EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There's a fairly sensible reason why Matt Cassel -- the only Vikings quarterback to throw for 240 yards in a game this season and take part in all three wins -- bit his tongue over the last six weeks as the team kept him in a backup role: He knew exactly how quickly things could change.
He learned that lesson in 2008, when Tom Brady's knee injury took Cassel from career backup to unquestioned starter overnight and paved the way for him to become a well-compensated Pro Bowl quarterback in Kansas City. When the Chiefs cut Cassel in March, he signed with the Vikings the same week. And while the team was in the hunt for a veteran backup, Cassel had to know the circumstances in Minnesota also offered him a chance to get back on the field relatively quickly.
When Christian Ponder fractured his rib in Week 3, he was already struggling to the point where fans were clamoring for Cassel. When Ponder was cleared to return after the Vikings' bye week, coach Leslie Frazier still stuck with Cassel. The 31-year-old hasn't started in the seven games since, but he filled in for an injured Ponder in a pair of victories, throwing for 243 yards last Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Ponder's most effective manner of play is to spend time on the run, making plays with his feet and putting his body on the line. Take a starting quarterback, who's inconsistent at best, and put him in a situation where he's absorbing hits and you've got a climate where your backup quarterback could get plenty of work. Cassel has taken advantage of that this season -- he'll make his third start of the year Sunday -- and in the process, he's proved he at least has some value in the league as an insurance policy at this point.
He can opt out of a two-year, $7.4 million deal with the Vikings after this season, but particularly if the team drafts a young quarterback next spring, Cassel might have a better chance of staying on their roster over either Ponder or Josh Freeman. He'd give the Vikings a veteran option who could help tutor a rookie, run the offense until the young quarterback is ready and step aside with few strings attached if the rookie was ready to play next season. That's an underrated commodity for a team breaking in a new quarterback. While Cassel surely wants a chance to start, he might find the Vikings to be the best situation for him.
The same probably cannot be said for Freeman, whose chances of getting on the field this season now seem more minuscule than ever. At most, he'd get to start another three games, and considering Frazier is still making decisions based on recent performances, Freeman would need a change of thinking to get on the field. Frazier clearly hasn't lost the team -- the Vikings fought to erase a 10-point deficit at home last week and have played back-to-back overtime games with division foes -- but he'd have a better case to keep his job if the Vikings can close on a high note, finish with a more respectable record and point to a few last-minute defensive lapses as the only thing between them and another playoff berth.
Put simply, there isn't much incentive to put Freeman on the field, especially when his evaluation period would be limited to three games.
Cassel, though, gets another chance to demonstrate his value Sunday. He's already shown this season he can still help a NFL team, and on a club in which the quarterback position is rarely secure, Cassel's choice to remain calm, keep his mouth shut and wait for another opportunity has paid dividends.