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Cassel believes performance, not contract, is why he's Chiefs' QB

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One game into his career as quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, Matt Cassel finds himself surrounded by skeptical fans and critical media. The endorsement he received this week from his coach? Lukewarm at best.

Maybe it's a good thing that Cassel never reads the newspaper, listens to the radio talk shows or watches sports on television. Otherwise, he might get the idea that some people are wondering if his guaranteed $28 million contract is the reason he will start against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and Brodie Croyle will not.

"I don't think a contract has anything to do with it," Cassel said Thursday. "I think they're going to play the best person out there."

That's exactly what Chiefs coach Todd Haley keeps saying, that his message will be consistent with every position regardless of how high a player was drafted or how much his contract might cost owner Clark Hunt.

In Cassel's case, however, there is another consideration. He's known to be a point of pride to general manager Scott Pioli, who drafted him in New England, brought him to Kansas City and gave him the first megabuck deal he has negotiated as a general manager.

But Haley keeps saying that not even all that will buy Cassel one extra minute to prove himself, that quarterback will be evaluated just like every other position as the coach sets about repairing a franchise that has won just two of its last 27 games.

"You've got to ultimately do what you think gives your team the best chance to win," Haley said. "If that means another quarterback being in there other than Matt Cassel, then sign me up."

Cassel insists he sees it in no other terms.

"I think they're going to play the best person out there," Cassel said. "Obviously, I think they feel I'm the best guy for the job. Otherwise, going into the season I wouldn't have been offered what I was offered."

If Cassel reaches every incentive of the six-year deal, it could be worth more than $60 million.

"But to me, it doesn't come down to contracts," he said. "It comes down to me going out and giving 110 percent, putting forth my best effort and getting wins."

The last thing the Chiefs need is a quarterback controversy. And in this third week of the regular season, they don't have one. But if Cassel continues to throw two interceptions per game, as he did in last week's 13-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders, they soon will.

Croyle, who was pegged to be the franchise quarterback under the previous regime until he kept getting hurt, performed well in the loss to Baltimore on opening day while Cassel nursed an injured left knee. Croyle didn't throw an interception and generally looked improved over the way he played the previous two seasons.

But Haley said Thursday that Cassel is clearly No. 1 on the Chiefs' depth chart.

"I would be clear that there's no doubt in my mind that Matt Cassel right now gives us the best chance to win," Haley said. "But also, I will stay with what I say. If that ever changes, I'll stand by what I believe in -- put the guys out there that give you the best chance."

Last season, the Patriots were 11-5 with Cassel, who stepped in for an injured Tom Brady in the opener. But critics point to the fact that Cassel was surrounded by talent and tradition, piloting a team that one year before came close to achieving a perfect season.

Does Cassel believe his coach is in his corner?

"I hope he's in my corner," he said. "I mean, I'm in his corner. It's one of those things where I don't know what was said. I don't read the paper. I don't get involved. But he's been consistent throughout the entire offseason, throughout the entire year about (it).

"I'm ready for the competition if that's the way he wants to make it. But right now I do feel coach is in my corner. He's been very supportive of me throughout my time here, and we're just trying to get better and move forward."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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