Matthew Brennan Cassel (born May 17, 1982, Northridge, California) is the starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He became the Patriots’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2008 season after then reigning NFL MVP Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury. According to ESPN research, he is the only known quarterback in NFL history to start an NFL game at quarterback without ever starting at quarterback in college.
In his first season as a starter, Cassel became only the fifth NFL quarterback to have passed for more than 400 yards in consecutive games, and the first since the NFL-AFL merger with 60 rushing yards in the same game.
In February 2009, the Patriots used their franchise tag on Cassel, extending him a one-year contract worth over $14 million, the largest one-year contract for an offensive player in NFL history. Later that offseason, the Patriots made a trade which sent Cassel to the Chiefs, who signed him to a six-year, $63 million contract in July 2009.
Cassel attended Chatsworth High School and was a letterman, an all-city selection, and a standout in both football and baseball. As a senior, he was ranked as the number eight quarterback and number 53 overall of the top high school players in the nation according to ESPN‘s Tom Lemming’s Top 100. Lemming called Cassel a “pro-style pocket passer with a very strong, accurate delivery.” In addition to playing quarterback, Cassel was also Chatsworth’s punter.
Cassel also had an appearance in the HBO Family program Freshman Year, a reality show in which his younger brother was one of the featured students.
Cassel spent his entire Trojan career as a backup behind Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer  and Matt Leinart. Cassel was the backup for Palmer during his Heisman-winning 2002 season. In the fall, Cassel lost the battle for the starting position to the previous third-string quarterback in Leinart. As a result of Leinart’s success, Cassel spent time at tight end and wide receiver in 2003, and some special teams that year. He started at halfback against California once as well, even making his lone collegiate start at that position. During his four seasons there, Cassel completed 19 of 33 passes for 192 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception.
Cassel played one season of baseball for USC in 2004, he had an 0–1 record with 10 strikeouts and 4 walks, he played in 8 games and started 1. Cassel struck out in his only at bat in college. He also had 2 saves with a 9.35 ERA, and was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 36th round of the 2004 MLB Draft.
Despite having had little chance to demonstrate his skills in actual game situations at USC, Cassel earned himself a place on several NFL teams’ draft boards after working out at USC’s 2005 Pro Day. One of Cassel’s coaches, Norm Chow, who had left USC to become the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, had discussed signing Cassel as an undrafted free agent after the 2005 NFL Draft; Chow was surprised to learn the Patriots had drafted Cassel in the seventh round, with the 230th overall pick, ahead of more accomplished college quarterbacks such as Timmy Chang and 2003 Heisman trophy winner Jason White.
Cassel began the 2005 season third on the Patriots’ depth chart behind Tom Brady and Doug Flutie, after beating out two more veteran quarterbacks, Chris Redman and Rohan Davey. He saw his first regular season action in the closing minutes of the Patriots’ 41–17 loss to the San Diego Chargers on October 2, 2005, going 2-for-4 for 15 yards and throwing an interception.
In the Patriots’ final game of the 2005 regular season, a 28–26 loss to the Miami Dolphins on January 1, 2006, Cassel played the final three quarters. Though he was sacked for a safety, he threw two touchdown passes, one to Tim Dwight, and the second to Benjamin Watson. The pass to Dwight set up a drop-kick by Doug Flutie, the first such kick since 1941.
Following Flutie’s retirement in the 2006 offseason, Cassel moved up to second on the Patriots’ depth chart. Although the Patriots considered signing a veteran quarterback to compete with him, Cassel played well in preseason and became the primary backup to Brady. Cassel was on the 45-man active roster for all 16 games in 2006; when the Patriots brought in yet another Heisman winner, Vinny Testaverde, Testaverde acted as the emergency quarterback.
In Week 16 of the 2006 season, after injuries to Josh Miller and Ken Walter, Cassel assumed duties as holder for kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He also led a late touchdown drive in Week 17 against the Tennessee Titans.
In Week 7 of the 2007 season, Cassel’s second pass was intercepted by Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins and returned for a touchdown. The next week, with the Patriots leading the Washington Redskins 45–0, he capped off the 52–7 blowout with a 15-yard touchdown run in which he dove over two Redskins defenders to reach the end zone, the longest touchdown run by a Patriots quarterback in more than two decades.
In the 2008 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, Cassel came under center when Brady suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter from a hit by Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard. Cassel led the Patriots to a 17–10 victory, completing 13 of 18 passes for 152 yards and one touchdown; Cassel’s drives accounted for all of New England’s points.
The day after the game, the Patriots confirmed that Brady’s serious injuries would sideline him for the rest of the season. Although the Patriots did bring veteran quarterbacks Chris Simms and Tim Rattay to Foxborough, they signed neither, and kept Cassel as the starter.
Cassel made his first-ever start on Sunday, September 14, 2008, with a winning effort over the New York Jets, completing 16 of 23 passes for 165 yards; though he threw no touchdowns, he also threw no interceptions. The Patriots’ 19–10 victory was the first time in six tries that a quarterback making his first NFL start defeated a team led by Brett Favre.
Cassel was voted AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his Week 7 performance against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. He had 183 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 41–7 rout, which made it his first three touchdown pass game.
Cassel scored the second rushing touchdown of his career on a 13-yard touchdown in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills. Cassel had zero touchdowns, but also zero interceptions, as he led the Patriots to a 20–10 win; the Patriots held the ball in the game for over 37 minutes; the final 19-play drive, which lasted over 9 minutes, tied a franchise record for most plays in a single drive.
In the Patriots’ 34–31 overtime loss to the New York Jets, on November 13, 2008, Cassel led the Patriots on three unanswered scoring drives to bring them back from a 24–6 deficit with two minutes left in the first half, and threw a 16-yard touchdown to Randy Moss on 4th-and-1 with one second remaining to send the game into overtime. He finished 30-for-51 passing, with 400 yards, 3 touchdowns (and a pass for a two-point conversion), and no interceptions for a passer rating of 103.4, and 62 yards rushing on eight attempts. Cassel became the first Patriot to throw for 300 yards and rush for 50 yards in the same game, and the first player since at least the AFL-NFL merger to have 400 passing yards and 60 rushing yards in the same game.
In Week 12, Cassel led the Patriots to a 48–28 win over the Miami Dolphins, who in Week 3 had ended the Patriots’ NFL record 21-game regular season win streak. While Cassel threw for just 131 yards in the Week 3 loss, his Week 12 performance topped his performance against the Jets: Cassel completed 30 of 43 passes for 415 yards, three touchdowns to Randy Moss, and one interception, for a passer rating of 114.0; Cassel also had 14 yards on two rushes, including an 8-yard touchdown run. The performance made Cassel the first quarterback in franchise history, and only the fifth quarterback in NFL history, to have consecutive games with 400+ yards passing. His efforts earned him the title of AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time.
In Week 16, against the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals, Cassel led the Patriots to a 47–7 blowout win through snow, sleet, and rain in the Patriots’ last regular-season home game of 2008. Cassel, playing in snow for the first time ever, nevertheless completed 20 of 36 passes for 345 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, while helping the Patriots remain in the hunt for the AFC East title. In a role reversal, Matt Leinart entered the game as the Cardinals’ backup quarterback when Kurt Warner was pulled from the game with the Cardinals trailing 44-0; Leinart completed 6 of 14 passes, for 138 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
In Week 17, Cassel led the Patriots to their fourth consecutive win, 13–0 over the Buffalo Bills in a game marked by winds so severe that they bent the goalposts both before and during the game. Cassel completed 6 passes out of just 8 attempts, the second-lowest attempt total in franchise history (the lowest being the 5 attempts of the 1982 Snowplow Game). Cassel finished with 78 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions; his most notable play, however, was a quick kick punt on third down in the fourth quarter; with the wind at his back, Cassel’s kick landed inside the 20, and then rolled towards the Bills’ end zone before it was downed, stranding the Bills at their own 2-yard line, struggling against the wind, down two scores with five minutes remaining.
Cassel, in the last year of his four-year rookie contract, was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2009. Given the quality of his performance, and the uncertainty over Brady’s recovery, NFL analysts and reporters raised the question of whether the Patriots should, or would, franchise Cassel, less than three months after some of those same reporters predicted Cassel would be cut from the team.
On January 4, 2009, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Patriots would franchise Cassel. The Patriots made it official on February 5, 2009, the first day of the 2009 franchise period, and Cassel agreed to the tender two days later.
On February 28, 2009, the Patriots traded both Cassel and OLB Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 34 overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. In what ESPN‘s Adam Schefter described as “one of the wilder and more complex behind-the-scene dramas the NFL has seen in any recent offseason,” both the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers proposed three-way trades to the Denver Broncos, in which they would have received Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, the Broncos would have received Cassel, and New England would have received a first-round draft pick.
Cassel then briefly became teammates with Bernard Pollard, the player whose hit caused Brady’s injury and subsequently made Cassel a starter. In an interview, Cassel said he would “thank” Pollard for the opportunity, but also stated that he believed the hit on Brady was “unintentional” and he never wishes to see anyone get hurt while playing.. Pollard later signed with the Houston Texans
Cassel was expected to compete with Tyler Thigpen, who started 11 games for the Chiefs in 2008, for the starting quarterback position. Since Cassel’s number 16 from New England is retired in Kansas City in honor of Len Dawson, Cassel decided to wear number 7; he chose 7 because it equals one plus six. Eventually, Thigpen was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
On July 14, 2009, the Chiefs signed Cassel to a six-year, $63 million contract that includes $28 million in guaranteed money, and $40.5 million in total compensation in the first three seasons.
On August 29, 2009, Cassel suffered an MCL injury during the 1st quarter of a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. Cassel was dragged to the ground and grabbed for his knee immediately upon impact. He attempted to continue playing but called a timeout and limped off the field. Brodie Croyle started the final game of the preseason against the St. Louis Rams as well as the regular season opening game against the Baltimore Ravens when Cassel was still unable to play. Cassel however though, has started every game since then going 4-11.
Cassel has three siblings, older brother Jack (who is married to Killian’s USC roommate and teammate, Julie Mariani), younger brother Justin, and younger sister Amanda. Jack pitched for the Houston Astros in 2008, and signed in January 2009 with the Cleveland Indians. Justin is a pitcher for the Birmingham Barons, a AA baseball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
Cassel is the son of Emmy-winning set designer Barbara Cassel and her husband Greg Cassel; they divorced when Cassel was 14. Cassel’s father died on December 8, 2008.