After putting the franchise tag on Matt Cassel as insurance for their two-time Super Bowl MVP, the Patriots shipped Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City on Saturday. The Chiefs gave up shockingly little -- the 34th overall pick in the April draft for both players.
The Chiefs have the third overall selection following a franchise-worst 2-14 season. In yielding their second-round draft choice, they acquire a reliable 12-year veteran linebacker and a proven young quarterback who could immediately fill one of their most urgent needs.
Brady's rehab of a severe knee injury was set back when an infection forced a second operation. By putting the franchise tag on Cassel, New England would have had to pay him $14.5 million to keep him as a backup.
Cassel hadn't started a game since high school but stepped in when Brady was hurt less than eight minutes into the season opener against Kansas City. He went on to throw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns in 15 starts.
"It is very easy to root for guys like Matt Cassel, who do everything the right way and flourish as a result," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement. "As much as we would have loved to continue working with Matt, we wish him nothing but the best as he takes this next step forward in his career."
The Patriots' 11-5 record kept them out of the playoffs, but Belichick and personnel director Scott Pioli were again hailed for their ability to reach deep into the draft and uncover a gem at quarterback. Brady was the 199th player drafted in 2000 and Cassel was a seventh-round pick in 2005.
Pioli was hired as general manager of the Chiefs in January. About a month later, the housecleaning began -- he fired coach Herm Edwards and replaced him with Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Now comes this latest move, which will depend on Vrabel and Cassel passing their physicals.
"I have a long history with both players," Pioli said. "Mike and Matt are men that I respect both personally and professionally. I look forward to having them as new members of the Chiefs family."
The 33-year-old Vrabel was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams in his eight years with New England, primarily as an outside linebacker. He joins a team whose linebackers were devastated by injury and played poorly. The Chiefs are now counting on Vrabel's experience and leadership.
"Mike Vrabel epitomizes everything a coach could seek in a professional football player: Toughness, intelligence, playmaking, leadership, versatility and consistency at the highest level," Belichick said. "Behind the scenes, Mike's wit and personality is one of the things we have all enjoyed about coming to work every day."
Tyler Thigpen, the first player from tiny Coastal Carolina to be drafted by the NFL, took over at quarterback last year after Kansas City's No. 1 and No. 2 went out with season-ending injuries. He struggled to manage the power running game, so the Chiefs switched offenses and went to a college-type spread attack.
Occasionally, he was effective. Still, Thigpen lost 10 of the 11 games he started, throwing for 21 touchdowns and 2,994 yards.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press