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On a day when many league observers assume that quarterback Matt Cassel will be playing his last regular-season game for the Patriots, there’s still reason to believe that Cassel will be back with the team in 2009. Per Tom Curran of, starter Tom Brady remains “well behind schedule” in recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL and torn MCL in his left knee suffered in the first quarter of the first game of the season. Problems arose when an infection invaded Brady’s knee. After six weeks of IV antibiotics and several additional procedures, Curran reports that the ACL and MCL are still “loose.” There’s also scar tissue in the knee, which is limiting mobility and which might have to be removed surgically. But the looseness of the ligaments is the bigger potential problem. Curran reports that Brady might need surgery that would wipe out his 2009 season. And so the question for the franchise will be whether to use the franchise tag to keep Cassel in place for next year. As Curren points out, however, a franchise tender of roughly $12 million for Cassel would result in nearly $26 million in cap room being devoted to Brady and Cassel for the coming year. There’s another possibility we’ve been considering. What if the Pats can persuade Cassel to take a below-market deal in order to maintain a Montana-Young arrangement for the next few years, with Cassel then becoming the heir to Brady when he retires? Maybe, just maybe, Cassel wonders whether his success is a result of the system in which he has been schooled, and whether he’d simply be another Scott Mitchell or Rob Johnson if he simply takes the biggest offer he can get and heads to a new team. Don’t forget that Cassel was willing to stay put at USC as the understudy to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, even though he could have pulled a Joe Flacco and transferred to a I-AA (now FCS) school and secured a shot at playing. Maybe, just maybe, Cassel would also prefer to stay with the Patriots, and maybe like so many other members of the team he’ll be willing to take less money than he could get elsewhere in order to remain in New England.