The next step is for the Patriots to send Cassel a contract. Cassel effectively will not be a free agent come Feb. 27 and will not be permitted to shop himself to other teams. The Patriots could still trade Cassel.
Cassel faxed his acceptance to the Patriots, the NFL and the NFLPA on Saturday. That means a $14.651 million salary for 2009 in guaranteed even though he has not signed a one-year contract yet. The franchise tag's value is the average of the top five salaries for NFL players at a particular position.
Cassel had a breakout season in 2008, starting 15 games after starting none the seven previous seasons -- four with Southern California as backup to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, and three after New England drafted him in the seventh round in 2005.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.