The Minnesota Vikings already had a lot of work to do with their quarterback situation this offseason.
The list just got longer.
Matt Cassel will void the 2014 option on his contract and become a free agent, a person familiar with his decision told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation.
Though the Vikings could’ve also cut him before paying a roster bonus next month, Cassel would’ve made $3.7 million this year had he not opted out, the same amount he made in the 2013 season. Let go by the Kansas City Chiefs last year, Cassel signed with the Vikings as the backup to Christian Ponder but finished the season as the starter.
Cassel was on the field at the end of all five of Minnesota’s victories this year, three as the starter and two in relief of an injured Ponder. He appeared in nine games, and the Vikings went 3-3 in his six starts. With 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions, a 60.2 completion percentage, and an average of 239.8 yards passing per start, Cassel was by far the best quarterback on the roster. Ponder struggled, got hurt and sputtered again when given the job back. Josh Freeman played one infamously rough game.
Freeman will also be a free agent. Ponder has one year left on the rookie contract he received in 2011, when the Vikings drafted him with the 12th overall selection. This year, the Vikings pick eighth in the first round, with quarterback again atop the priority list.
Ponder’s status is unclear, though if he’s still on the roster for 2014 that would only be as a backup. Freeman almost certainly won’t be re-signed. Cassel could still return, though, even though that will require a new contract and likely more money than he was scheduled to earn.
Given his NFL experience and the familiarity he developed with wide receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson and the others on the offense this season, Cassel would be the ideal veteran to bring back while the staff under new coach Mike Zimmer develops a rookie. His last two years with the Chiefs weren’t pretty, but in 2010 he made the Pro Bowl. He also had a strong season for the New England Patriots in 2008 after Tom Brady was hurt in the first game.
With elite-caliber quarterbacks so hard to come by on the open market, since so many teams lock up their franchise players with long-term deals well before they can become free agents, there’s plenty of money to be made even for the fringe starters and career backups. Cassel will almost certainly have the opportunity to sign a bigger deal than the one he opted out of, even if he stays put and returns to the Vikings.