Vikings' Cassel ready to prove himself
By Brian Murphy
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS — Sure, the Vikings’ 2013 quarterback carousel unsettled Matt Cassel. But the drama failed to drive the veteran out of Minnesota, where a new coaching regime featuring dynamic offensive coordinator Norv Turner enticed him to return.
Plus $10 million and a new two-year contract, which Cassel signed instead of testing free agency. Entering his second season with the Vikings, he is the self-proclaimed starter in a quarterback saga that figures to remain intriguing throughout 2014.
“That’s my mentality, absolutely,” Cassel said Tuesday during a conference call with Twin Cities media. “I go in with the expectation to be the starter — and that won’t change. At the same time, you still have to go out there and prove it and compete, knowing there’s going to be two other quarterbacks, maybe three other quarterbacks.”
Christian Ponder, the presumptive franchise quarterback whose inability to seize the No. 1 job after three seasons created chaos, remains under contract for 2014. However, his future seems in doubt following Minnesota’s decision to reinvest in Cassel.
The Vikings preserved a viable option at an unstable position before they almost certainly target a long-term solution in the May draft, where the team holds the No. 8 overall pick.
Cassel was 3-3 as a starter and won another game after relieving an injured Ponder late in the first half during a disastrous 5-10-1 season last fall for the Vikings. On Dec. 15, in a 48-30 victory over Philadelphia, Cassel passed for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 1,807 yards, 11 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
New coach Mike Zimmer said last week he wanted Cassel to return after the two talked by telephone about potentially working together.
“I think the team rallied around him a lot; I think the team has a lot of confidence in him,” Zimmer said.
By opting out of his initial deal and renegotiating with Minnesota, Cassel will earn about $1.3 million more next season than on a contract that would have paid him $3.7 million in 2014.
“I felt comfortable that if you turned on the film, you’d see I can play and was confident in my abilities,” said Cassel, who turns 32 in May. “You never know what’s going to happen. At the same time, I wouldn’t have done it unless I was comfortable I’d have an opportunity to play or at least have a job next year.”
Cassel’s 248-yard, two-touchdown showing in a 34-27 victory Sept. 29 over Pittsburgh in London saved the Vikings from an 0-4 start. But he was quickly benched after a poor performance the following game in a home loss to Carolina.
He acknowledged being marginalized last season. The Vikings stubbornly backed an ineffective Ponder and desperately tried to salvage their season with the bye-week signing of the uninspiring Josh Freeman, whose woeful performance in a road loss to the then-winless New York Giants led to his banishment.
“I don’t think I always knew where I stood, obviously, from week to week,” Cassel said. “You just prepare to the best of our ability, and you sit there and just hope that you get a chance to get on the field. I was able to get on the field, and we were able to finish pretty strong and give myself another opportunity to come back.”
Turner is considered a quarterback-friendly coach whose schemes have leveraged huge seasons out of Philip Rivers in San Diego and Troy Aikman during consecutive Super Bowl wins with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s.
Cassel said Turner’s 29-year NFL résumé “speaks for itself.” The quarterback lauded his new coordinator’s attacking style and ability to create formations and mismatches to maximize production.
“It’s a trust factor,” said Cassel, a former Pro Bowl selection who also has played for Kansas City and New England. “Trust he’s going to put you in position to be successful. His résumé shows that throughout his career. You obviously have to build that relationship. But it gives you a lot of confidence as a player. If I do what I’m supposed to do, there’s a great possibility I’m going to be very successful.”
The Vikings’ offseason workout program starts next month, followed by organized team activities in late May. By then, the dust will have settled from the draft, which likely means another quarterback prodigy and uncertainty about the position — all of which is fine with Cassel.
“It’s a performance-based job,” he said. “You’ve got to go out there, you’ve got to perform and compete. We’re all optimistic about working with each other. At the same time, I’ve never had one practice with Coach Zimmer. You’ve got to go in and you’ve got to earn your keep every year in the NFL. That’s part of the business.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.