Too much risk involved in pursuing Cassel

January 28th, 2009 - 7:27 pm

As the Bears prepare to enter the 2009 off-season with the quarterback position still unsettled, armchair GMs across Chicagoland are offering solutions to fix the decades-long problem.

One of the most common names brought up by fans is Matt Cassel, the backup quarterback for the Patriots who saw a full season of duty after Tom Brady went down with an injury in the season-opener. After getting off to a rocky start, Cassel eventually went on to have a solid season and paved the way for an eventual starting position somewhere in the near future.

Cassel joined Mike Mulligan and Brian Hanley Wednesday morning on WSCR 670 The Score, and Mulligan, half-serious, made a plea to Cassel that the Bears could use his help. Mulligan, it should be pointed out, made several references that the Patriots would likely tag Cassel and he probably knows the unlikelihood that the Patriots quarterback will ever be seen wearing a Bears uniform.

While Cassel seems to have the tools needed to be an effective starting quarterback in this league, I’m a little bit leery about the Bears pursuing him for a couple reasons.

First and foremost, Cassel, in all likelihood, will be given the franchise tag by the Patriots instead of being allowed to walk away in free agency. By tagging Cassel, the Patriots not only can pick up multiple first round picks if a team wants to trade for him — a price tag way too steep — but they also have him as an insurance policy in case Brady does not return healthy.

Secondly, I’ve always been cautious about judging players based on one year of duty. Similarly to how I cannot make an accurate projection about the future of Kyle Orton based on his first full season as a starter, we don’t know for sure whether Cassel can sustain this success over the course of a couple seasons.

I like to compare Cassel’s situation to the Browns’ Derek Anderson. In 2007, Anderson took the league by storm and it once again caused a frenzy among Bears fans who wanted to see the Bears try to acquire him. After the Browns gave him a contract extension, he went on to fail miserably this season and was eventually replaced by Brady Quinn.

Cassel appears to be a better player than Anderson, but do we really know that for sure? Can the Bears really put all their eggs in one basket — in the form of multiple draft picks — and count on a guy whose last start before this year was in high school? A guy with only one year on his resume, that happened to play for a team that is indubitably better at developing talent than the Bears have been? A guy who had receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker at his disposal?

I don’t care if Cassel pans out and turns out to be a solid quarterback for years to come. There are too many unknowns and not enough certainty in him. It’s like gambling at a casino. Sure, there’s a chance the Bears could walk away rich and finally have that evasive franchise quarterback that has slipped their grasp for far too long. But there’s also an immense risk that could set the franchise back several years.

Fortunately, I don’t have to make that decision. Finding a free agent quarterback is Jerry Angelo’s responsibility, but it’s high on my off-season wish list. The Bears do need a veteran backup that can push Orton in training camp and either get him to take his game to the next level or replace him in the lineup.

Pursuing Cassel is just not worth risk, though.