Matt Cassel

Matt Cassel: Why I think Tom Brady will be back with Patriots in 2020

Matt Cassel: Why I think Tom Brady will be back with Patriots in 2020

Historically, the New England Patriots have had no problem letting a player go when they get to a certain age or their skill set may be diminishing. 

You've seen it with guys like Mike Vrabel, Asante Samuel, Lawyer Milloy and Willie McGinest. 

This is a different circumstance with Tom Brady, however.

If you watch that Titans game, it’s not like Brady lost any velocity on his ball or was struggling to make throws.

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You saw what Peyton Manning’s injury did to him late in his career. He was a different player out there. I think Brady is still playing at a really high level.

There are a number of reasons why his statistics were down this year: the offensive line, the lack of a running game, the different receivers coming in and out and the youth at that position, to name a few. 

I think he can still play at a high level and be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I also think the Patriots have to evaluate their personnel and surround him with players who will help him. 

I think he needs a legitimate No. 1 receiver. I think they have to go out and invest in some tight ends. They also have to get healthy: Losing James Develin early on changed a lot for that offensive unit. 

If the Patriots want to bring any quarterback into that situation, let alone Brady, they’re going to have to evaluate all personnel on offense.

Brady is your best option to continue to win championships. There’s no doubt in my mind.

The ball is in Brady’s court. He gets to negotiate from a position of power as a free agent. If he wants to stay with the Patriots and the Patriots want him back, then he gets to make the call on whether or not to come back. 

I’m sure Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick, and everybody in the Patriots' organization understand Tom's importance throughout his career. 

But I think they also recognize that if you look at the list of free-agent quarterbacks and the guys available in the upcoming NFL Draft, Brady is your best option to continue to win championships. There’s no doubt in my mind.

Throughout his career, Tom has always given the Patriots a hometown discount to provide them with extra cap space to get players who can help the team. 

Negotiations are always difficult, though, especially with a guy who’s been with your franchise for 20 years. You want to do right by him, but you want to do right by the organization. 

I think a big part of these negotiations will be Tom's relationship with Mr. Kraft.

Mr. Kraft has always done right by Tom, and when things needed to get done at certain points in some other negotiations, he’s always been a guy that’s stepped up, and their relationship has helped seal the deal.

Also, if you look at the landscape of the NFL, I don't think there are many teams that are intriguing for a guy like Tom where you can walk in and win right away.

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I use the example of when Peyton Manning went to Denver. 

They had all the pieces of the puzzle except for the quarterback. So, when he came in, they could just go.

But if you look around and ask, “What team offers that to a quarterback at Brady's age?” There aren't many.

You also have to consider who’s going to be calling plays. Brady has been in the same system for 20 years. You may think you want a fresh start with another team, but then it’s a completely different offensive structure than what you’re used to. 

How much give and take are they going to have with the quarterback that comes in? Are they going to allow you to change the entire offense and manipulate it to how you want it?

It might be enticing for Tom to go to the Cleveland Browns if Josh McDaniels becomes head coach.

He would know the system, he’d be familiar with the head coach and they have a lot of good players there with Nick Chubb and a talented wide receiver group.

But when you bring Brady into that organization, are you giving up on Baker Mayfield? When you say, “We’re done with you,” to a guy like Mayfield, that fractures the relationship going down the road when Brady actually does retire. 

It creates a bad relationship and bad blood with that guy if you’re ever looking at him to be your starter down the road.

For me, this is the one big X-factor with Brady: If McDaniels goes to Cleveland, who is going to be promoted to Patriots offensive coordinator?

Whether it was Bill O'Brien or Josh McDaniels, there's always been a guy in waiting who could step right up.

With Joe Judge leaving, I don’t know who has been in this system long enough to be comfortable calling plays and make that transition.

If it’s not somebody within the building, then the Patriots would have to quickly bring in another coordinator familiar with that system, because I can’t imagine after 20 years that they would suddenly, abruptly change the system.

That said: I think Tom Brady will be coming back to the Patriots in 2020, and they'll be firing on all cylinders.

This organization is going to do a full player evaluation. No matter what, I think they have to. You can't go into the year with the same group.

So, they'll identify where they need to get better, and from there, they'll go out in free agency and in the draft and do exactly what they need to do.

Matt Cassel: Why Mike Vrabel's familiarity with Patriots can't be overstated

Matt Cassel: Why Mike Vrabel's familiarity with Patriots can't be overstated

I’ve known Mike Vrabel since I came into the league in 2005.

He’s been a good friend of mine, and my family is really close with his. When we both got traded from the Patriots to the Chiefs in 2008, I was excited because I knew my buddy was coming with me. 

We actually lived right down the street from each other, and it was a blast.

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We all knew Mike would become a coach at the end of his playing career. He knew the game so well and was so smart that he was always a coach on the field.

When we were in New England, he would join the scout team against the starting offense. He didn’t have to; he was a starter on defense. 

But he would love playing safety in 7-on-7 drills and messing with the quarterbacks, giving a disguise, all that stuff. He did it all.

He was one of those guys who just knew the game. So, none of us were surprised when he went into coaching.

I know that around the building, these coaches take a lot of pride in getting their team prepared for a game like this.

I'm sure Bill Belichick had a huge influence on Mike as he came up the coaching ranks to land with the Tennessee Titans. I can’t speak to whether or not they still speak regularly, but I'm sure they have a good relationship.

That said, any coach who comes from Belichick's coaching tree takes a lot of pride in going up against him. Not only because he's their mentor, but also because they understand that to be considered an elite program, you have to beat the best, and the best has been New England.

The other part of it? Mike and Bill have a lot of familiarity with each others' systems -- their defensive schemes and even in many cases their offensive schemes. You've seen it throughout the course of Belichick’s career: He's just above .500 (14-13) against his former assistants and players. 

It’s an interesting concept, because nobody else has had that success playing the Patriots. I can’t put my finger on one thing, but I know that around the building, these coaches take a lot of pride in getting their team prepared for a game like this.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, Mike should have a better understanding of Belichick’s general philosophy: Will he try to eliminate a certain player? Are they going to go after this kid A.J. Brown and double him to force Tennessee to utilize the tight end and the running back?

On the other side of the ball, Mike and defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who was also with the Patriots for a number of years, should have a good feel for New England's protection schemes and the different blitzes they can use against it.

You definitely have a better knowledge of all that stuff having been in the Patriots' system.

It's always a chess match, though.

Since both teams know each other very well and are familiar with each others' schemes, there are little wrinkles they can throw in.

The Patriots' offense, for example, might use more seven-man protection because they know Tennessee is a heavy blitzing team.

The coaches might watch the film and say to the offensive line, "This guy is a known blitzer, so we'll base our protection scheme off him."

Based on that familiarity, I think we'll see a really good game Saturday night. The Titans are 7-3 since Ryan Tannehill took over, so this is a good football team that's going to give the Patriots a really tough challenge.

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Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.

Matt Cassel: Bill Belichick's strategic approach to Week 17 rest conundrum

Matt Cassel: Bill Belichick's strategic approach to Week 17 rest conundrum

In Week 17 of my rookie year for the New England Patriots, we could not improve our standing at all.

We were locked into the No. 4 slot no matter what.

So I knew I’d probably get an opportunity to play, because the game had no meaning whatsoever, and you want to rest Tom Brady and not risk him getting banged up. 

But it wasn’t until the second quarter when Bill Belichick literally came up after Brady finished a series and said, “All right, Cassel, you’re going in next series.”

And that was it. Just, "All right, here we go."

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A similar situation happened in 2007. We were going for our undefeated season and obviously had locked up the No. 1 seed entering Week 17 against the New York Giants.

There was a clear understanding that I needed to be ready to play, and I even got a few more reps during that week of practice than I normally would, thinking I would probably get into the game pretty early.

But once that game started and it was back-and-forth, none of those guys were coming out of the game. They wanted to play.

The Patriots are going to approach this matchup with the Miami Dolphins like any other game. They don't really get into scenarios, to be honest.

Belichick will say, “Everybody needs to be ready to play 60 minutes.”

That approach forces players to treat this week like any other game. You have to be mentally ready to play. If you don't? You’re doing a disservice to yourself and your team.

And that's the message to everybody across the board: The backups need to be ready to go and the starters need to be ready to go, and we don’t know what the circumstances are going to be.

Even when I played three quarters in that rookie-year game, it’s not like they told me the night before, “Hey Cassel, you’re going in in the second quarter.”

The message was, “You need to be ready to go. Tom, you’re starting. You need to be ready to go as well. We don’t know how long you’re going to go, but everybody in this room needs to be ready to play."

That approach forces players to treat this week like any other game. You have to be mentally ready to play. If you don't? One, you’re putting yourself at greater injury risk, and two, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your team.

So the mentality has always been that you're going to be prepared to play for 60 minutes.

If the circumstances allow it and they have a handle on Sunday's game entering the third or fourth quarter, I can see the Patriots getting rest for guys like Julian Edelman.

We've all seen him take his bumps and bruises, and you could tell in that Bengals game his injuries were taking a toll on him.

Belichick and the coaches and Jim Whelan and the training staff will monitor guys like Edelman throughout the week. They'll assess the risk/reward of him playing or sitting out, in case he really needs that extra week to get ready for the divisional round.

But if there’s any chance whatsoever that another team could possibly take the Patriots' No. 2 spot due to a loss, they will absolutely treat this like a playoff game.

Everybody will be up, everybody will be ready to go, and I can see all the starters playing until they get a firm handle on the game in the third or fourth quarter.

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.