What Matt Cassel's contract tells us

PHOENIX -- In keeping with our hope of using salary information to illuminate player expectations, let's take a closer look at the contract the Minnesota Vikings signed quarterback Matt Cassel to last week.

Cassel's deal pays him as a high-caliber backup in 2013, fortifying the Vikings' insistence that he won't compete with Christian Ponder for the starting job. (Of course, as we discussed last week, they have given themselves a much better option to turn to should Ponder struggle during the season.) Cassel will receive a $2 million roster bonus, a base salary of $1.65 million and total compensation of $3.7 million for 2013.

It's true he will earn more than Ponder ($1.298 million in '13), but that is a function of Ponder's third-year status rather than a reflection of the Vikings' assessment of the two. There is nothing in Cassel's first-year compensation that suggests the Vikings envision Cassel as their 2013 starter.

On the other hand, they have provided a mechanism for addressing that eventuality if it comes. There is technically a second year in the deal that would pay Cassel about $4 million in 2014 if both sides want him to return as a backup, as Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com notes. But Cassel could void the deal or the Vikings could release him with no further salary-cap hit.

So both sides are protected if circumstances change. If they don't, the Vikings could have Ponder's backup locked up for two years at a total of $7.4 million.