Pollard giveth and nearly taketh away.
MONDAY MORNING QB
9:45 a.m., Wednesday (Chiefs camp, River Falls, Wisc.): You're not going to believe this. It's midway through Kansas City's first of two daily practices and Matt Cassel, Tom Brady's longtime understudy now on his own in the heartland, fades back to pass. Quarterbacks in training camp are not supposed to be hit in camp, but in this pass drill, with Cassel setting up in the pocket, safety Bernard Pollard comes on a blitz.
You remember Pollard. He's the guy who tumbled/dove into Brady's planted left leg on an identical rush last September, collapsing the knee, shredding Brady's ACL and knocking him out for the season. Now, on a sun-baked field miles from anywhere in western Wisconsin, here came Pollard at the man who replaced Brady and who, ironically, became Pollard's teammate after New England traded Cassel to Kansas City in February.
What makes the play even more amazing is that Brady got hit last year when a back missed a block on the onrushing Pollard. And as I'm watching, I can't believe what I see: Again, a back (I didn't catch his number) throws an ĦOle!block, and precisely the same thing that happened a year ago happens now: Pollard thought he was going to be blocked by a running back last year against New England, got low to take on the block, wasn't blocked, and fell into Brady. Now, he thought he was going to be blocked by a running back, got low, wasn't blocked, and stumbled and tried to avoid hitting Cassel, yelling at the last moment, "Move!" It was too late. He fell hard and rolled into Cassel's left leg.
Pollard was able to put on the brakes enough so that he only tapped Cassel's left leg. Cassel flexed it a couple of times and was fine. A couple of his offensive mates hustled in to defend him against Pollard. Words were exchanged, but that was it. No harm, no foul.
"Pretty weird," a smiling Cassel told me an hour later. "Yeah, I realized it."
I caught Pollard after lunch on campus. His eyes got wide when I asked him about the play. "I got to the sidelines after that play," Pollard said, "and I realized what happened, and I thought, -- OH MY GOD! It's like a replay.''
As I said, Cassel was fine, and held no grudge against Pollard. That's football. But it's such happenstance. How history would have been changed if Pollard tapped Brady's knee the way he tapped Cassel's. If it had happened like that, what would have happened to Cassel? Would he still be the permanent backup to Brady? Or would Cassel, whose contract expired at the end of last year, have been picked off by new Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, who was behind Cassel's drafting in the seventh round five years ago by the Patriots? My money's on the Chiefs taking him off New England's hands -- money being the key word. He parlayed his opportunity with the Patriots last year into a six-year, $63-million contract in Kansas City.
What might Cassel have gotten had he never played? Well, a parallel player to Cassel a year ago at this time -- a totally unproven backup with a little marketability -- was Brian St. Pierre, the third-stringer on Arizona who re-signed with the Cardinals this offseason: For one year and $1 million.
So, Pollard's hit was a $62-million whack, give or take a million, for Cassel. On this morning, double jeopardy almost struck. Football is a funny game.