Double Coverage: Cassel vs. Cutler

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham and Bill Williamson

Tremors rumbled though the NFL after the New England Patriots traded quarterback Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs. But the actual deal wasn't as startling as the plot lines that emanated from it.

We learned that a three-way trade was possible in which Cassel would have gone to the Denver Broncos, who would have sent Jay Cutler to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The trade didn't materialize, but the mere fact the Broncos considered such a swap has caused considerable strain in Denver.

Does Broncos rookie head coach Josh McDaniels really think a breakout backup is a better quarterback than the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft?

In this edition of Double Coverage, AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and AFC East counterpart Tim Graham debate the merits of Cutler and Cassel in an attempt to determine who the superior option is.

Why would McDaniels prefer Cassel over Cutler?

Tim Graham: Let's go ahead and cut to the chase, Bill. Cutler is one of the worst decision-makers in the NFL. He might be the league's most reckless starter now that Brett Favre has retired. McDaniels was raised within the Patriots organization, which places a premium on efficiency and accountability. McDaniels groomed Cassel from a player who hadn't started since high school into one of the NFL's more trustworthy passers. Cassel had a 2.1 interception percentage compared to Cutler's 2.9, but he rarely killed a drive with a bone-headed play.

Bill Williamson: Tim, there is no doubt about it. Cutler makes his share of mistakes. This guy is from the Brett Favre school of gun-slinging. He is fearless. Cutler has never seen a route he doesn't like. Often, it works in his favor; sometimes it doesn't. He does need to cut down on his interceptions. But the thing that teammates like so much about Cutler is that he tries to make the big play. And he is capable. Cutler has the ability to carry a team on his back. Cassel, again, is a system guy. In the fourth quarter, I'd take Cutler's arm and gumption any day.

TG: Cassel is no slouch late in games. Let's not forget that amazing play at the end of regulation in Week 11. With eight seconds left and the Patriots down by seven points from the New York Jets' 16-yard line, Cassel rolled right and threw a pin-point pass to Randy Moss along the sideline to send the game into overtime. It was a gutsy throw. But he never was tougher than in Week 15. A few days after his father passed away and before the funeral, Cassel threw for four touchdowns against the Raiders. Nobody can question the guy's heart.

BW: Good point, Tim. Cassel has been impressive in a short period of time. Cutler has his share of fourth-quarter magic as well. I think it all comes down to individual talent. Cutler possesses more talent than Cassel. There is a greater chance for Cutler to make a play by himself than Cassel. I think Cutler can freelance a little bit more, and he has the ability to wait out a play more because of his arm. If a play breaks down, Cutler can still make the best out of it because of his arm, field intelligence and scrambling ability.

Who has the better talent and upside?

BW: Tim, this is a no-brainer for several reasons. Cutler is younger. Cutler has 37 games of NFL experience. Cassel has 15-plus games of experience. Cutler has a rocket arm. Cassel relies on his receivers getting yards after the catch. Cutler is considered a franchise quarterback. Cassel is a system quarterback who was considered a backup until last September. Ask the other NFL teams who they'd rather have as their quarterback and in all likelihood, all of the teams that don't subscribe to the "Patriot Way" would pick Cutler. This is no knock on Cassel; he did a fine job in New England as Tom Brady's injury replacement, and he should be a good fit with former Patriot executive Scott Pioli in Kansas City. But Cutler is a player you can build a team around. Cassel is a player who fits a specific system.

TG: Cassel was a backup until September because he played behind two Heisman Trophy winners and a future Hall of Famer. That he was able to step in after so many years of holding a clipboard says an awful lot about the kind of ability he has. I'm not ready to classify Cassel a sys
tem quarterback. We do know that he thrived in the Patriots' system, but that doesn't mean he's limited to that. Cassel doesn't possess Cutler's rocket arm, but he can throw it. He also is a dangerous runner.

BW: Cutler also can run when he has to. He is a gamer who has a good field presence. If you take away their offenses and rebuild the other 10 players around them, I think Cutler's offense would succeed faster. Cassel seems to rely on the players around him. Cutler is a type of player who makes his teammates better.

TG: I get where you're coming from, Bill. Cutler is a franchise quarterback. I realize he was selected 11th overall and Cassel was lucky to get drafted at all. But I would be interested to see how many personnel executives would value Cassel's rare combination of age and potential if they could draft him today. This isn't a Chris Weinke situation, where you have an older quarterback with little experience. Cassel has been in the NFL for four years, albeit as a backup, but he has been working with elite teammates and has proven he can compete against elite opposition. He has the wisdom of years, but at the same time, he still might have untapped potential.

When it comes to being a winner, who has the edge?

TG: I think we can agree that both quarterbacks have had incredible supporting casts. Cassel had Moss, Wes Welker and a deep backfield. Cutler has Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley and Tony Scheffler. They both have benefited from legendary coaches. But maybe the bottom line is Cassel won 11 games and the Patriots got better as the season wore on. They should have appeared in the playoffs. With Cutler at the controls, the Broncos fell apart.

BW: Did you pay attention to that Denver defense, Tim? San Diego is still scoring points from that last game. Yes, Denver fell apart as the season wore on, but don't blame the quarterback. He didn't make all the right moves, but he had incredible pressure on him. Cutler virtually had to score every time the ball got into his hands. The defense was a liability all season, and it was incredibly porous at the end of the season, when it allowed a combined 112 points in the final three games. Denver blew a three-game lead with three games to go. It all culminated with that 52-point beauty at San Diego in the season-finale in a winner-takes-the-division game. Without Cutler, Denver would have won four or five games.

TG: Did you see the Patriots' offensive line? Cutler was sacked only 11 times. Cassel got dumped 47 times. That Cassel never went into shellshock is a miracle. But you're right: The Patriots had a defense that helped keep games manageable for Cassel. I guess the last thing I will say in Cassel's defense is that the guy is a survivor. He came to work every day and just waited for his chance to be an NFL starter. Now he finally gets a team to call his own. Cutler, on the other hand, has a team and he already wants out. I guess I find Cassel to have a cooler head inside his Riddell.

BW: Tim, I can't argue with the first part of your response, so I will take my shots at the last part. First, Cutler didn't want out until McDaniels wanted him out. Second, Cutler is as cool as they come. He is always composed, almost to the point where you wonder if he even has a pulse on the field. This stems from his days of excelling in the SEC despite playing for perennially outmanned Vanderbilt. Again, Cassel had a nice season and he should be fine with the Chiefs, but Cutler is a more known commodity, and he is more refined and more experienced. We know Cutler will get better because of his tools and his age. He's a sure thing. Cassel is a bit of a mystery. Is he a product of the Patriots' system or is he a diamond in the rough? We already know Cutler is a diamond.