Cassel opts out of final year of deal with Vikings

Quarterback Matt Cassel started six games for the Vikings in 2013, passing for team-highs of 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and an 81.6 quarterback rating. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes with nine interceptions.

Brace Hemmelgarn/Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Matt Cassel wants to see what his options will be in free agency.

Cassel, who ended last season as the Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback, opted out of the final year of the two-year contract he signed with Minnesota last season, according to multiple reports and confirmed by FOX Sports’ Mike Garafolo and first reported by KSTP in Minneapolis. By exercising his player option, Cassel is passing up the $3.7 million he was due by the Vikings.

Cassel signed with Minnesota last offseason after being released by the Kansas City Chiefs following four seasons as Kansas City’s principle starter. He signed to backup third-year quarterback Christian Ponder, but ended up starting six games for the Vikings and passing for team-highs with 1,807 yards, 11 touchdowns and an 81.6 quarterback rating. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes with nine interceptions.

Ponder, Minnesota’s No. 12 overall draft pick in 2011, suffered a broken rib leading to Cassel’s first two starts including a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the International Series game in London. Cassel appeared in all five of the Vikings’ wins last season, and relieved Ponder in three games before being the outright starter for the season’s final five games.

Ponder is the only quarterback currently under contract for Minnesota.

Cassel, 31, took the chance by opting out on his $3.7 million contract, entering a free-agent market that is in short supply of quality quarterbacks.

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Other quarterbacks who are currently free agents include Kellen Clemens, Matt Flynn, Josh Freeman (who ended his season as a weekly inactive for the Vikings), David Garrard, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne, Shaun Hill, former Minnesota draft pick Tarvaris Jackson, Jon Kitna and Michael Vick.

Cassel was seemingly set to return as the Vikings’ starter, a bridge to a rookie, or at least a backup to a young quarterback. Minnesota, with the No. 8 pick in the draft, is expected to address the position early in the draft and try to solidify the position long-term after Ponder proved to not be the answer.

"I have confidence we’ll get this quarterback situation resolved," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said at a January press conference in which the firing of coach Leslie Frazier was announced. "I really do. What that answer is right now, I’m not going to have those answers until we get the coach in place. And when we sit down and delve into what we have at this position. What is potentially out there in free agency? What is the draft class? Those answers will all come in time."

Minnesota hired defensive-minded Mike Zimmer to replace Frazier in January. Zimmer said he would take an active role in the offense when he was hired. The Vikings have hired Norv Turner to be the offensive coordinator, but have not announced the hiring officially.

"Once we get the offensive coordinator hired, I think what we’re going to do is sit down and we’ll start to evaluate those guys," Zimmer said at his introductory press conference. "I think it would be unfair for me to come up here and say so and so is not ready to play, or so and so is going to be a great quarterback. We all have to prove our worth. That’s no different than myself or the quarterback or anybody else."

The Vikings had until the seventh day of the new league year to decide whether to give Cassel a $500,000 bonus, but Cassel beat them to the punch by voiding his contract. Cassel, who could still re-sign with the Vikings, had until Friday to make a decision on whether to void his deal.

Instead, Cassel will try his luck in free agency and see if he can find more money, and possibly a starting role with Minnesota, or elsewhere.

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