logoby Scott Benson

The possibility has dawned on me that we have been kidding ourselves about what the Patriots can get for Matt Cassel in a trade.

Cassel’s surprising success as fill-in for Tom Brady last season, and his expiring contract, had most of us assuming the Patriots would franchise and flip the former 7th round pick for a smashing return, including at minimum a first round choice in this April’s draft.

I’m starting to wonder if we might have overestimated a tad.

Here’s the theory. Rival execs didn’t come away from the 2008 season – even with everything the former benchwarmer did – thinking that Matt Cassel was a special quarterback they could build their team around. They came away thinking they could do the same thing with their as-yet unproven quarterback.

Two things have always been true in the NFL: everybody copies everybody else and everybody thinks they can and will do it better.

So isn’t it possible that they watched Matt Cassel and the Patriots last season and decided not that they had to have him, but they could do ‘that’ too, with their own guy, without giving up invaluable draft picks and a long-term big-money contract?

Some of the teams that have been mentioned as potential trade partners recently made under the radar moves that may lend support to the theory. Tampa Bay signed backup soon-to-be free agent Luke McCown to a contract that will pay him $2.5 million a year over the next two seasons, and that doesn’t seem like something you’d do if you were about to give up your first round pick for Matt Cassel’s guaranteed $14 million.

Elsewhere, the Vikings were poised for the new league year, when they expect to land Houston’s Sage Rosenfels, who they’ll extend for three years at $9 million. In Detroit, Daunte Culpepper reworked his contract to be more favorable to the Lions’ forthcoming teambuilding efforts, a gesture that seems to confirm Culpepper will be back in Motown next fall.

Now, before you tell me that these moves are stupid and that furthermore, Sage Rosenfels is thirty-one years old and he sucks, and that decisions like these are what made them the (recent) Bucs and Vikings and Lions, just allow me to say this: precisely. You were expecting a 180 turn this one time?

I’m not saying there’s no market for Cassel; even though he had top coaching and great receivers like Moss and Welker, he showed skill and makeup in difficult circumstances. He’s 27, has a promising recent track record, good organizational pedigree, he’s of sound mind and in good health…..you’re right. Sage Rosenfels does suck.

But in Kansas City, there’s Tyler Thigpen, a 24 year old who may seem like a Cassel in waiting to even Scott Pioli, at a fraction of the price. In San Francisco, 29 year old Shaun Hill, getting almost four and a half million a year, is said to be the favorite after leading two consecutive late season mini-surges by the Bay.

Both of these teams – and for that matter the Chicago Bears, who recently pledged themselves again to Kyle Orton – could very well have an interest in Cassel. Their recent public statements could be nothing but posturing for an expected negotiation with both Cassel and New England.

Or maybe they really think that Matt Cassel’s success proves only that they don’t need him.