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Old 08-01-2012, 12:55 AM   #471
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Originally Posted by boltaneer View Post
Oh, it's way too early to tell with those two. I'd say the arrow is pointing up for them though.

Can't say the same for Cassel.
I agree. This is Cassel's last chance and everyone knows it.

This may be Cassel’s last chance to prove himself
This season may be QB’s one last chance to to silence vocal critics.
The Kansas City Star

ST. JOSEPH -- Matt Cassel hears it, and even though he says he doesn’t listen, the sounds of discontent are growing too loud now for even Cassel to ignore.

He’s beginning his fourth season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, and he knows what you think about him. If he was delusional or comfortable in a warm blanket of denial, he found out the hard way July 8, when the only discernible greeting for Cassel during a celebrity softball game during All-Star week was a loud chorus of boos.

“Hey, it is what it is, man,” he told me a few days ago. “You play this position; you’re going to take your lumps, and it’s not something that bugs me. It’s not something that I let get to me. You’ve got to be strong when you play this position.”

Here are a few facts about Cassel, whether you choose to believe them or not: He’s not as bad as the vocal majority has indicated this offseason. He has certainly not shown an ability to be an elite quarterback, and it’s debatable that he’s even a good one. But he’s not close to the trainwreck that popular opinion seems to now suggest.

He has been impressive so far in training camp, and it’s clear that, yes, he is miles ahead of Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi. Cassel, 30, is a middle-of-the-NFL starter with a skill set that, if all goes well around him, will allow the Chiefs to reach the playoffs and maybe win a game or two. Cassel’s team might not win because of him this season, but they won’t lose because of him, either. If the Chiefs struggle in 2012, he’ll face plenty of blame — but the real breakdowns will have come at other positions.

The other fact is that, as Cassel’s popularity deteriorates as the months pass since his Pro Bowl season in 2010, he has done himself few favors to quiet the critics. The thing that matters most is wins, and as the Chiefs’ starter he is 18-22 in three regular seasons and with 19 more touchdowns than interceptions. But perception counts, too.

Cassel’s two biggest mistakes, if you can call them that, are things beyond his control. Last year a hand injury ended his season after a mediocre nine starts, pushing Tyler Palko into the starting lineup and soiling a season that otherwise contained hope. Cassel later seemed more like chopped liver after Kyle Orton went 2-1 to close the season, a short time before the Chiefs again pledged their allegiance to Cassel and allowed Orton to sign with Dallas.

Not only that, but after more than three years here, Cassel still isn’t seen as “our” quarterback. General manager Scott Pioli has stuck with Cassel, whom the Patriots drafted in the seventh round in 2005, and avoided bringing in or retaining real competition for the starting job. It’s either in an effort to justify the legend of that brilliant Pioli mind we have been hearing about for so long, or because the Chiefs are still scared to draft a first-round quarterback 29 years after Todd Blackledge was selected and then became a bust.

There’s no doubt that there’s enormous risk involved in drafting a quarterback in the early rounds, and the Chiefs had other issues facing them in recent years. But the team just has to get it in its mind that it’s a risky but necessary part of building a Super Bowl contender. This city has been force-fed free-agent and traded-for passers for more than a generation, and other than reaching the AFC title game with a rented Joe Montana in 1994, it has been more than a generation since Chiefs fans have had a home-grown quarterback to embrace as their own.

When Miami took Ryan Tannehill with the eighth overall draft pick in April, the Chiefs became the NFL team that has gone the longest without selecting a quarterback in the first round. That’s a statistic almost as embarrassing as having gone 18 seasons without a playoff victory. Yet the clock keeps ticking, the calendar keeps turning, and the Chiefs refuse to embrace a fact most successful franchises see as obvious: You just don’t win big without drafting and developing your own quarterback.

So when the Chiefs traded a second-round pick in 2009 for Cassel and aging linebacker Mike Vrabel, Cassel was seen by many as just the latest placeholder until the team gathers its nerve and selects a quarterback with its top pick. Cassel also represented an additional face of the New England invasion, and it didn’t help that he showed only a bland, watered-down version of his personality in his first two years with the Chiefs.

In private, Cassel is a charming, funny, charismatic person who’s tough to dislike. You want a driven, optimistic man like him to succeed. In public, though, he has often been monotone and bland, and when he had a chance to forge a relationship with local fans, he instead seemed like a robot. He has lightened up the last two years, but at that point he was already seen as a stepchild.

“You can’t let it get to you,” said Cassel, who’s in the fourth year of a six-year contract. “The minute you let it start getting to you, it takes away from what you’re doing on the field and your production.”

The Chiefs have done a nice job surrounding Cassel with talented players, and the pieces are there for a march toward the playoffs. Added to his own ability and commitment — he spent much of the offseason working with second-year receiver Jon Baldwin, and it has shown so far in camp — there’s a good possibility that Cassel could quiet the critics, even if temporarily, and have a season that looks similar to 2010.

But if he doesn’t, and he again struggles, the Chiefs must look to the future and select a quarterback early in next year’s draft, even if that means they’ll take a step back in 2013. That’s the problem the team now faces, after three years of being too loyal to Cassel. That’s not his fault, either, but he’ll shoulder the responsibility.

Despite what he says when the cameras are rolling, Cassel thinks about it. How could he not?

“I would love nothing more than to go out there,” he said, “win for our fans, win for Arrowhead and get that thing rocking and rolling, going in the right direction and hear nothing but cheers every single time I go out.”

Like it or not, Cassel has earned a little more patience. He has earned a chance. But make no mistake: This season has to be his last chance.

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