MINNEAPOLIS -- If Matt Cassel hadn't already learned plenty about the value of keeping his mouth shut and going to work -- and during his years as Tom Brady's understudy in the School of Belichick, there is a good bet he did -- he probably realized it last season, when the Minnesota Vikings sent Cassel through what had to be the most bizarre season of his career.
Cassel went from being praised by his teammates for his assertiveness in guiding the Vikings to their first win of the season, to unseating Christian Ponder for the starting job, to the inactive list in a matter of three weeks. He reclaimed the job at the end of the season, after the Vikings seemed to have realized neither of the 25-year-olds on their roster (Ponder and Josh Freeman) were their long-term answer at quarterback, but the process left Cassel confused.
"I don’t think I always knew where I stood from week-to-week," he said Tuesday. "As you guys well know that there was always something going on, and you never really knew until Coach would tell you what’s going on."
There should be no such ambiguity for Cassel next season. He has a new two-year, $10 million deal with the Vikings, who were eager to bring him back after Cassel opted out of his original 2014 contract to get a better deal and guaranteed money. He's had a warm introduction to new coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and a year after Cassel came in repeating the Vikings' talking point about how he was there to back up Ponder, there was no such talk from Cassel on Tuesday.
Asked if he plans to be the Vikings' starter in 2014, Cassel said, "I do. That’s my mentality, absolutely. I go in with the expectation to be the starter and that won’t change. At the same time, you've got to go out there and prove it and compete. There’s going to be two other quarterbacks, maybe three other quarterbacks in here competing, as well, and that’s what it is on every NFL roster."
The only scenario I see where Cassel isn't the starter in Week 1 is if a rookie comes in and plays so well that the Vikings can't keep from going that direction. That scenario might be even more far-fetched if the Vikings don't take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick -- though as Russell Wilson proved in Seattle, good rookie quarterbacks can come from further back in the draft. But if Cassel was here to be an insurance policy for Ponder, at least initially, in 2013, he's here for a much more significant reason this year. The bizarre carousel ride seems to have come to a smooth stop for him, for now.
"I felt comfortable -- like if you turned on that film from last year that you’d see that I could play and was confident in my abilities," Cassel said.