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SAM FARMER ON THE NFL

Matt Cassell's trade to Chiefs is a very Brady move

Patriots must have confidence that their starting quarterback will be ready to go. And now Kansas City doesn't have to draft a quarterback with No. 3 pick.

March 01, 2009|SAM FARMER

When Kansas City traded for New England quarterback Matt Cassel on Saturday, the move told us as much about the Patriots as it did the Chiefs.

There is no way the Patriots would have let Cassel go unless they were supremely confident Tom Brady will be recuperated and ready to return for the start of the 2009 season.

So it's good news for New England, and good news for the Chiefs, who are getting a young quarterback who completed 63.4% of his passes last season for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns. Before last season, Cassel hadn't started a game since his senior year at Chatsworth High. He backed up Carson Palmer and then Matt Leinart at USC, before the Patriots selected him in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. His play last season led New England to designate him its franchise player, assuring him a one-year deal worth $14.65 million.

Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli, formerly a personnel guru in New England, knows what he's getting in Cassel and now doesn't have to think about rolling the dice on a quarterback with the No. 3 pick in April's draft.

When he was in New England, Pioli -- in concert with Bill Belichick, of course -- used the team's top pick on defensive players in five of nine drafts. And they got some good ones: Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Meriweather and Jerod Mayo.

If Wake Forest outside linebacker Aaron Curry is still on the board at 3 -- and I think he will be -- he would be an ideal building block for the reconstruction of Kansas City's once-proud defense.

What's more, as part of the Cassel deal that sent the Chiefs' second-round pick (No. 34 overall) to the Patriots, Kansas City also got Pro Bowl linebacker Mike Vrabel. At 33, he might be on the downward slope of his career, but he's a guy who knows what Pioli expects, will be an immeasurable aid to new Coach Todd Haley in the locker room, and who could be a better mentor to a rookie than a ring-laden New England expatriate?

Around the same time the Patriots were shipping one of their quarterbacks, so were the Detroit Lions, who traded Jon Kitna to Dallas, where he'll back up Tony Romo. The Kitna move wasn't a surprise -- he wasn't expected to be around long -- and it is another indication the Lions will use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback, most likely Georgia's Matt Stafford.

Daunte Culpepper would be a stopgap to help ease the transition into the Stafford era. Yes, there's a possibility the Lions could go another direction -- they've had the league's worst defense two years in a row -- but they would be hard-pressed to pass on a player with franchise-quarterback potential at that spot. That could all change, of course, if Detroit addresses its quarterback need through free agency.

Whatever happens, the Lions aren't going to risk a rookie holdout. They will have a deal done with the top pick before the official start of the draft. So if Stafford wants to be the top pick, he had better be ready to sign.

That will put St. Louis on the clock, and the Rams' top need is an offensive tackle who can one day replace Orlando Pace. Tackle Alex Barron, their top pick in 2005, has been just OK on the right side.

Like the Lions, the Rams are bad all over, so they could use help on defense too. They drafted defensive end Chris Long second last year, and he was moderately effective with four sacks. The Rams' defense is soft in the middle, though, and gave up the most yards rushing in franchise history.

Still, St. Louis' most pressing need is for an offensive tackle, and there are some good ones in this draft class. At the moment, as prospects prepare for their various campus pro days, Baylor's Jason Smith looks like the best.

Whereas Washington has made the gaudiest moves in free agency so far, signing Albert Haynesworth and DeAngelo Hall to mega-deals Friday, the New York Jets might wind up being the biggest winners in this player grab.

A day after acquiring former Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott, the Jets traded for Philadelphia cornerback Lito Sheppard, a playmaker who will start opposite Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis.

Sheppard's star was fading fast in Philadelphia, especially in the shadow of Asante Samuel, and new Jets Coach Rex Ryan is clearly confident he can bring him back up to Pro Bowl form.

In Denver, there were various reports that the Broncos -- now coached by former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels -- were looking to trade quarterback Jay Cutler if they could get Cassel.

Cutler is clearly unhappy about the talk.

"I'm upset," Cutler told the Denver Post on Saturday. "I mean I'm really shocked at this point. I could see why they want Cassel. I don't know if they think I can't run the system or I don't have the skills for it. I just don't get it. Or if they don't think they can sign me with my next contract. I just don't know what it is. I've heard I'm still on the trading block."

So, in a way, Cassel is doing his job. He's already shaking up the AFC West. Just imagine when he takes a snap.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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