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Ask PFW Part I: Trade-talk Tuesday

Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel are Chiefs. The Patriots have another second-round pick.

What are the Patriots personnel managers thinking only getting a second-round draft choice for both Cassel & Vrabel? I can see it just for Vrabel but Cassel should have been worth something more because if Brady goes down again who do we have as a quality backup QB? We're screwed! I feel Cassel deserves a starting job but now where are we in the backup QB situation? Go Pats!
Chris Alden

Hi guys, I read on ProFootballTalk that Tampa Bay offered a 1st and a 3rd round pick for Cassel but the offer came too late. According to the article, the Broncos were also willing to offer their 1st rounder (12th overall). My question is how can Belichick pull the trigger on a trade without making sure he can't find a better offer?Danny Couillard

Why did they trade both Vrabel and Cassel for a 2nd round pick? They should have gotten a round 1 pick for both of them. Do u think they got that pick so they could trade up for a player they like in the draft?Brandon Knipe

OK guys: Let me ask the question that will be your number one post this week -- why did the Pats let Vrabel and Cassel go so cheap? The 34th draft pick? Reports out of Motown had Detroit offering the 20th pick along with additional compensation. What Gives?
Franklin Wallace

I like the Cassel trade. This gives us 5 picks in the 1st 2 rounds with the ability to move up or down. The other deal that was mentioned would have been better, but who knows what would have happened.Joey Smiroldo

I know that the Patriots needed to get Matt Cassel off their books in order to re-sign Wilfork, and others. How can they give up both Vrabel and Cassel for a 2 round pick? The Broncos three-way deal would have netted us a first and third! Was this a misstep by Belichick? Or was the deal completed before the Broncos offer was made? Either way he should have done his due diligence. In Belichick I trust, but I guess he's human too. Raciel Cruz

While I was one of the skeptics who thought part of Cassel's success came from his line, receivers and coaches, I also thought the Pats would get more than a second rounder, not less. I see losing Vrabel as a big minus--a great Patriot with at least a couple years left in the tank. WOW--I'm shocked. So my question is a tally of your letters: How many fans are outraged, unhappy but satisfied, or plain old dumb and happy?James Siegel

Holy emails, Patman! Patriots Nation filled the Ask PFW inbox once again. I posted the above emails as a sampling of those we received. Needless to say, most were negative. And many included some very reactionary, humorous exclamations. "Did the coach hit his head before he made this stupid move?" … "We should have thrown Bruschi and Adalius Thomas in the deal for Pioli while they were at it." … "Today is one of those days you have to say to yourself in Bill we trust." … "This seems like charity for the dearly departed Pioli. Is this a winkwinknudgenudge* golden parachute? Is this the type of personnel decisions we should expect without Pioli around anymore?" … "This is the Louisiana Purchase all over again, except this time the Pats are the French. I'm borderline outraged."
I think that as we get further from the emotional reactions that came immediately following the trade, we come to realize that in Belichick's eyes the two important aspects of dealing Cassel were speed and assurance that the deal could actually get done. Everyone – fans, media, Cassel and the rest of the football world – has known for months that the backup-turned-rising-star was going to be traded. Most of us thought the deal would come in the first few days of the new league year. That part came true. But the entire football world also seemed to believe that endless teams would be clamoring to acquire Cassel's services and that in the end the deal would net at least a first-round pick. That prediction fell flat on both ends. Not as many teams were in the process as predicted and that, combined with the knowledge that New England wanted to unload Cassel's $14.65 million cap number from its tight books, made the market a little weaker.
Belichick clearly thought the best, safest deal was to Kansas City for a very high second-round pick. Apparently the other teams like Detroit and Denver didn't enter the mix until too late in the process when Vrabel may have already been in K.C. getting a physical. What were those teams doing for the last month? Could they have gotten their ducks in order and made their intentions known earlier so that Belichick might have considered them legitimate options as he looked to move swiftly to get Cassel's money off the books? Maybe they could have. But Belichick had to make sure he found a deal for Cassel to open up the cap room for him to make even seemingly minor signings like Fred Taylor, Chris Baker and James Sanders. He couldn't wait around to see if those three-way deals came together and probably didn't want to back out on a deal that both he and Pioli thought was already done. What would have happened if the late-to-the-party three-ways had fallen apart? Then Belichick would have had to crawl back to Pioli after leaving him at the alter. Maybe Pioli would have already gone in another direction and then the Patriots would have been stuck with Cassel's cap-busting cap number. It was a chance Belichick couldn't take. A second-round pick in the hand and Cassel off the books is worth a first-round pick in the bush, so to speak.
As for the Vrabel aspect of the deal, I think it's pretty clear that he too was a cap-cutting measure. Apparently his $4-plus million cap figure was not something the Patriots were OK with, and not something that they could/would restructure. It sounds like -- as hard as this is to put for a well-respected champion, captain and leader – he was essentially a throw-in in the deal. Sounds like Pioli got a guy to help bring veteran presence to his defense, a guy who very well could have been cut were he not included in the deal. As we're told all the time, the NFL is a business. The Vrabel part of this deal reminds us of that yet again. He was a big part of three Super Bowl titles but when his pay outlived his performance he became a cap casualty. He will be missed both in the locker room and on the field.
So maybe Belichick didn't completely maximize Cassel's value. Maybe he could have held out for a first-round pick. Maybe that would have even come together in one of the proposed three-ways. But he couldn't take the chance of the whole thing blowing up, leaving him with egg on his face and Cassel on the books. He now has an extra second-round pick (New England's third in April's draft) to use on draft weekend. He has ammo to move up, move down or stay put and get a very good player in a draft that has some depth at outside linebacker and cornerback. Kevin O'Connell moves up the depth chart as Tom Brady's understudy. And my guess is the Patriots will look to bring in another quarterback either through veteran free agency or the draft.
It may not be the perfect scenario, but in the end it worked out pretty well. The Patriots got a second-round pick for a guy most fans wanted to cut at the end of training camp last August. The team got the cap room it needed to continue through a very important offseason. The sky isn't falling. And Brady looks to remain on track for return to action in the 2009 season opener. As the t-shirt store at Patriot Place in Foxborough says, "Life is Good."
Andy Hart

The Patriots started out free agency with a bang. Signing RB Fred Taylor and TE Chris Baker. The most shocking story was Mike Vrabel and Matt Cassel being traded for just the 34th pick in the draft, but it happened and nothing we can do it about. Now we have a lot of cap space. Do you see the Patriots going after Julius Peppers or any big name OLB to replace Vrabel? Also, what are the chances of signing Leigh Bodden? I understand he left [a reported visit to New England] without a deal, is there anything new about him possibly signing a deal?Philip Balestriere

As I think we all said the day he was released by the Jaguars, Taylor is a great fit in New England. He's a nice addition to the committee backfield. He's got something left in the tank. He's used to splitting carries. He has big-play potential that should only improve as part of a Brady and Randy Moss-led big-play offense. He's hungry. I love the Taylor signing and think the Baker move is a solid one. He's a good veteran tight end. Not flashy or anything, but added depth at a position that needed it.
Now for the money. I love all the Peppers rumors and discussion, but we still don't have much to go on. Of course there hasn't been much talk of him landing anywhere else either, so it wouldn't be out line to see the Patriots quietly swoop in and make a big deal. I have my doubts about how he'd fit in the 3-4, but his edge rushing ability is unquestioned. That's certainly an area the Patriots need help in, even more now with Vrabel in Kansas City. If I had to guess I'd say the Patriots will go after a top-tier edge rusher/OLB in the draft and look to develop some youth at the position with a draft pick, Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable opposite Adalius Thomas. But keep the Peppers' rumors flowing, it makes for a fun offseason.
In my mind the fact that Bodden left town without a deal severely lessens his likelihood of signing in New England. On paper he seems like a decent veteran addition given his production working in Romeo Crennel's defense in Cleveland. Maybe he still wants bigger money than the Patriots are willing to offer. If so, he's not worth it. I'd like to have a veteran or two in the mix at cornerback to compete with last year's draft picks and whoever the team adds at the position in this draft, but I'm not overpaying to get it. He's a veteran with a productive past; he's not Champ Bailey.
Andy Hart

I am usually not a negative person, and I try not to question the decisions made by football executives and coaches, but the Cassel-Vrabel for a 2nd round pick trade raises a number of red flags for not only me but all football fans that I know of. We definitely got the short end of the stick on this one. Cassel alone could have gone for a second round pick and Vrabel for something else. Combined they could have possibly got Tony Gonzalez for us. Generally the Pats have made good trades in the past but this one just does not make any sense (in my opinion). Could you please help justify it because I am confused and a little shocked.Jack Keilty

That's funny, Jack, because I'm usually a negative person and I pretty much question everything. And I did just that when I first started hearing all the various angles of the Cassel trade. But in the end I think Belichick took the safest route that he thought was best on all levels for his team this offseason. A second-round pick isn't exactly chopped liver. (By the way is chopped liver any worse than any other kind of liver? My dad used to make me eat fried liver when I was a kid. It made the whole house smell bad when he cooked it. Gross, even with a lot of ketchup on it!) Belichick got a decent draft pick, and apparently more importantly he quickly got the cap relief he felt he needed. It's not like winning the trade lottery, but it's still a nice payday for a guy, as I said earlier, most fans wanted to cut last summer. I know I did.
Andy Hart

After seeing the Cassel/Vrabel trade with Kansas City, I was a little perplexed at first seeing as how we only got a second round pick for both players. But after hearing what some NFL analysts thought about it, I was put at ease. (They are in fact cheaper than first rounders which is what Belichick wants apparently) I also heard an interesting bit of information in regards to Matt Cassel. Apparently, the Denver Broncos were interested in him and were even willing to trade their 12th pick for Cassel (Belichick declined this trade of course). My two questions are: 1) Does BB not trading Cassel to Denver have to do with McDaniels being their head coach? 2) With the draft picks that the Patriots have so far (and presumably more to come), will they be using them to bring some youth to the defense/secondary?Alex Philipchik

I don't think the fact that second-round picks are cheaper had anything to do with the trade. If Belichick could have safely and assuredly gotten a first-round pick in a timely fashion he would have taken it. Seems like he's pretty comfortable with the guy he drafted at No. 10 last year – Jerod Mayo. I don't think he minds paying him. I don't buy the idea that Belichick hates first-round picks. He's a smart guy and a very capable talent evaluator. I think he would find a guy worthy of the No. 12 pick if he had that selection. Otherwise, he'd trade the pick. Either way he'd make it work.
I also don't McDaniels being in Denver had anything to do with the trade not playing out with the Broncos. I think if that supposed three-way deal had come to fruition earlier in the process there is a good chance Belichick would have done it. But they were too late to the proceedings to make it happen, which in some ways is too bad for all parties involved except maybe the Chiefs.
Finally, I do expect the Patriots to haul in a few more defensive players in this April's draft. I expect two of the first four selections, at the very least, to bring a cornerback and an outside linebacker. Add that to the defensive-minded draft from last year and the Patriots could very well get much younger (and hopefully faster) in the back end of the defense pretty quickly.
Andy Hart

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