Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
For those Minnesota fans who are living off what we'll call "Casselhope," let's catch you up on the situation surrounding New England quarterback Matt Cassel.
On Thursday, the Patriots placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Cassel. My colleague Mike Sando of NFC West fame provides an excellent primer on how the tag process works. But here are the two key points:
Cassel is free to sign an offer sheet with another team once the free-agency period begins Feb. 27.
The Patriots retain the right to match the terms of that offer sheet. If they decline, Cassel's new team sends them two first-round picks (in 2009 and 2010) as compensation.
Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe points out that no one knows the Patriots' plan for sure. They could be buying time to monitor Tom Brady's rehabilitation from knee surgery. They might already have decided to keep Cassel as insurance for the 2009 season, even if it means allocating almost $30 million in salary-cap space for the two quarterbacks. Or, they might have tagged Cassel simply to ensure some level of compensation if he leaves.
It would be surprising if another team would forfeit two first-round picks for Cassel. So if the Patriots are prepared to part ways, the most likely scenario is a trade at something less than the franchise rate. The trading partner would also need to sign Cassel to a long-term contract.
Reports of Brady's progress have fueled speculation among Vikings fans that Cassel could be available. But we still have no evidence the Vikings would be interested. Coach Brad Childress told local reporters Thursday night that he is still considering his options, but notably, Childress mentioned he has yet to discuss the situation with incumbents Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte.
The two variables -- the Vikings' indecision and the Patriots' opaque plans -- make it hard to suggest that Cassel is heading to the NFC North.
Yes, it's true that at this time last year no one thought Jared Allen -- another player with a franchise tag -- would find his way from Kansas City to Minnesota. But the ransom the Vikings gave up for Allen -- a first-round pick, two third-rounders and an exchange of sixth-round picks -- gutted their 2008 draft. Would they be willing to thin out their 2009 draft for Cassel?
The quarterback is the most important player on the field, but having two consecutive low-impact drafts could have far-reaching implications that couldn't be measured for years. Stay tuned.