Matt Cassel played his hand, betting on himself in free agency.
The Minnesota Vikings are holding their cards, for now.
General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer said they weren’t surprised Cassel exercised the player option and voided the final year of his two-year contract with Minnesota. Cassel, who passed for a team-high 1,807 yards and 11 touchdowns and had an 81.6 quarterback rating last year, passed up the $3.7 million in the second year of the deal for the right to become a free agent.
"You know, from a business standpoint, you knew that was going to come," Spielman said Saturday at the team’s annual Arctic Blast, benefiting the Vikings Children’s Fund. "Basically, Matt’s done a great job for us. We’ve already been in contact with his agent. I talked to Matt two nights ago on the phone. So, technically he’s a UFA now and I’m sure we’ll be visiting with his agent down the road as we go."
Cassel’s decision leaves Christian Ponder currently as the only quarterback signed into next season. But the team isn’t ruling out the possibility that Cassel could return to Minnesota. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner said his son, Scott, had spoken with Cassel and there seemed to be interest from both sides in a possible reunion. Scott Turner is the team’s new quarterbacks coach.
Zimmer said he had spoken with Cassel recently, but not in regard to opting out of his contract.
"I knew there was a possibility of it," Zimmer said. "I don’t worry too much about those kind of things. Rick takes good care of all that. I just want to coach football, get the right guys and coach them hard and get them to play good."
Cassel is the only free agent quarterback who finished last season as his team’s starter. He signed with Minnesota as Ponder’s backup, but ended up starting six games for the Vikings, including the final five contests. Cassel completed 60.2 percent of his passes with nine interceptions.
Cassel could be considered by some teams as the top free-agent quarterback available in a 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. Josh Freeman, who ended his season as a weekly inactive for the Vikings, started games for Tampa Bay and Minnesota and is a free agent. Other free agents include David Garrard, Rex Grossman, Chad Henne, Shaun Hill, former Minnesota draft pick Tarvaris Jackson and Jon Kitna.
Cassel was likely set to return as the Vikings’ starter or a possible backup to a new, young quarterback. Minnesota, with the No. 8 pick in the draft, is expected to address the position early in the draft.
"There’s all shapes, sizes and flavors," Spielman said of the quarterbacks in May’s NFL Draft. "I think there’s going to be depth in this quarterback draft class that you’re not going to be forced to take one in the first, or maybe a guy where we’re picking in the second, or maybe a guy where we’re picking in the third. So that’s where, if you’re not sold on a guy at the No. 8 overall pick, let’s say potentially, hypothetically, you trade back and accumulate two or three more picks in that first three rounds, then that gives you the flexibility to move back up in the second or bottom of the first. There’s so many different things that can happen."
Spielman, who worked with Turner in Miami, and Zimmer both said they would lean on Turner in the evaluations at the quarterback position. Cassel’s return would be part of the evaluation process.
"I think Zim, as we put the staff together, we really honed in on those coaches that can get the best out of players and Norv is, I think one of his areas of strength is that expertise in that quarterback position," Spielman said. "And he’s going to have a major, major influence on that and his son Scott’s very good too, as you sit there and listen to him. But those guys are very good at identifying what they want and what they’re looking for in a quarterback. And can they get our current guys to play better and we’ll look definitely through the draft and potentially add a guy there at some point, don’t know when. But Norv will have a big, big part of the decision process in that area."