casselBy Scott Benson

The Man came down hard on Matt Cassel today, ruthlessly denying the fifth-year quarterback his football freedom by cynically invoking an arcane and possibly illegal CBA clause that was never the late Gene Upshaw’s intent in the first place.

On the first day they were eligible to do so, the Patriots have designated Cassel as their franchise player for 2009, according to Chad Finn over at Reiss’s Pieces.

 Bill Belichick even released a statement;

“Matt has been a pleasure to coach his entire career and last season in particular, when his years of hard work and commitment resulted in a most impressive performance,” said Belichick. “We look forward to working with Matt again in 2009.”

I can just imagine Kevin Mannix’s reaction to that last line. Mike Florio will be back later to parse.

The tag is a non-exclusive one, giving the team and the player maximum flexibility to work a possible trade. So the dance begins…