KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Since making the trade with New England for Matt Cassel three years ago, the Chiefs committed to him in a way that teams do for a franchise quarterback.
They rewarded Cassel with a long-term contract before he’d ever taken a snap in Kansas City. They haven’t brought in a serious threat to take his job.
Cassel said through it all, he never believed he was entitled to be the starter. He also indicated he would be willing to compete for the job if that’s what the Chiefs ask him to do.
“There’s competition every year,” said Cassel, who will turn 30 in May. “If you play this position, there’s always competition. You’re competing against yourself, you’re competing against somebody else. Whoever they bring in, you always compete and you always have to go out and try to get better.
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“I look at it that way. I look at it from a football standpoint. I’m a football player and I’m always trying to get better and trying to do whatever I have to do to put the best product on the field. From year one to year two, our team made great strides. We won the AFC West and we went to the playoffs. Last year, we were in the middle of the playoff race and I broke my hand so there’s not much I can do about that.
“I’m motivated. I’m eager and excited about getting back to work this off-season and getting us back to the position where we can go to the playoffs and win championships.”
Cassel’s 2011 season ended at midyear when he broke his passing hand late in a loss to the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium and he missed the Chiefs’ final six games. The hand was surgically repaired with three screws placed into the broken bone, but Cassel indicated it wouldn’t be a problem when the Chiefs begin practice in the spring.
“I don’t believe so,” said Cassel, who had missed only two games his first two seasons with the Chiefs. “It’s healed up quite nicely so far. I’ve got all the range of motion back and all of those things.
“It was definitely a different year for me. It challenged me in different ways. … I think that was good for me because I wasn’t away from the game. I felt like I was still involved. I was in the meetings, going through all of that. It kept me in a good routine. It kept me mentally sharp doing all of those things that I needed to do to continue to get better.
“It was interesting to be able to step back and see things from a different perspective. One of the games, the Steelers game, I sat up top in the coach’s booth and saw how that whole aspect of it works, how the calls go in.”
Cassel is returning to a different world than the one he left. To help their playoff push, the Chiefs acquired veteran quarterback Kyle Orton. He started the final three games, winning two, but the Chiefs wound up one victory short of winning the AFC West championship.
Orton’s contract will expire in March, which would make him an unrestricted free agent. The Chiefs have given no indication whether they intend to re-sign him to either take Cassel’s job or at least compete with him.
After the season’s final game, a victory over the Broncos in Denver, Orton sounded like he didn’t intend to re-sign, saying in effect the Chiefs are Cassel’s team.
“I can’t comment on that,” Cassel said. “I don’t have any clue whether he’s coming back or not. I think he’s a great quarterback. He did a great job for us. I wish him nothing but success wherever he goes.”
During Cassel’s absence, the Chiefs also fired head coach Todd Haley and replaced him with Romeo Crennel. Crennel has yet to commit publicly to any particular quarterback but seemed to indicate at this week’s introductory news conference that the Chiefs probably wouldn’t re-sign Orton.
Asked about Cassel, Crennel said, “Matt Cassel has won here. We’ve been to a playoff with Matt Cassel. I don’t think that Matt Cassel has fallen off the wagon overnight. I think he’s a good talent. He’s a good quarterback and he’s taken us to a playoff. So I anticipate that he can do it again.”
For his part, Cassel joined the legion of Chiefs players who praised the promotion of Crennel, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons.
“I’m really excited about Romeo being our head coach,” Cassel said. “Our team obviously responded very well at the end of the year. Being in the meetings, seeing how he conducts himself and controls the room and how he approaches the job, everybody to a man respects him and wants to play for him.
“When (Haley was fired and Crennel named the interim coach), we sat down and we talked. I just wanted to know in what capacity I could go in and help. I asked him his advice on it. He said he’d love to have me at practice, be there and be as involved as possible and helping out. He even had me break down some film and do that kind of stuff. He really kept me involved. It was great for me because I was able to feel a part of the team and enjoy those last three weeks, especially because our team was playing really well.”