Vikings Re-Sign Matt Cassel
Johnny B. Davis analyzes the reunion between Minnesota and Matt Cassel, and how it affects the Vikings' offensive stars.
Vikings Re-Sign Matt Cassel
The Minnesota Vikings have re-signed QB Matt Cassel to a two-year, $10 million deal, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. While (hopefully) no one is relying on Cassel as a starter in standard-sized leagues, his return to Minnesota has significance in two-QB leagues, plus all owners of guys like Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph should have an interest in who’s under center.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Cassel will be under center for the Vikings in 2014. His signing does take Minnesota out of the running for the top free agent quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Josh McCown, but they will almost certainly select a signal-caller in May’s NFL Draft. However, the ideal situation may be for Cassel to serve as a bridge starter until the young guy is ready.
This deal even has ramifications all the way down in the Lone Star State. Before Cassel committed to return to Minnesota, one of his rumored landing spots was with the Houston Texans. Now that we know Cassel is not headed to Houston, it’s more likely that the Texans look to fill their quarterback need through the draft.
To analyze the fantasy impact of this signing, first we’ll take a look at how his presence may impact Minnesota’s fantasy stars and then we’ll take a look at Cassel as a potential fantasy contributor himself.
Cassel can feed his fantasy studs under the right circumstances
The numbers say Cassel can support the fantasy stars around him when things are going well. Dwayne Bowe had a monster year in 2010 with Cassel, totaling 1,162 yards and an absurd 15 touchdowns. That was good enough for Bowe to finish second among wide receivers in standard scoring and fourth in points per reception (PPR). If we look at fantasy points per opportunity (PPO), which basically equates to points per pass route run for a wideout who doesn’t get carries, Bowe ranked first in both standard and PPR.
In 2008 when Cassel was with New England, Randy Moss and Wes Welker both went over 1,000 yards, and both finished in the top-20 PPO in both standard and PPR.
That is some sun-shiny news for owners of Vikings skill players, assuming Minnesota can get things back on the right track. We know that things weren’t so sun-shiny in 2013 in Minnesota, but we still have a small sample of Cassel working with this crew. Let’s see if that sample reveals anything useful.
Cassel played significant snaps with Patterson in seven games. In those games, Patterson totaled 156 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns, 231 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns. Not too bad, huh? Just good for first in standard PPO and second in PPR PPO during that seven-game sample among receivers who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps.
PPO is fantasy points per carry AND route run when we’re talking about a guy like Patterson who runs the ball, but still, you read that correctly: Per opportunity, Patterson was THE MOST PRODUCTIVE fantasy wide receiver in standard scoring while Cassel was under center.
And this kid only played 53 percent of the snaps during that sample. I think I just made a case to take Patterson first overall in every format. OK, let’s not get carried away, but more opportunities may just be the Josh Gordon potion that Patterson’s owners are hoping for.
During the same seven-game sample, Jennings put up 413 receiving yards and three touchdowns. That’s no reason to sound the trumpets, but he was 11th in PPO in both scoring formats among receivers who played at least 50 percent of snaps. It’s at least something positive to take away from an otherwise lackluster season for Jennings.
Cassel only played significant snaps in two games while Rudolph was healthy. One game is really encouraging. The other, not so much. Against Carolina in Week 6, Rudolph had by far his biggest game of the season, catching 9-of-11 targets for 97 yards and a score. So when Cassel was feeding the big man, it was fruitful. But in Week 4 against Pittsburgh, Cassel targeted him twice, which led to two receptions for 6 yards. One to forget, for sure, but the game against Carolina shows what this duo is capable of.
Cassel and Peterson played significant snaps together in only two games. Peterson was super-productive in those two games, but instead of analyzing such a small sample between QB/RB, I’ll just conclude that a productive passing game would probably help Peterson’s fantasy production in 2014.
What about Cassel himself?
Cassel will turn 32 years old in May and will be entering his 10th season in the NFL. He spent his first three seasons backing up Tom Brady in New England, but when Brady got hit by a Bernard Pollard missile early in the 2008 season, Cassel got called out of the bullpen. He delivered what appeared to be a breakout season, passing for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 63 percent completion rate. He even rushed for 270 yards and a score. He finished as fantasy’s No. 8 quarterback, ending up only five fantasy points shy of Peyton Manning’s total.
He parlayed that production into a lucrative deal with Kansas City, but he failed to keep up that pace. During his first two years with the Chiefs, he had respectable but unspectacular performances, finishing 20th (2009) and 14th (2010) in fantasy points among QBs. In 2011 and 2012, he struggled with injuries and dysfunction around him, and ultimately threw more interceptions than touchdowns during that two-year span.
Looking for a fresh start, Cassel signed with Minnesota in 2013 and began the season as Christian Ponder’s backup. When Ponder went down with injury, Cassel stepped in, but he would be in and out of the lineup as he battled inconsistency and the unfortunate burden of having a front row seat to Josh Freeman’s catastrophic Monday night airmail seminar.
Cassel ended up playing in nine games, seven of which he either started or played a majority of the team’s snaps. He totaled 1,807 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions, with a 60 percent completion rate. He also pitched in 57 yards and a score on the ground.
Cassel finished 2013 at a clip of 0.42 fantasy points per drop back, which ranked him No. 25 among quarterbacks who played 25 percent or more of their team’s snaps. For comparison, that’s worse than Geno Smith and Christian Ponder, and just barely better than E.J. Manuel and Matt McGloin. Uninspiring company, for sure.
But we must consider that the team and coaching staff around Cassel will be improved in 2014. They have a promising new coaching staff including fantasy points lightning rod Norv Turner, plus Cassel’s weapons should be healthy and more prepared.
All that being said, even if Cassel is the unquestioned starter, he stays healthy, and everything breaks right around him, it’s unlikely he creeps into the fantasy top 10. His biggest fantasy impact will be on the pieces around him.
Johnny B. Davis is a staff writer for PFF Fantasy. He likes to root out raw, young dynasty talent and spread the gospel of IDP. Follow Johnny on Twitter @JohnnyBDavis