Caveat Emptor…

Last Sunday, viewers in the DC area were treated to the Pats/Cards contest as the early game on FOX. Once a year, a “snow game” can be fun to watch for a while; it is interesting to see athletes who have spent their lives learning to play a violent game based on power and speed trying to stay upright with mincing steps and lack of balance. Nevertheless, it gets old after a while and the mind wanders…

I think it was Moose Johnston who brought up Matt Cassell’s imminent free agency and how Cassell would be making a lot of money next year based on his performance this year. There is no denying the fact that Cassell will be making lots more money next year than he has in the past; his signing bonus figures to be more money than he has made in his entire career to date. Since Tom Brady went down in Week 1, Cassell has steadily gained confidence and poise at QB and has played well.

Considering he is a “rookie” in terms of actual on-field time, he has thrown for 3615 yards this year (with a monster game next week he could actually hit the 4000-yard plateau) and has 21 TDs against 11 INTs. He led the Pats to 40+ points in four different games this year – albeit two of those were against bad defenses and one was last week’s “snow game” – and not a lot of QBs have that on their résumé this year. So, why is there this little voice in the back of my head saying “Caveat emptor…”?

Signing a free agent QB to a big contract sometimes works. Look at Brett Favre and the Jets this year; the Jets may not make the playoffs but they have already won twice as many games this year as they did last year. Look at Chad Pennington and the Dolphins; the Dolphins may not make the playoffs but they have made the largest single season turnaround in terms of wins in the history of the league. Nonetheless, sometimes it just does not work; the example that sticks in my mind is Scott Mitchell who signed with the Detroit Lions back in the early 1990s after stepping in and playing well for the Dolphins when Dan Marino was injured. The Lions were not the cesspool they are now; they were winning half the time back then; Mitchell never gave them much of a return on that investment.

That got me to thinking about other “pricey” QB free agents who never earned their keep. This is hardly an exhaustive list because it comes from my memory over the past couple of days. Moreover, I am not going to try to predict if any of the very recent signings will work out over time such as Brett Favre and/or Derek Anderson. And just to pay tribute to my elementary school teachers and their devotion to the ABCs, I will do these in alphabetical order to avoid any attempt to identify the worst of these signings:

    Aaron Brooks (Saints): The Packers drafted Brooks but I do not think he ever took a snap in Green Bay; he moved to the Saints and had early success; he led the Saints to the playoffs in his first year there. The next year (2002), the Saints missed the playoffs but they thought they had their franchise QB and signed Brooks for 5 years and lots of money (close to $40M as I recall). Brooks wound up with the Raiders for a year and is now out of the NFL.

    Mark Brunell (Redskins): When Joe Gibbs returned to the Redskins, he said he would take a month with his staff to look at game film to decide what players on the team were “core Redskins” with the implication that the others were sub-standard. We can only surmise what went through his head as he watched Patrick Ramsey play QB because his first move was to trade for Mark Brunell and sign Brunell to a 7-year contract worth more than $40M in 2004.

    Jeff George (Raiders): The Raiders signed George for 5 years after he has spent time in Atlanta running June Jones’ spread offense and piling up statistics. He lasted in Oakland for 2 years before being asked to leave town.

    Jeff George (Redskins): The Redskins signed George early in the tenure of Danny Boy Snyder for 4 years. He played a bit in his first year in Washington but when Marty Schottenheimer took over the Skins George and he never saw eye-to-eye about what a QB ought to be doing on the field. Two games into the Schottenheimer Era and George was on the street. You can understand how deep that rift was because Jeff George has a wealth of talent in his right arm and Marty Schottenheimer cut him loose to start Tony Banks at QB for the rest of the season.

    Elvis Grbac (Ravens): The Ravens were the defending Super Bowl champions when they signed Grbac after a “career year” with the Chiefs. Recall that the Ravens were not satisfied with Trent Dilfer at QB despite the Super Bowl win and they signed Grbac to a long-term deal (I think it was 5 years and about $40M but do not hold me to details there.) He played one season in Baltimore and then retired.

Lest anyone think I am picking on Matt Cassell here, I am definitely not. There are other QBs in the NFL who will be on the market starting in March 2009 and the same warning should apply to them too:

    Kerry Collins: Anyone want to argue with his stats or his record in Tennessee this year? Anyone want to project him as an effective starting QB five seasons from now?

    Jeff Garcia: His play has been an essential element of the success of the Bucs this year. He will turn 39 a week before the free-agent season begins.

    JP Losman: He has been asking to be traded from Buffalo for about 2 years now so he should get his wish and leave town next spring. His résumé looks pretty thin to me.

    Kurt Warner: He clearly resurrected his career with his showing in 2008. He will be 38 years old before training camp convenes next summer.

Finally, here is a comment from syndicated columnist Norman Chad:

“Like contemporary iconoclast Fidel Castro, [Al] Davis, for better or worse, has held steadfast to his system. And what is this system? A commitment to eccentricity, contrarianism and a lot of broken football lives. Nobody said it was a good system.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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  • JJC  On December 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Cassell has proven himself a starter so I guess the question is “where does he go?” If I were the Patriots I would try to keep him incase Brady hears footsteps. It took Kurt Warner years to mentally recover from his injury and while I don’t expect Brady to be the same it’s ok to play it safe.

    The biggest problem is that Cassell will be going to a team that has problems. It’s really easy to look good with the talent that Patriots have. If he leaves he is going to a team that needs lots more than a QB so I would expect a drop off in performance.

  • Rob  On December 24, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Matt Cassell looks great partly because he has the luxury of playing with NFL football’s equivalent of a Lamborghini Diablo. The Patriots have a lot of offensive firepower and it was only a year ago when they were running over the entire league, coming within a few minutes of making history.

    Jeff Garcia is a player who deserves to be on a good team. He may very well be past his prime but he has been a very good quarterback who’s been under the radar through most of his career.

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On December 26, 2008 at 12:43 am


    Your points are well taken. That is why “caveat emptor” should apply.

    I suspect that a “good team” will sign Garcia only as a back-up and I really do not think that is what he will be looking for.

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