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News » In tag, looks like Cassel is it Patriots are likely to franchise QB

In tag, looks like Cassel is it Patriots are likely to franchise QB

In tag, looks like Cassel is it Patriots are likely to franchise QB
On Football

The question no longer seems to be if the Patriots will designate quarterback Matt Cassel their franchise player, but when. It could come as early as today.

NFL teams can use the franchise tag - which helps retain top players and limits a player's ability to fully experience free agency - on one player today through Feb. 19.

The thought of Cassel as a franchise player seemed far-fetched Sept. 7, when he replaced the injured Tom Brady in the season opener. At the time, some wondered if he was even a reliable No. 2 quarterback, let alone a serviceable starter.

His stunning rise was one of the NFL's top stories during the season, and now Cassel's future has turned into one of the league's top offseason story lines. What makes it so compelling are the options in play.

Will Cassel remain with the Patriots as the franchise player, earning an unprecedented raise from $520,000 to $14.65 million? Not bad in this economy.

Will he be assigned the franchise tag and then be traded? Although violating the spirit of why the tag was introduced - to give a team more time to negotiate a long-term contract with a player - that's what the Chiefs (with Jared Allen) and the Packers (with Corey Williams) did last offseason.

Will there be a long list of suitors? Surely, quarterback-needy teams are now doing their due diligence.

What might the Patriots receive in the form of compensation in a trade? They'd likely set the bar high, seeking at least one first-round draft choice.

If the Patriots trade Cassel, is that an indication that Brady's recovery remains on course? One would assume that's the case.

If the Patriots keep Cassel, can they afford to tie up $29.2 million of their salary cap - approximately 25 percent - on two players? It runs counter to the team's longstanding philosophy of spreading the wealth.

Would the Patriots seriously consider allowing Cassel to become a free agent, or in an even longer shot, sign him to a contract extension? Unlikely.

The clock starts ticking today, which means it's timely to review the Patriots' history with the franchise tag.

They've utilized it four times - on kicker Adam Vinatieri in 2002, safety Tebucky Jones in 2003, Vinatieri in 2005, and cornerback Asante Samuel in 2007.

In 2002, the Patriots waited until the last day to assign the franchise tag to Vinatieri. The sides had been negotiating a contract extension, but ran out of time. The tag was removed March 15 when Vinatieri inked a three-year extension.

In 2003, the Patriots again waited until the last day before assigning the franchise tag to Jones. Two months later, Jones was traded to the Saints for three draft choices - third- and seventh-round picks in 2003 and a fourth-rounder in 2004.

In 2005, the Patriots and Vinatieri were in a familiar situation, the team tagging Vinatieri on the last day. The sides couldn't reach an extension that offseason, so Vinatieri played that year under the one-year franchise tag figure, and left the following season - joining the Colts as a free agent - when the Patriots elected not to place the tag on him a third time.

In 2007, the Patriots and Samuel had reached a negotiating deadlock, and the team tagged him Feb. 16, which marked the first time the Patriots didn't wait until the deadline to utilize the tag (the deadline was Feb. 22). After Samuel held out of training camp, the Patriots negotiated an arrangement that they wouldn't tag him again in 2008 if he returned to the team for one year and played in 60 percent of the defensive snaps or the team won 12 games. Samuel met those conditions and signed as a free agent with the Eagles the following offseason.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 5, 2009

Tony Hunt Name: Tony Hunt
Position: RB
Age: 22
Experience: 2 years
College: Penn State
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