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Lilja backs Cassel, but will the Chiefs, too?

  • By Simon Samano
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It's fair to say the jury is still out on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.

In three years as the starter, he's got one Pro Bowl season to his credit sandwiched between two forgettable campaigns, including 2011 when he missed the final seven games because of a broken hand. So in times like these, when speculation about Cassel's status runs rampant, and when the Chiefs decide to take a closer look at Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, it's important for Cassel to know his teammates have his back.

Which is where guard Ryan Lilja comes into play.

“People forget really, really quickly what Matt did two years ago,” Lilja told the Kansas City Star. “He was in Hawaii (to play in the Pro Bowl). ... He’s our guy, and I’m proud to play with him. I’ve had to defend him to people all over town, and that drives me crazy. I hate to hear people criticize him.”

Those are some strong words for a quarterback who's provided only mixed results. And where Lilja's nod of support takes on special meaning is that it comes from a former teammate of Peyton Manning, who the Chiefs pursued in free agency before Manning chose the AFC West rival Denver Broncos.

Lilja isn't bothered in the least with missing out on Manning, probably because he feels so good about Cassel.

“He’s amazing at what he does,” Lilja said of Manning. “There is a friendship there, but I have tons of friends. That doesn’t mean I want them as my quarterback. ... They’re already building Lombardi Trophies for (the Broncos), it sounds like to me. I like that. Nobody thinks we can do much. That’s kind of a fun place to be in. Time will tell."

It stands to reason that Cassel will be given a long leash to bounce back in 2012 with the not-so-reliable Brady Quinn as his backup. The only way that figures to change is if the Chiefs decide to, say, make a play at Tannehill with the No. 11 pick or trade up for him in this month's draft.

So, yeah, Lilja is pretty spot on: Only time will tell with Cassel.


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