Why would Pats turn down 12th pick for Cassel?

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Circumstances surrounding the Matt Cassel trade keep getting curiouser and curiouser.

The more we learn, the more inexplicable it gets.

The New England Patriots sent Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 34th overall selection in this year's draft, compensation that seemed a little weak on the surface.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen has since reported there was a much better offer on the table, that the Patriots passed on the 12th overall pick in a three-way trade that would've sent Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Patriots did business with Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who for the previous nine years worked closely with Bill Belichick in the Patriots' front office. It must be noted new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels was Belichick's offensive coordinator in New England.

Mort and I have exchanged a few e-mails on the subject. Here is how he broke down the proposed three-way deal:

This one defies logic, but a source I really trust tells me it's true: The Broncos were willing to offer their own first-round pick (12th overall) to the Patriots for Cassel. Obviously, it was conditional upon Cutler being traded and Tampa Bay was the most likely destination, the Bucs willing to part with their first- and third-round picks.

But Belichick never embraced a trade with the Broncos, even though it was a head-scratcher on the value part (second-rounder versus a first-rounder). It suggests two or three speculative thoughts:

  1. Belichick has always valued second-round picks (he now has three) and didn't want to be stuck at No. 12 financially for whatever reason;

  2. Belichick had an agreement with Pioli all along and wouldn't break his word;

  3. Belichick isn't about to help another former assistant.

The Broncos sensed resistance all along, which is why they held the Bucs, Lions, Vikings, etc., at arm's length and allows McDaniels his plausible deniability on trading Cutler (and logic supports his denial).

However, despite intense efforts to keep this run at Cassel under wraps, enough damage has been done that Cutler may now be on the block.

The Broncos/Cutler aspect of the trade was reported by the Boston Globe. A Patriots' leak? Why? To mess with McDaniels?

Mort is correct. The information is astounding.

Several citizens of Patriot Nation have written into my AFC East mailbag and left notes in the comments section that Belichick didn't want a first-round pick for Cassel, that a second-rounder is more financially palatable.

Ridiculous, I say. The Patriots had the No. 10 pick last year and were highly successful with it, selecting defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo, a franchise player who could anchor their defense for the next decade.

The No. 12 pick is a commodity. The Patriots might've traded it for additional picks, dangling it on draft day to a team that has the hots for, say, quarterback Mark Sanchez, and doesn't want him to get away.

Mort left me with one last thought:

It is also interesting that Pioli made the trade without doing a deal with Cassel. This puts a lot of leverage on Cassel's side going forward. Then again, Pioli probably sensed Cassel would have preferred McDaniels and the Broncos for all the obvious reasons, which may have influenced negotiations in Cassel's favor anyway. AFC West rivalry revived here.

That's a lot to think about.

What do you think happened?