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 can 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.