The more I look into Matt Cassel, the more unsure I become about whether or not I'd like the Vikings to trade for him. Unlike last year, when an in depth look at Derek Anderson showed his inconsistency and the unlikeliness of his continued success, Cassel's stats send a lot more mixed messages. And since I've been spending the past two days writing memos, I'm going to break this post up into reasons Cassel is the answer for the Purple at quarterback and reasons the Vikings should stay away.
Why the Vikings should trade for Cassel:
He's young (26), he's accurate enough for the West Coast Offense (he completed 63.4% of his passes) and he's been well coached. He had the 10th highest QB rating in the NFL last year, the 11th highest completion percentage and he doesn't really turn the ball over, only throwing 11 interceptions. He also had some monster games (and when I say monster games, I mean actual monster games-not the 11-17 for 163 yards and 4 touchdowns type monster games we've been used to the past few years), including two games with over 400 yards passing and another with 345 passing yards. He had seven games with a QB rating over 100 and five games with 3 or more touchdowns. While it's true that he inherited a passing game that included Randy Moss and Wes Welker, he was also behind an offensive line that finished 26th overall in adjusted sack rate and gave up the fifth most sacks in the league. He showed he can successfully lead an offense that scored 42 touchdowns when given the right pieces. And it's not like the Vikings are completely devoid of talent in their receiving corps--Bernard Berrian and Bobby Wade aren't Moss and Welker (there's an understatement), but they aren't Troy Williamson either. And Sidney Rice is entering his third year, which, if he can stay healthy, is the year that many wide receivers end up breaking out. And, of course, Sammy Morris is no Adrian Peterson. (And let's all just gloss over the whole coaching comparison so we don't get too depressed).
Why the Vikings Should Stay Away:
There's a lot of evidence that Cassel isn't going to be an elite quarterback, which means that the Vikings shouldn't pay him or the Patriots like he's an elite quarterback. Here's his projection from this year's Pro Football Prospectus, which is based on quarterbacks that are similar to him (which, prior to this year did not include a lot of good quarterbacks) would do if they got to play 16 games in New England's offense against New England's schedule:
299-478, 62.5%, 3751 YDs, 27 TDs, 23 INTs, 7.5 YPA 17.0% DVOA
And here's the actual statistics he put up:
327-516, 63.4%, 3693 YDS, 21 TDs, 11 INTs, 6.2 YPA 6.4% DVOA (20th)
Pretty similar if you ask me. He threw a few more passes, completed a slightly higher percentage of them and threw a lot fewer interceptions, but his DVOA is lower than his projection, as is his yards per attempt. In fact, he had a lower DVOA than Tarvaris Jackson (though, one has to remember that while DVOA is adjusted for competition, Tarvaris Jackson didn't exactly play against a murderers row of pass defenses, and, since it's a rate state, it's easier to put a higher one in fewer games). It definitely makes it seem like Cassel was a product of the talent around him, rather than an equal part of the offense. If that was true, however, it would seem to follow that he'd do well against the bad pass defenses and struggle against the good ones. So was this a case of Cassel putting up big stats against bad defenses and struggling against good ones?
This following chart has Cassel's QB Rating per week compared with his opponent's QB Rating against.
It shows a young quarterback that had some struggles, but also had some amazing games. His best game came against Denver's awful pass defense at home, while his worst game was quite clearly, his 12th, which came against the Steelers. Not all that surprising, considering it was on the road, in the cold, against a top pass defense and the Patriots were missing Wes Welker for most of the game. He also bounced back afterward and finished strong, with a QB rating over 100 each of the last three weeks. He did only face five teams that had above average pass defenses by QB Rating against (and the Steelers were the only top five pass defense he faced). He did have some success against them, however, posting a QB Rating of 114.0 against Miami and a QB rating of 108.1 against Oakland.
Even after going this in depth, I'm not really sure whether Cassel is the long term answer for the Vikings. The problem is that I'm not sure if there's any other realistic option for the Vikings' this year. I wish I trusted Childress to evaluate quarterbacking talent (of course, if I did, I doubt I'd be writing this post about Cassel because the Vikings wouldn't have an issue at quarterback), because then I'd say that it came down to what the scouts said--were Cassel's big games due to Moss and Welker and Belichick, or were they a result of finally getting a chance to show off his talent (along with having Moss, Welker and Belichick's offense). The stats seem to support the latter, but there's enough there to think that the struggles were an inexperience thing, rather than a lack of talent, and I'm not sure if anyone can tell the difference without breaking down Cassel's tape. There isn't a clear drop off in performance as the season went on like there was with Anderson. So if the Vikings' think he's the answer, I'm not sure I disagree.
I guess that means it comes down to what the Vikings would have to give up to get him. As I've said before (and will expand on later), the window of opportunity for this team to make a run at the Super Bowl is a lot smaller than one might think. Giving up a first and third round pick for the second straight year is worth it to acquire a franchise quarterback, just like it was worth it to acquire a franchise defensive end. I'm not so sure that's Cassel, however. If they give up less than that, such as only a first rounder, or even less than that, then I think they should jump on it. Yes, they'll need to pay Cassel a big chunk of change, but I trust that the cap wizards at Winter Park can make it work (and they currently have $28 million in cap room to work with). At the very least, the Purple need to inquire about trading for Cassel and find out whether they have a similar definition of Cassel's value as New England does.