Exploring the Matt Cassel Sweepstakes; Do the Bears fit in?

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Matt Cassel speculation in Boston is reaching a fevered pitch after the career backup turned star received notification New England would place the franchise tag on him Thursday and then reportedly faxed a letter to the team Saturday accepting terms of the $14.65 million, one-year contract.

Hey, who wouldn’t go for a $14 million raise in a heartbeat? Cassel might be the player most overjoyed by being tagged–ever. No one could blame him.

But it puts the Patriots in a situation where their salary cap of $123 million will be weighted down by $29.27 million committed to two players–Cassel and fellow quarterback Tom Brady. That’s 23.7 percent of the cap in two players, and only one of them can play at a time.

Brady’s returning from multiple knee surgeries and the wait is on to see what the next move is. Some believe Cassel will be traded. Some believe he’s there to stay as insurance. The excellent blog run by Mike Reiss over at the Boston Globe touches all the bases.

Mike Lombardi of the National Football Post also took a close look at the possibilities, naming the Bears as one of eight teams obvious teams who could jump into the Cassel Sweepstakes. There’s been great debate over what New England would demand in return for him. Some have suggested it would surely take a first-round pick. Others have theorized he could be had for a second-round pick that would improve to a first based on performance. It’s all speculation at this point.

Lombardi, who names Detroit and Minnesota as other possible suitors, basically says the Bears are a long shot to even be in the conversation:

“At some point, the Bears will have to address their quarterback situation. There were times last season when Kyle Orton appeared to have a good handle on things, but after sustaining an ankle injury, he was not the same productive player. The Bears need a marquee player on offense, someone they can build around and make all the other pieces fit. They need someone they do not have to manage but who can run a complete offense. The need is there, but I doubt the Bears will be serious players. They have the 18th pick in the first round, but they hate to part with picks.”

I’ve got to agree with Lombardi. 100 percent. General manager Jerry Angelo holds on to his draft picks for dear life. Based on all the comments made by those associated with the organization lately, Angelo included, the Bears want to give Orton the opportunity to be the man. That plan wouldn’t mix with trading Cassel and Part 2 of that move–signing Cassel to a longterm contract.

Those who are weary of Cassel’s future point out that he was surrounded by some of the top offensive talent in the league–a stout offensive line with terrific targets in Randy Moss and Wes Welker and some solid role players. Thrown him into an offense without similar firepower, the Bears’ for instance, and maybe you don’t get the same production. Maybe you’re not even close.

They’re watching it closely in Boston but the chances of connecting the dots to Halas Hall, well, those are a longshot at this point.

*** Today is the first day NFL teams can release players that are under contract.

*** So you really think wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh might be interested in coming to the Bears? NFL shopping season will be upon us soon as free agency begins Feb. 27 and the longtime standout in Cincinnati is canvassing the country via radio airwaves.

Houshmandzadeh visited with Waddle & Silvy last week on WMVP-AM, ESPN 1000 and was asked in a variety of ways about his interest in joining a team so badly in need of help at the position. Houshmandzadeh balked at just about every opportunity to say he’d love to come to town.

Then, he took to the radio in Philadelphia on ESPN Radio 950 and not only said he’d be interested in the Eagles, he went on to say how much he liked and respected Donovan McNabb. It’s stronger than anything he said here.

“If the Eagles are interested in me, let’s put it like this: If they’ll be interested in me, I’ll be interested in them,” Houshmandzadeh said.

When it came to quarterbacks and the Bears, Houshmandzadeh said he liked Rex Grossman. Oh well.

The Bengals could still exercise the franchise tag on Houshmandzadeh, but that would cost them nearly $10 million.

*** Bears linebacker Lance Briggs led all defensive players with six tackles in the NFC’s 30-21 victory over the AFC in Sunday’s Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. He was the Bears’ lone representative.

As a member of the winning team, Briggs pulled down $45,000 for the game. The AFC players received half, $22,500 each.

*** Former Bears defensive coordinator Vince Tobin, the man who replaced Buddy Ryan, was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Saturday. Tobin was a standout at the University of Missouri.

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