KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In one corner of the Chiefs’ locker room this week, there is joy over a career possibly revived. Brady Quinn’s journey through the NFL, which had once appeared so promising, had gone mostly dormant until Monday, when coach Romeo Crennel declared him the team’s new starting quarterback.
In another corner of the same room, there is sadness about a career that could be ruined. Matt Cassel’s run as an NFL starter has come to an end for the time being, and perhaps forever.
Crennel summed it up with his simple explanation of why Quinn, and not Cassel, will start Sunday’s game against Oakland at Arrowhead Stadium — and remain the Chiefs’ starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.
“My biggest deal was my gut (feeling) in telling me that I needed to impact the team by changing the dynamic — by having a different dynamic,” Crennel said. “Brady Quinn is the guy I want to go with.”
That’s the way things work for NFL quarterbacks: One man’s good fortune is another man’s misery. For Quinn, the change represents a well-traveled but seldom-started veteran’s chance — perhaps his last one — to realize the potential he showed at Notre Dame, and later as a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2007.
It dawned on Quinn this week that he wouldn’t be the first quarterback to claim success long after others had left his career for dead.
That, of course, is only if he can make something of this trial with the Chiefs.
“Those sorts of thoughts come at the back end (of one’s career),” Quinn said. “If you asked Rich Gannon where his career jump-started at, Steve Young where his career jump-started at, Kurt Warner, etc. — those are great quarterbacks. I’m not comparing myself to anybody, but I think those guys will probably tell you that it was after the fact, looking back, that they would tell you where they kind of jump-started their careers.
“They might have thought it at times throughout, and it may not have worked out for them that way. So for me, it’s not ever about focusing on that. It’s focusing on the process of getting better and trying to come out of each game feeling like I’ve gotten better. I know we didn’t win (against Tampa Bay), and I didn’t play great, but I felt like I got better that day. I learned things either through my mistakes or through some good things there on the field.
“It’s not necessarily about the end result right now. I’ll worry about that once my career is over.”
In the meantime, Quinn said he is trying not to let the bigger picture affect his daily preparation.
“There is always pressure in games,” Quinn said. “Pressure is what you make of it. As a quarterback in this league, you’re used to it. We do a good job with our coaching staff, and really the players in here, of rallying around each other and focusing on what’s on the field and not necessarily what’s around us.
“I’m not the type of guy to play hypotheticals. I don’t let my mind wander to those spots.”
One of the more intriguing aspects to this upward trend in Quinn’s career is that it’s happening while he’s reunited with Crennel, who coached the Browns when Quinn was drafted. The futures of both men may again be tied together; it’s quite possible that one won’t succeed unless the other does.
For Cassel, things are more complicated. He didn’t come to the NFL with Quinn’s pedigree — he wasn’t even a starter at Southern Cal, and the Patriots risked a mere seventh-round draft pick on him in 2005. In fact, Cassel became a starter in New England only when Tom Brady was injured in 2008. Given that opportunity, he played well enough that Scott Pioli traded for him after becoming the Chiefs’ general manager in 2009.
Since then, Cassel experienced some highs (he made the Pro Bowl and the Chiefs won the AFC West in 2010) and lows (he’s currently the NFL’s worst-rated passer).
“Anytime you make a change at a highlight position like quarterback, the young man who is playing that position doesn’t like it,” Crennel said. “But I think Matt is a good pro and he’ll be a team player as it relates to it. And I think he’ll continue to do everything he can to help the team win. Matt does try hard, he does work hard, but things have not been happening right with this team, so I’m changing the dynamic and we’ll see what happens with Quinn as the starter.’’
Cassel clearly wasn’t happy with the change, perhaps because he understands its long-term ramifications. Barring an emergency — Quinn getting hurt, for instance — it will be difficult for the Chiefs to go back to a quarterback they once benched.
And unlike Quinn, Cassel probably doesn’t have the kind of background or natural ability that will make him attractive to another team as a potential starter.
“Right now, I am the backup,” he said, as if he was still trying to get used to the sound of it. “That is my role on this team. I’ll embrace that role and I’ll work hard, and if my opportunity comes to play, I’ll be ready to go.
“You’re not going to take the fight out of me. I’m going to continue to fight, continue to compete in whatever capacity that is.”
Cassel might need every bit of that attitude if he’s going to resurrect his career.
There’s an adjustment to being a backup again, one that Quinn knows well.
“It changes the dynamics, for sure,” Cassel said. “I’ve been in (the starter’s) role now for four or five years. It’ll take a little bit of an adjustment period. But it won’t change my work ethic or how (hard) I work.”