NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Quarterback Matt Cassel became a member of the Tennessee Titans this week. If Norm Chow got his wish, it would've happened 11 years ago.
"Things turned out OK for Matt," Chow said with a chuckle. "He's about $50 million richer now than he was back then, and he's had a heck of a career."
The Titans signed the Cassel on Thursday as the team's back-up, behind starter Marcus Mariota. Cassel has played for the Patriots, Chiefs, Vikings and Cowboys during his 11-year NFL career.
TitansOnline.com looks at the NFL career of QB Matt Cassel. (AP Photos)
Back in 2005, Cassel was a relative unknown leading up to the NFL Draft. He played sparingly at USC behind starter Matt Leinart, although Chow knew him well, having served as USC's offensive coordinator from 2001-04. Chow remembers how crushed Cassel was when he didn't get the job after Carson Palmer graduated.
Chow joined the Titans as the team's offensive coordinator in 2005. He said he'd convinced Titans general manager Floyd Reese and the scouting department to sign Cassel as an undrafted free agent following the completion of the 2005 draft.
"As soon as the draft was over, I was going to call Matt and he was going to come to the Titans as a free agent,'' Chow recalled on Thursday night from Los Angeles, where he was en route to see the Lakers-Cavs game. "Then, the seventh round occurs, and we're in that crazy room downstairs and someone runs down and says "They just drafted your boy. It was Matt Cassel."
"They" turned out to be the New England Patriots, who selected Cassel in the seventh round, with the 230th pick of the draft. Chow couldn't believe it, considering Cassel completed just 20 of 33 passes for 192 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception, in four seasons at USC.
The Titans had quarterbacks Steve McNair and Billy Volek, and Chow thought Cassel was worth developing.
"People thought I was nuts because Matt never had a chance to play. He had to send out practice tape,'' Chow said of Cassel. "But USC needed a quarterback to throw at Pro Day that year, and Matt wowed them at Pro Day.
New Titans QB Matt Cassel arrives at Saint Thomas Sports Park to sign his contract. (Photos: Gary Glenn)
"It's crazy. It was all set up. And I had already told Matt earlier – I am going to call you because you are probably not going to get drafted. How could he, because he never played?"
Cassel, who has thrown for over 17,000 yards in his NFL career, smiled on Thursday, when asked if he thought he was close to being a member of the Titans back then. New Titans general manager Jon Robinson was with the Patriots then as a scout.
Cassel was third on New England's depth chart behind quarterbacks Tom Brady and Doug Flutie in 2005 after beating out two veterans, Chris Redman and Rohan Davey. He ended up playing in 30 games for the Patriots over the next four seasons, and started 15 games in 2008 after Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.
"I know that there was contact made from the Tennessee organization, but it never came to fruition obviously because I got drafted,'' Cassel said. "But Norm coached me in college, so there was a connection there in terms of the possibility of me coming here."
The next year, of course, Chow was in a positon to get another one of his former USC quarterbacks in Leinart, but the Titans drafted quarterback Vince Young out of Texas instead.
Chow is convinced the team would've snagged Cassel had he been around after the draft.
"They didn't listen to me about Matt Leinart,'' Chow said with a smile, "but they listened to me about Matt. Some people thought I was crazy, because no one had really seen him play.
"Matt deserves so much credit because he worked so hard to get to where he is today. I am really happy for him."