KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The Chiefs have yet to give any public hints they are dissatisfied with their quarterback, Matt Cassel. But if in private moments they're looking for encouragement that trading for a young, largely untested quarterback can indeed pay dividends, they need to look no further than to the opposition in Sunday's game against the Texans in Houston.
Houston's Matt Schaub, like Cassel, was once traded from another team where he had no apparent future other than as a backup. Schaub worked out to the point where the Texans view him as a franchise quarterback.
"In this league, you've got to feel good about that position and you've got to have one or it's tough to be successful," Houston coach Gary Kubiak said. "Sometimes you have to make some moves to go get you one and sometimes you have to take a risk to get one and he may not have played much football. It's a matter of you doing your homework and believing in what you're getting and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't."
So far, at least, Schaub has worked out better for the Texans than Cassel for the Chiefs. Schaub was acquired by Houston in a 2007 trade with Atlanta, which at the time entrusted its future at quarterback to Michael Vick.
Schaub was the AFC's starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl last season, when he led the NFL in passing yardage.
Cassel had one solid season as the starter in 2008 with New England, where he replaced the injured Tom Brady. He's still trying to establish himself since coming to the Chiefs in last year's trade.
Cassel this season had a few shining moments, the most notable being his 250-yard, three-touchdown game last month against the 49ers.
Otherwise, he has one of the league's worst completion percentages (54.7) despite trying a small number of long passes. The Chiefs have tried fewer passes than all but one other NFL team, making it appear they have little confidence in their quarterback or passing game.
The main selling point for Cassel has been a relatively low interception rate. He's been picked off three times.
"We've tried to make an effort this off-season that, hey, if something's not there, let's throw the ball away and let's not take sacks and let's not get ourselves in third and long situations," Cassel said. "It was an emphasis last week and especially versus a team like the Indianapolis Colts with (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis. We didn't want to let them overshadow the game by getting ourselves in situations that were not good for us."
Chiefs coach Todd Haley this week defended Cassel but also acknowledged he isn't sure the passing game is capable of carry the Chiefs. That also appears to be at least a partial indictment of Cassel.
"We can be more efficient but this is an 11-man operation and I am never going to come in here and point fingers or expose people because I wouldn't want them doing it to me," Haley said.
"The quarterback has to be able to take charge of the team, the offense most specifically. He can't be careless with the football and he needs to make plays when plays are needed."
One advantage Schaub has over Cassel is experience. He has an additional season as an NFL starter but more importantly played a lot in college. Schaub was once the starter for Virginia while Cassel played almost none at USC as a backup to Matt Leinart.
Kubiak said the Texans traded for Schaub in large part because he liked the quarterback so much when he left Virginia and entered the NFL draft.
Despite the fact Cassel had such a small college record, New England took a flier on Cassel in 2005, drafting him in the seventh round.
"He hadn't played a whole lot because of the situation at USC but when he worked out for people I know all the workouts were very impressive," Kubiak said. "That's what everybody in the league was going off of. The interview process was extremely impressive. The size, the arm. Everybody was betting on the come.
"I've drafted guys before that didn't play much in college. I drafted a running back out of Georgia (Terrell Davis while he was with Denver) that ended up being pretty good that I think played three games as a senior. You're always evaluating people from how they fit into what you do and what you expect them to be as a pro. There are a lot of kids in college that are very successful and do a lot of good things that don't get drafted or end up in the bottom of the draft."
The Chiefs would like Cassel to be for them what Schaub is for the Texans, the player who ends all public disputes about the future at quarterback. Since the Chiefs appear determine to stick with Cassel, there's still time for that.
"There's definitely similarities there," Schaub said, "I'm not sure if I hadn't played in college and then gone on to Atlanta and not playing there, that's a long time (not) to be an everyday, full-time starter. That's a tough task to take on. (Cassel's) been able to accomplish that really well."