Staying put might be in Cassel's best interest

It's been a quick rise for Matt Cassel, who will likely be a highly coveted free agent in 2009. Doug Benc/Getty Images

Before we open this week's mailbag, I wanted to thank the hundreds of fans who reacted to last week's overtime theme. The responses were varied, passionate and well-thought-out.

What fascinates me this week is Matt Cassel. Thanks to his back-to-back 400-yard games, Cassel is becoming an intriguing 2009 free agent. First of all, I think the Patriots need to sign him as quickly as they can. If it costs $4 million a year, he's worth it, even though Tom Brady should be back next season. Franchising him would be too expensive because the franchise number could be around $15 million, and he shouldn't make more than Brady.

If Cassel does decide to leave, it won't be easy for him to recapture what he has in New England.
First, he would lose coach Bill Belichick, the best in the game at recognizing the limitations of players and putting them in position to succeed. Second, he would lose offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who continues to grow as a playcaller. Third, it would be hard to match the receiving talent he has in New England.

Cassel's success is the short pass. Twenty-one of his 29 passes against the Dolphins in Week 12 went 10 yards or less in the air. Yet Wes Welker, Randy Moss and the rest of New England's pass-catchers turned those throws into 245 yards of passing offense. Receivers averaged 8.66 yards after the catch.

The Chiefs and Lions are among the 11 worst in yards after the catch, so they would have to adjust their offensive talent to fit Cassel's style. The 49ers don't have a wide receiver among the top 40 in YAC. The Vikings' only decent YAC receiver is Bernard Berrian, but he's a step down from Welker.

Cassel needs to find a good West Coast offense that has receivers who can gain yards after the catch. If he can't, then he needs to sign a short-term contract and stay in New England.

Let's dive into the mailbag:

From the inbox

Q: As an Eagles fan I think that Andy Reid is still a good drafter and evaluator of talent, but he really isn't making good play calls. Do you think there is any way he would let
Marty Mornhinweg call the plays? When he let Mornhinweg call the plays in 2006 it worked out great.


A: I agree. The Eagles have big, powerful offensive linemen. The play that drove me crazy in Week 12 was the interception Donovan McNabb threw on
third-and-1 in the second quarter. The Eagles were in the shotgun deep in their own territory. Run the ball! I think Mornhinweg is a very good playcaller. Reid doesn't like to run the ball, but the next quarterback, Kevin Kolb or whomever, is going to suffer if the Eagles don't start trying to run more.

Q: I am a die-hard Jets fan. I am 29 years old, and this is my first year as a season ticket holder after 10 years on the waiting list. However, Chad Pennington is still my favorite NFL player, and I am extremely happy about his success in Miami. I do not think that most Jets fans appreciated his leadership, game management and most of all his ability to handle pressure in clutch situations.


A: I agree that Jets fans didn't appreciate Pennington taking them to the playoffs three times. That isn't easy. At some point, the Dolphins need to take a look at Chad Henne, but I think Pennington has earned the right to start in 2009. He's a great leader, and he's giving Dolphins fans a fun season. The AFC East is only going to get tougher next season. Brady will be back for the Patriots. The Bills should get better with another draft. The Jets are already good. Pennington keeps the Dolphins competitive.

Q: John, you keep saying you think Green Bay did the right thing with Aaron Rodgers and that you're a "big believer" in him, but in the next breath you bring up the Brett Favre trade. The only people who keep talking about it are writers who can't seem to find another angle on either team. Why not talk about the Packers' excessive penalties, their inability to stop the run or their inconsistent line play. Packer fans don't see any reason to keep bringing up the Favre trade. It's a non-story. Move on, the rest of us have.

Jim in Austin, Texas

A: Jim, understand a team can have two good quarterbacks, but if you have a chance to stick with the best one, it is a better team. I believed in Steve Young, but Joe Montana was better when the two were together in San Francisco. Favre is better than Rodgers today, yesterday and forever. He's a Hall of Famer. What he's doing with the Jets is one of the best stories of the season. I thought Rodgers could get the Packers to the playoffs, but Favre was better-suited to get the Packers deep in the playoffs. You're right about the problems in Green Bay. The offensive penalties have been a disturbing trend. I still question how good the offensive line is from guard to guard. The defensive line has been a disappointment. The secondary was torched by Drew Brees. For what it's worth, I just think Favre would have this team two games better than Rodgers, and that's no disrespect to Rodgers.

Q: Are the Titans looking to re-sign Albert Haynesworth? How much time do they have after the season to re-sign him? Thanks.

Jeff in Nashville, Tenn.

A: The Titans say they want to re-sign him, and they will have until March 2 to do so. If there is no deal in place by then, he'll be in Denver, San Francisco, Indianapolis or some place other than Tennessee. As you know, he'll become a free agent by going to the Pro Bowl, one of the four performance achievements that prevent the Titans from franchising him. They also have to re-sign Kerry Collins and Chris Simms. Collins and Haynesworth are the priorities, but I'd say there's a 55 percent chance of Haynesworth leaving.

Q: John, I heard this is going to be a bad draft. Many of the juniors have tremendous question marks. The senior class is awful when you consider that many people have Michael Oher, Malcolm Jenkins and Rey Maualuga as the top players -- all three are far from sure players at their positions. Michael Crabtree and perhaps Jeremy Maclin excite, but guys like Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno are terribly inconsistent. Finally, a draft without a surefire DE, RB, WR, LT, QB, CB or LB is problematic.


A: I've heard that complaint for more than three decades, but I don't buy it this year. Normally, the senior classes are awful because of the top underclassmen that leave. I just looked at one of the Scouts Inc. drafts, and they have 21 underclassmen in the first round. Any first round that gets more than 15 usually is pretty good. Most of the top underclassmen RBs should turn pro. Like you, I'm not thrilled with the quarterback class at the moment, but did we expect Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco to do as well as they have?

Q: Since I moved to the desert from England 13 years ago, the Cardinals have been a joke. Even now, no one wants to take them for real, even though they have amazing talent. Everybody still wants to talk about Tony Romo's pinkie or Pacman Jones' issues. People need to look at this team and take the Cardinals for real.

Luke in Tucson, Ariz.

A: Cardinals fans will still have to pinch themselves when they are in their own stadium for a playoff game. The loss to the Giants, though, could cost them a chance at the No. 2 seed, so let's look at matchups. If they play in the first round, the Cardinals will host either the second-place team in the NFC South or Dallas or Washington. They've lost to Carolina and Washington on the road, so the outcome might be different in Arizona.

Q: Why do teams insist on running defensive schemes they do not have the personnel for? Take the Browns for instance. Corey Williams has been very underwhelming in a 3-4 defense and the linebackers are constantly being picked up by guards and tackles. Why can't coaches make in-season changes to defenses that are struggling?

Michael in Cleveland

A: Coaches tend to be stubborn. They often think the system is more important than the players. In the AFC North, you need to build a stout defense to stop the run. It drove me crazy until this year wondering why the Browns stayed in a 3-4 when they clearly didn't have the defensive linemen to stop the run. The trades for Williams and Shaun Rogers made the defensive line better, but the Browns then started blaming the linebackers for not making plays. Eric Mangini got the Jets' defense right once he got Kris Jenkins at the nose.

Q: In a recent column, you wrote that the Chiefs made a mistake by going for a two-point conversion vs. San Diego. I disagree. They were the inferior team, playing on the road and had nothing to lose. My question is: Under what circumstances should a team go for a two-point conversion and the win at the end of regulation? Do you feel it is ever warranted?

Jason in Seattle

A: The Chiefs aren't equipped at the moment to be a team that can convert a two-point conversion to win. They are inferior along the offensive line. Larry Johnson wasn't there for that game. The quarterback is young and raw. A goal-line play is a low-percentage call. Teams do a good job of stuffing the run on a first-down goal-line play. Ask the Eagles. Their inability to score from the 1 has cost them their season. I would have kicked the extra point and tried to win in overtime.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.