Cassel trade talk opens with high 1st-rounder

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Teams that want Matt Cassel's services must sacrifice to pry him away from the New England Patriots.

Two former NFL executives project the asking price for the burgeoning franchise quarterback will open with a high first-round draft choice and include some other picks, too.

The Patriots are expected to put the franchise tag on Cassel, but they would trade him once they're certain Tom Brady's surgically repaired left knee is fine because they can't afford to keep them both.

"It would have to be multiple choices and very high choices to get Cassel," ESPN analyst and former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. "Two first-rounders, or a one and a two and a three ... It'll be something very, very expensive."

Michael Lombardi, who last week was the first to report the Patriots would put the franchise tag on Cassel, said the starting price should be the draft choices the San Diego Chargers received for Eli Manning.

At the 2004 draft, the New York Giants acquired Manning's rights for Philip Rivers' rights along with a third-round pick that year and their first- and fifth-round picks in 2005.

"Whatever the Giants gave up for Eli has to be the market," Lombardi said. "It's got to be a first-rounder, and not the 22nd or 24th pick in the draft. It has to be a substantial one and one that keeps on giving."

Lombardi was an executive with the Cleveland Browns when Bill Belichick was the coach and has worked with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders among other clubs.

Lombardi couldn't come up with any corollary trade examples for a quarterback like Cassel.

"All trades have a predetermined value based on past trades," Lombardi said. "But to trade a quarterback as young as Cassel, after watching him do what he did, it doesn't happen."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen confirmed Lombardi's initial report the Patriots will hang the franchise tag on Cassel to prevent him from hitting the free-agent market.

Teams can't franchise their players until Feb. 5, but they can negotiate contracts with them. Lombardi on Thursday said he wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots and Cassel worked out a contract within the next few weeks. Lombardi said a two-year deal worth a total of $20 million sounded reasonable.

If Cassel and the Patriots can't hammer out a deal, then the franchise tag will lock him up for one year with a salary that averages the five highest-paid at his position. In Cassel's case, the salary would be almost $15 million. Brady's salary for next season would be in the same neighborhood.

The benefit of the franchise tag is giving the Patriots time to determine whether Brady's knee will be sufficiently healed for 2009. Once they're satisfied with Brady's recovery, then they would look to unload Cassel.

Reese claimed the Patriots could wait as long as they wanted and still have eager trade partners.

"It's definitely a seller's market," Reese said. "A team like New England can sit back and bide their time.

"If you take the actual number of franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, there's maybe 15. Who's Detroit's starting quarterback? You can go down a long list. All of those teams would be in the bidding.

"You don't have to be in a hurry. There's always teams out there in need of a quarterback, teams who'll think 'We don't like this guy. We can't win with him.'"