Cassel forgoes free agency, signs two-year deal with Vikings

Matt Cassel finished last year as Minnesota's starting quarterback. He could begin 2014 that way as well. Cassel, who earlier in the offseason opted out of his contract with the Vikings, has decided to re-sign with the team.

Matt Cassel started six games for the Vikings last season at quarterback, including the last four.

Marc Lebryk / USA TODAY Sports

Matt Cassel didn't want to reach free agency after all.

Hours before Cassel -- who finished last season as the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback, could start legally speaking with other NFL teams -- he has re-signed with Minnesota, according to FOX Sports 1's Alex Marvez. Cassel is receiving a two-year, $10 million contract, according to Marvez.

Cassel, 31, started six games, including the final four of the season and had a team-high 81.6 quarterback rating to go with 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions, a 60.2 completion percentage and 1,807 yards in nine games.

Cassel declined the second-year option of a two-year contract he signed with the Vikings last offseason, which would have paid him $3.7 million. Cassel was seemingly set to try his hand as a free agent in a weak market of available quarterbacks this offseason.

But with the opening of free-agent talks scheduled for Saturday, Cassel didn't wait to be wooed by other NFL teams. The opening of the "legal tampering" period of NFL free agency is Saturday at 11 a.m. CT, with NFL teams allowed to negotiate with certified agents of players. Contracts can't be agreed upon until the start of the new league year on Tuesday, March 11 at 3 p.m. CT.

Even Minnesota seemed prepared Cassel would see what was available in free agency.

"You know what? I would love to have Matt Cassel back if Matt Cassel wants to be back," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told reporters Thursday. "I don't know if that will happen or won't happen. But we're going to find a quarterback somewhere. And if it's not Matt Cassel, then we'll find someone else. I want guys who want to be here. I want guys that want to be part of the franchise, be part of the organization, be part of the team. And if Matt wants to come back, I'm sure that we'll get it worked out."

Cassel's return seemingly would answer the biggest question for Minnesota on offense.

The veteran quarterback took over as the Vikings' starter for good at the end of last season, ending the constant rotation between Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman. Cassel, who signed with Minnesota last offseason to backup Ponder, essentially ended the Ponder era for the Vikings by starting the last three games while Ponder was deemed healthy.

Cassel led Minnesota to its first win of the season by replacing an injured Ponder for the team's Week 4 game in London. He relieved Ponder three more times during the season, twice because of injury and the Vikings had four of their five wins with Cassel either starting or playing at least a half.

Yet, Cassel opted out of the final year of his deal, a move that didn't surprise Zimmer or general manager Rick Spielman, who both said they would welcome Cassel back.

"Matt Cassel voided out of his contract, which we expected," Spielman said at the NFL Scouting Combine last month. "We'll visit with his agent down here, and we'll also look at other opportunities potentially in the UFA market, anyone that could potentially get cut or on the trading block, and also focus heavily on this draft to get another young quarterback in our system as well."

Ponder was the only quarterback signed into next season and Minnesota owns the No. 8 pick in May's NFL Draft. It was largely believed Minnesota would target a QB the first round, but now could look to bolster another position and perhaps grab a quarterback to groom for the future in a later round.

Cassel was the only free-agent quarterback who finished last season as his team's starter. He was considered by some as the top quarterback available in a free-agent class that includes Josh McCown, who started five games for the Chicago Bears last season, and Michael Vick, who entered the season as the Philadelphia Eagles' starter before giving way to Nick Foles because of injury.

Adrian Peterson recently tweeted that he thought adding Vick would make the Vikings a playoff team. The Vikings signing Vick was improbable to begin with, and it is even more so now as Vick wants to start plus the Vikings are unlikely to carry three veteran QBs on the roster.

Freeman, who ended his season as a weekly inactive for the Minnesota, started games for Tampa Bay and the Vikings and is a free agent and is joined by David Garrard, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne, Shaun Hill, former Minnesota draft pick Tarvaris Jackson and Jon Kitna.

"In general terms, they're older guys that are backup guys that some of them may have had success," Spielman said at the combine about the crop of free-agent quarterbacks. "You look and try to predict guys who could potentially be getting cut, guys who could potentially be on the trade market. We'll just try to explore all those avenues and just kind of see where everything goes."

The avenues led to a reunion for Cassel and the Vikings.

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