Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel will opt out of his team-friendly contract before Friday’s deadline, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. Cassel's deal would have been worth $3.7 million this season, but had the option to forgo the final season of a two-year, $7.4 million deal he signed last year with the Vikings.
Calls to Cassel's agent, David Dunn, were not immediately returned.
The move makes sense for Cassel. It's a very thin free agency class for quarterbacks this offseason, headlined by Michael Vick, Josh McCown, Kellen Clemens and Josh Freeman, who spent the final 12 games of the season with the Vikings.
Cassel would climb, arguably, to the top of that free agent class as a serviceable quarterback looking for a multi-year deal. He’ll likely get more money than he would’ve received if he decided to remain with the Vikings under his current contract.
Of course, Cassel could also re-sign with the Vikings for more money after free agency opens March 11. At the moment, Christian Ponder is the only quarterback on the Vikings' roster.
Whether the Vikings can sign Cassel remains unknown given the demand at quarterback. Six of the top 11 teams in the NFL Draft need a quarterback. Given the free agency class and the uncertainly of how many rookie quarterbacks would be ready to start immediately, Cassel could be looked at as a starting short-term quarterback for a franchise that seeks to develop its future quarterback through the draft.
If Cassel didn’t opt out of his deal, the Vikings would owe him a $500,000 roster bonus (which is part of the $3.7 million) if he is still on the team a week after the official league season begins March 11.
Cassel, 31, played in nine games for the Vikings this season, starting six. He was 25th in the NFL in passer rating (81.6). Cassel started Week 4 against Pittsburgh in London when Christian Ponder was injured and led the Vikings to their first victory. Freeman was signed the following (bye) week, and Cassel struggled in a loss to Carolina. He returned to backup status, replacing Ponder in three games, twice because of injury. In Week 13, he beat Chicago after replacing an injured Ponder in the second half, and claimed the starting job with a strong performance in a loss at Baltimore the following week. In a Dec. 15. victory over Philadelphia, he had the best performance by a Vikings QB this season — 26-for-35 for 382 yards and two TDs. His passer rating of 90.7 was 13th in the NFL at that time, but fell after a loss to Cincinnati and a season-ending victory over Detroit.
Ponder, the 12th overall pick in the 2011 draft, signed a four-year contract for $10.15 million that is fully guaranteed. His signing bonus of $5.8 million is paid out evenly over the four years. For 2014, his salary is $1.76 million with another bonus of nearly $1.5 million. If the Vikings cut him this offseason, they would be on the hook for that money and a $3.2 million salary cap hit.
Cassel's career has been full of ups and downs. He was a backup to Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer at USC, and is the only modern-era quarterback who never started a college game to have started an NFL game.
The Patriots drafted Cassel in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2005 draft, and he was a backup to Tom Brady for four seasons in New England. In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game, and Cassel played the rest of the season, leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record. With his four-year contract expiring, the Patriots gave him the franchise tag early in 2009 and traded him to Kansas City for linebacker Mike Vrabel and a second-round draft choice.
Cassel's big season with the Patriots paid off. The Chiefs signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract that included $28 million in guaranteed money. He started in 2009, and in 2010 made the Pro Bowl as Kansas City won the AFC West. He injured his hand after 10 games in 2011, however, and after starting in 2012 he eventually lost his job to Brady Quinn.
Cassel was released last March, and the Vikings quickly signed him to back up Ponder. Here's Mark Craig's feature story on Ponder, written before last season.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel was named the FedEx Air Player of the Week.
Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns in the 48-30 victory over Philadelphia. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Since taking over the starting quarterback role on December 1, 2013, vs. Chicago, Cassel has thrown for 890 yards, third-most in the NFL during that span behind Tom Brady (1,153) and Peyton Manning (1,089).
Good morning from Mall of America Field. The Vikings just released their inactives for today's game against the Chicago Bears and there are no real surprises.
Their inactives: quarterback Josh Freeman, cornerback Josh Robinson, offensive guard Jeff Baca, offensive tackle Mike Remmers, tight end Kyle Rudolph, wide receiver Rodney Smith and defensive tackle Chase Baker.
The Bears inactives are quarterback Jay Cutler, safety Major Wright, safety Anthony Walters, linebacker Lance Briggs, tackle James Brown, tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive end Cornelius Washington.
Josh Freeman likely will be the No. 3 quarterback again Sunday against Green Bay after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier kept Christian Ponder as the starter.
Fans and media are surprised and confused as to why the Vikings aren't willing to give Freeman another chance to start, which brought a smile from Freeman after a round of questions about his role following Wednesday's practice.
"You guys probably have a lot of great theories," he said. "I'm just working, man. It's been great. I'm just focusing on ball. I had a chance to really -- there's no distractions, no anything. You just get to sit, focus. I get my Beats bumping in the QB room, just sitting there, just jamming, watch tape and take notes. It's great."
Freeman went from starter to No. 3 after a disastrous debut against the New York Giants a month ago. Freeman insisted he's not disappointed that he isn't starting this week after Ponder committed three turnovers in a loss at Seattle.
"I know that upstairs they know what they’re doing," Freeman said. "The coaching staff, Leslie, they feel like Christian is the best option. Like I said, it’s not my job to dispute that. It’s my job to go out and work as hard as I can.”
Freeman also said he doesn't regret signing with the Vikings after receiving interest from multiple teams after being released by Tampa Bay.
"I just kind of go ... I go for life," Freeman said. "There’s not really anything that I look back on that I say, ‘Man, I wish I would’ve done this.’ Not everything’s going to work out for you, but at the same time you can’t go your life just second-guessing everything you do.”
Did not participate: Greg Jennings (Achilles), Adrian Peterson (groin), Josh Robinson (chest), Kyle Rudolph (foot), Erin Henderson (not injury related) and John Sullivan (concussion).
Limited: Rhett Ellison (ankle), Fred Evans (knee/shoulder), Letroy Guion (chest) and Michael Mauti (knee).
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier surprised many Wednesday by announcing that Christian Ponder will remain the starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Green Bay.
Frazier defended his decision by saying that Ponder gives the team the best chance to win. He said Matt Cassel likely will serve as the backup with Josh Freeman as the No. 3 quarterback.
"I believe, like in every decision you make, you try to make a decision based on who you think gives you the best chance to succeed," Frazier said. "In our case, we think that’s Christian at this point. He’s had some success against Green Bay’s defense. He’s familiar with their team and their personnel. He’s had some success up at, ... he’s played at Lambeau before. So it should be a good opportunity for him. Good opportunity for our team."
Frazier removed Ponder in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 41-20 loss at Seattle after he committed his third turnover, a pick-six. Ponder threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions to start the fourth quarter to turn a relatively competitive game into a rout.
Ponder now has committed 13 turnovers in seven starts this season. Ponder, however, said he was not surprised that he's keeping his job.
"No, not at all," he said. "I was operating under the assumption that I would be, unless I was talked otherwise. But I appreciate coach Frazier having the confidence in me to be able to go out this week and play.”
Frazier said he hasn't ruled out Freeman getting another shot this season and he said he still believes signing Freeman to a $2 million contract on Oct. 8 was the right decision.
"When you look at where we were at the time and what we were trying to accomplish and what we were facing to not take advantage of that opportunity to bring him in and be able to be around him, take a look at him, see if he could help our club," he said. I think we'd be kicking ourselves just wondering. We still have other games to play. There still may be other opportunities for him. No regrets about bringing him in, especially where we were at the time and where we are now. No regrets in that regard."
Frazier said he's had no issues with Freeman and that he's"exceeded' some of his expectations.
"In some ways, based on the information that we received, he's exceeded those," Frazier said. "He's been all in. He's been a professional in everything we've asked him to do. I like the way he handles himself in the pocket, in the meetings, in the locker room. Much better than some things that we had heard."
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