On Wednesday, former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel joined Zach Brook’s “Upon Further Review” podcast, talking about the NFL offseason and the teams that made his career.
In his appearance, Cassel came across as a guy who is grateful for every opportunity he’s received — and enjoyed his ride through college and the NFL, where he carved out a pretty nice 14-year, $65 million career.
He shared the story of his USC career. There, he was behind two Heisman Trophy winners, but remained positive and worked hard — waiting for a turn that never really came. He even ignored coaches who said he should look for a different profession rather than compete at their pro day. Cassel trained hard — impressing scouts who didn’t know who he was — and then got the Patriots’ call in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Coming to Kansas City
Cassel described the offseason trade that brought him to Kansas City in 2009 as a “whirlwind,” saying that he didn’t anticipate it would be general manager Scott Pioli’s Chiefs that would trade for him. He said his reaction was, “OK, here’s the next chapter,” recognizing the difficult task (and responsibility) he’d have to help get the team going in the right direction.
Cassel said that he set a goal of double-digit wins and an AFC West title — and in his second Kansas City season, put together a remarkable performance in which the Chiefs did just that. Cassel credited Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe and the offensive line for his success — just as any good, humble quarterback would do — and described his 2010 Pro Bowl appearance as the “icing on the cake.”
Cassel on the Chiefs offseason
“I love that,” said Cassel, “with Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz at the end of the year, being out, moving on from them — but they go out and get an Orlando Brown Jr. from the Baltimore Ravens. That was huge. Bringing in Joe Thuney from the Patriots? I mean, that’s what they needed to do: is to fortify the line.
“Because if they protect Patrick Mahomes, we all know what a special player he is. Not only that, but he’s surrounded by guys like Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman — and they were able to get Demarcus Robinson re-signed as well. They will have all of the weapons they had at their disposal last year — and as long as the offensive line stays healthy, they’ll be just as explosive and exciting of a team to watch as they have been in the past.”
Reflecting on Cassel’s time in Kansas City
Listening to Cassel brought back memories of a difficult era for Chiefs fans. During his four years in Kansas City, the Chiefs were 23-41 — with one playoff appearance. His tenure was bookended by the two worst seasons in team history. He was brought over in a rebuild after the 2008 rock-bottom campaign — which included the resignation of Carl Peterson, a Brodie Croyle injury, another Larry Johnson arrest and suspension, an NFL record for fewest sacks (10) and a 2-14 record.
That season represented the end of the era of Chiefs football — one that many of us grew up loving. Peterson traded Jared Allen before the season, while Pioli traded away superstar Tony Gonzalez after the season. The team also cut fan-favorites John Welbourn, Jason Dunn, Greg Wesley, Eddie Kennison, and Ty Law.
The Cassel-led Chiefs clawed back to respectability — including that nearly-magical 2010 season where his 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions helped Kansas City to a 10-6 record. But it ended with another disappointing Wild Card loss, which was the team’s seventh-straight postseason failure.
A couple of years later, the Cassel (and Pioli) era would end in arguably the worst season for any team in NFL history. That 2012 Chiefs team began the season horribly, failing to lead a game for eight weeks. Then they lost Cassel to an injury while some fans cheered, saw the “Save our Chiefs” banners fly over Arrowhead, had the worst turnover differential in the league — and tied an NFL record by losing nine games by 14 or more points. The season ended with the worst note of all: the Jovan Belcher tragedy.
You can’t tell the story of the currently successful Chiefs franchise without the two rebuilds that marked the beginning and the end of Matt Cassel’s tenure with the team. The optimism that accompanied his acquisition — and his one playoff season — were always underscored by the team’s limitations while he was at the helm. The tragedy that ended his Chiefs career would lead to head coach Andy Reid’s hiring, the trade for quarterback Alex Smith — and eventually, the Patrick Mahomes era.
Hopefully, that 2013 rebuild is the last this team will have to endure for a long time.
What’s changed since then?
As Chiefs fans, we spent decades trying to talk ourselves into quarterbacks with limited talent. We were convinced that defense, a good offensive line, great running backs and other offensive weapons — even special-teams units — could overcome a quarterback who needed to be carried to victory. Matt Cassel played his heart out for this team — but he was never going to be the reason the Chiefs won a Super Bowl.
Just a few years later — with the acquisition of Patrick Mahomes — it’s incredible how far the team has come. It’s the difference between watching a Formula 1 race car driven by a champion driver — and that same car with no steering wheel. It’s a feeling of confidence that permeates not only the Chiefs’ players but also the fans who cheer for them. With the NFL’s best player in the driver’s seat, the Chiefs should be favored — and expected — to win every game they play. We just have to hope the team doesn’t let him down — instead of the other way around.
There’s also the stability and success that the Chiefs have found with Reid and general manager Brett Veach. Cassel played for Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel, who each attempted — in very different ways — to reinvent the “Patriot Way” in Kansas City.
Replacing Crennel with Reid might have been the best decision Chiefs owner Clark Hunt ever made. Since that hire, the Chiefs are 79-37 in the regular season, with seven playoff wins, two Super Bowl appearances, and one Lombardi trophy. Reid and his cohesive staff changed the players, the culture and the fortunes of the Chiefs franchise. It’s now a team we expect to win — even in the postseason and the Super Bowl. That’s a massive difference from the Chiefs we knew during Cassel’s time — and the decades before.
Listening to Matt Cassel's appearance reminds us of how easy he was to root for — but also about how difficult it sometimes was to watch those teams play. With Mahomes and Reid, the Chiefs finally have the quarterback (and team) that are not only easy to root for but also fun to watch — because their ceiling (and floor) have risen along with our expectations.