either by signing him and paying the franchise tag costs or via trade) and moving him to outside linebacker, conceivably in the exact spot that was vacated by the Vrabel deal. There are allegedly four teams with significant interest in signing Peppers: the Cowboys, two other NFC teams and one AFC team. A number of writers and bloggers have speculated that the Patriots are the unnamed team in question, and a Carolina radio station reported that the Patriots and Peppers had spoken and both sides expressed interest in working together.
So how will the Patriots get Peppers? Given the fact that the Patriots always value the number of their draft picks above their quality, getting the second-round pick from the Chiefs could serve as a buffer to forfeitting their first rounder both this year and next year by signing Peppers. Or — in a scenario that seems more likely — the Pats could trade their first rounder and the No. 34 overall pick, which is pretty close to a late first rounder anyway, for Peppers and his one-year franchise number, then sign him to an extension after the trade. They just cleared enough cap room by trading Cassel and Vrabel to accomodate Peppers’ cap hit for 2009.
Is the idea a little out there? Absolutely, considering the fact that the Patriots still have three outside linebackers under contract, with a fourth — Pierre Woods — a likely candidate to have a contract offer sent his way. Yet without some kind of a larger motive like a deal for Peppers, sending Cassel and Vrabel to the Chiefs seems like too strange a deal for anyone, even a cryptic front office like New England’s.