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On Cassel and franchise (tag) compensation

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Although this answer will no longer apply to New England quarterback Matt Cassel, I wanted to bring Randal of Cambridge the information he requested last week through the mailbag. (The response would have been included in Saturday's reincarnated Weekend Mailbag, but I wanted to make sure I had my information correct first. Always helps.)

Here's what Randal wrote:

I am in favor of giving the Pats up to 2 #1 picks. Look what a QB did for Atlanta? When you sign a franchise player, do the 1st round picks have to be your own? Or for example could the Vikings trade with Pittsburgh and then use that pick?

The question became partly irrelevant over the weekend when Cassel indicated he plans to sign his franchise offer sheet with the Patriots, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Assuming Cassel follows through with that plan, no NFL team will be able to sign him to an offer sheet and thus will not have the option of giving up a pair of first-round picks in compensation.

But the other parts of Randal's question bear answering. Any team looking to acquire a franchise player must give up first-round picks in succeeding years. If it were to happen this year, it would be a first-rounder in 2009 and 2010. If you don't have a first-round pick in one or both of those years, you're not eligible to sign a franchise player to an offer sheet.

Once you sign the player to an offer sheet, you can't trade either of the picks. So in Randal's proposed scenario, the Vikings couldn't have signed Cassel to an offer sheet and then traded their 2009 first-round pick to Pittsburgh, lowering the value from No. 22 to No. 32. They're locked in the moment the offer sheet is signed.

I suppose the Vikings could swap picks before finalizing the offer sheet, but that scenario seems a practical moot point if not a factual one. Teams rarely swap draft choices so far away from the draft because they haven't finished stacking their boards yet.

We might as well use this opportunity to point out that Cassel is still very much available if another team really wants him. The act of signing the offer sheet eliminates only the least likely possibility: That a team would actually sign him to an offer sheet and be prepared to give up two first-round picks.

The most likely scenario remains in play: A trade in which the Patriots accept something less than two first-rounders and allow Cassel's new team a window to negotiate a long-term contract.

A trade could be discussed and verbally agreed upon at any point in the next three weeks, but it couldn't be finalized until the new league year starts Feb. 27.