Matt Cassel was one day away from hitting the free agent market and fielding offers from other suitors. Then the Minnesota Vikings swooped in at the last minute.
The Vikings agreed to terms with Cassel on Friday on a deal that will keep him in Minnesota, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because an official announcement had not been made. The deal is believed to be for two years and $10 million, according to reports.
The move helps solidify the Vikings' shaky quarterback situation. The team used a musical chairs approach to the position last season, rotating Christian Ponder and Cassel, and even starting Josh Freeman for one game during a miserable 5-10-1 season. Cassel was by far the most effective of the three, going 3-3 in his six starts and being on the field at the end of all five of the team's victories.
He completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions after signing as a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs. But he opted out of the final year of his two-year deal in February, and there was concern Cassel would choose to move to another team after he was forced to split time with the ineffective Ponder.
New head coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday he "would love to have Matt Cassel back if Matt Cassel wants to be back." But the coach was also bracing for the likelihood Cassel would at least test free agency before giving the Vikings an answer.
"He's got a bunch of pretty girls looking at him right now," Zimmer said then. "And he wants to explore and see what's best for him. I don't blame any of these guys. In free agency, I think that's why they have the rules is that they get a chance to go see what their market's worth. Then if they find a better situation than what they think is here, then I think that's everywhere."
It appears Cassel knew where he wanted to be all along.
Cassel's familiarity with the team's offensive players — Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph among them — and the way the team responded to Cassel's leadership on the field were among the big reasons the Vikings wanted him back.
The agreement would appear to make Cassel the front-runner to be the starter when the 2014 season opens with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner calling the plays. Ponder is still on the roster, but his performance over his first three seasons has inspired little confidence among his teammates.
The Vikings have the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft, and there remains a strong possibility they will select someone to be the team's quarterback of the future. But keeping Cassel in the fold will reduce the pressure on the team to start a rookie.
"It all depends, but what I want to do is play the best guy," Zimmer said. "I don't care if he's a rookie, if he's a veteran, if he's a returner. It doesn't matter to me who the quarterback is if he can win games, and that's really what it's about, winning football games and figuring out how to do that."
ALLEN LOOKING FORWARD TO FREE AGENCY
Jared Allen is plunging into free agency for the first time in his career. He's made two things abundantly clear: Allen is not interested in signing a bargain deal to be a situational pass rusher, and the Minnesota Vikings aren't out of the running to retain his services.
Allen's agent, Ken Harris, told The Associated Press on Friday night that Allen is looking forward to the process that is set to begin Saturday. That's when a three-day window opens for teams to begin negotiating with available players. No contracts can be signed until Tuesday.
Allen had 11½ sacks last year for the Vikings, his sixth season in Minnesota. He leads the NFL in sacks since entering the league in 2004 and has posted double-digit numbers for seven straight seasons and eight of his 10 in the league. He is coming off the final season of a six-year, $73 million contract he signed when he was traded from Kansas City in 2007.
Harris said Allen was eager to look at all 32 teams and was putting together a list of priorities that included the team's chances of becoming a championship contender in the next three to four seasons; the team's salary cap structure and ability to offer "a fair contract;" and how he meshes with the coaching staff in place. Harris wouldn't get into specifics on the kind of deal Allen was looking for, but it will be less than the $17 million he made last year.
Harris did make it clear the Vikings were definitely going to get strong consideration.
"With Adrian Peterson, Cordarrelle Patterson, (Chad) Greenway ... You look around and see some real talent," Harris said. "They're a good example of a team he wouldn't by any means weed out."
With a new coach in Mike Zimmer who emphasizes stopping the run with this front four over piling up sacks, and a defense that needs some serious rebuilding, how strongly will the Vikings pursue a player who has been one of the faces of their franchise over the last six years?
"In my opinion, Jared's an extremely, extremely great football player who has had a fantastic career that, not only here, but elsewhere," Zimmer said on Thursday. "I think it would be great for him to finish here, but I do understand the business part of all this stuff and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out."
That Allen doesn't want to sign a discount deal just to chase sacks as a nickel rusher, combined with being in the top seven among defensive ends in tackles-for-loss over the last three years, shows Allen wants to be a big part of the run and pass defense going forward, Harris said. He's also one been one of the most durable players in the league, having missed just three games in his 10 seasons and none since 2007.
"Why would you take that guy and for one minute think he's situational?" Harris said. "That's not something smart football people are thinking."
Harris has had some conversations with Vikings GM Rick Spielman, vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski and assistant GM George Paton, a group that Allen holds in high esteem. The two sides pledged to keep in close contact as the process plays out.
"He's as fast as he's ever been. He's as strong as he's ever been," Harris said. "And he still thinks he's a kid."
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