Another chapter has been written in the quest to find Rex Ryan a legitimate starting quarterback—the NFL's version of the search for the lost city of Atlantis. On Wednesday, the Bills agreed to trade a pair of draft picks (reportedly a 2015 fifth-rounder and a 2016 seventh-rounder) to the Vikings for quarterback Matt Cassel and a sixth-round pick in this year's draft.
Cassel, who turns 33 in May, will inherit the veteran quarterback role left vacant by Kyle Orton's retirement. Orton stole the starting job away from 2013 first-round pick EJ Manuel, who now figures to battle Cassel for playing time.
"It’s rare that you don’t go to the playoffs with a great quarterback," Ryan said at last month's combine. "Obviously, that's a priority, not just for our team but any team in this league. But it’s a lot easier said than done. ...
"I’m excited about EJ Manuel, though. He’s a young man that has some potential."
If Ryan truly believes that statement, Cassel could be headed to Buffalo merely to serve a similar role to the one he filled in Minnesota last season: mentor to a young quarterback. Cassel started three games for the Vikings in 2014, tossing three touchdowns and four interceptions, but he finished the season on the bench with an injury as Teddy Bridgewater took charge as the team's starter.
[daily_cut.nfl]Manuel, in 14 starts spanning two NFL seasons, has yet to show he's capable of a similar breakthrough. The Bills may not be willing to wait much longer, either, if the trade for McCoy is any indication.
As with Buffalo's aggressive move up the draft for Sammy Watkins last year, the Alonso-for-McCoy swap points to a belief that this franchise is ready to compete right now. Last season likely did nothing to dissuade that line of thinking—the Bills finished 9-7 with a top-five defense.
Whether or not the Cassel trade actually helps toward that goal remains to be seen. At this point in his career Cassel is what he is: an experienced quarterback with limited upside. His two best seasons came in 2006 and 2008, with the Patriots and Chiefs, respectively. In '06, Cassel was forced into the lineup by Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury and proceeded to throw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns. He parlayed that performance into a contract with the Chiefs, then scored a Pro Bowl nod in 2010 with 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
A rather abrupt decline followed, as Cassel fell into his current role as a decent but far from desirable option. The Vikings certainly will not feel his absence, even as they sit for the moment without a true backup behind Bridgewater. (Christian Ponder is set to become a free agent next week.)
Buffalo had been in the mix for Josh McCown, who signed with the Browns last week. The trade for Cassel seems to rule out any additional free-agent moves at the quarterback spot—Brian Hoyer, Jake Locker, Matt Moore and Ryan's former quarterback Mark Sanchez are all impending free agents.
Buffalo (C): Hard to get too excited about this one from the Bills' perspective, although they did manage to add Cassel without pulling much from their already-depleted list of draft picks. If Cassel enters the season as the starter, it would say much more about Manuel's inability to improve than about Cassel himself. Between McCoy and the defense, Ryan might be able to minimize the impact of having a substandard starting quarterback. In that case, a known quantity like Cassel could be the call over a wild card like Manuel.
This trade does not really make the Bills any more formidable than they were before it happened. But it doesn't hurt.
Minnesota (B-plus): We're not talking about a draft blockbuster here. Still, moving up a round in 2015, adding a pick in 2016 and clearing Cassel's $4.75 million cap hit without cutting him shapes up to be a win on paper. Cassel has no dead money left on his contract, so chances are he was going to be handed his walking papers sometime this off-season anyway. General manager Rick Spielman managed to milk some value out of the veteran.