Vikings' Cassel ready to backup Ponder
MINNEAPOLIS — Matt Cassel is signed, sealed and delivered in Minnesota, and there is no question what his role will be with the Vikings.
“The fact of the matter is,” Cassel said in a conference call on Friday, “Christian is the starting quarterback.”
When Cassel agreed to terms on Thursday, there was speculation that he was coming in to compete with third-year starter Christian Ponder for the No. 1 job.
But Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman stand firmly behind Ponder, who has been up and down in his first two seasons.
So they went into this offseason in search of a quality veteran who would accept his role, but also be able to handle the offense capably if Ponder were to go down with injury or fail to progress as he is expected.
Cassel appears to fit the mold. He was a career backup in college at Southern Cal then spent his first three seasons in the NFL buried on the bench behind Tom Brady. When Brady went down with a knee injury in 2008, Cassel stepped in and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record.
“I think I understand the role completely, without a doubt,” Cassel said. “At the same time, both being a starter and a backup, your preparation, what you do on a daily basis, doesn’t change.”
It was a whirlwind courtship. Cassel was released on Thursday, got on a plane to Minnesota and agreed to terms on a deal by late Thursday afternoon.
After making the Pro Bowl with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his second season in Kansas City in 2010, Cassel and the Chiefs struggled the next two years. He threw six touchdowns and 12 interceptions in nine games last season for the 2-14 Chiefs, who cut him with two years left on his contract.
“It was a long year. There’s no doubt about it,” Cassel said. “Anytime a team goes 2-14 there’s a lot of things you’d like to change and a lot of things you’d like to fix.”
Cassel worked out with Ponder in Los Angeles last summer and the two have already talked on the phone about being teammates.
“I think we’ll have a great (meeting) room,” Cassel said. “I’m there to add value. I’m there to help him out in whatever capacity that is, and go from there.”
He said all the right things on Friday, but there it’s hard to imagine that he would have jumped so quickly at this opportunity if he didn’t see a chance for him to eventually get a chance to play and re-establish himself as a starting-caliber quarterback.
Ponder has a history of injuries, both in college and his first two seasons in the NFL, including last season when he was unable to play in the playoff game against Green Bay because of an arm injury. That forced the Vikings to start backup Joe Webb, who faltered badly in the 24-10 loss.
Cassel no doubt will inspire much more confidence, both from the coaching staff and the rest of the offense, to be able to run coordinator Bill Musgrave’s offense if need be.
“You have to be ready at a moment’s notice,” Cassel said.
He proved quick on his feet during his first day on the job when he ran into ex-Packers free agent receiver Greg Jennings at Vikings headquarters. Jennings was in town touring the team’s facility and exchanging contract offers, and Cassel said he gave Jennings a big hug and told him “to come on, be a Viking.”
Said Cassel: “He’s a heck of a player and everybody would have big smiles on their faces if he was here.”
Maybe the hug helped. Jennings signed a few hours later.