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Updated: February 5th, 2014 8:59pm
Zulgad: I'll give 3 possible motivations for QB Matt Cassel opting out

Zulgad: I'll give 3 possible motivations for QB Matt Cassel opting out

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Matt Cassel's decision to void the 2014 option on his contract with the Minnesota Vikings should come as no surprise.

In fact, it makes perfect sense that after earning $3.7 million during his first season in Minnesota that Cassel would choose to get out of a deal that was due to pay him the same amount in 2014.

The important thing, and the thing no one knows, is exactly what is behind Cassel's motivation in electing to put himself on the free-agent market when the NFL league year kicks off on March 11.

There is an assumption that Cassel will end up returning as the Vikings' starting quarterback next season but there's no guarantee that will happen. Let's go through three potential scenarios when it comes to the situation.

1. More money to be made:

The Vikings made it clear from the moment they signed Cassel as a free agent last March that they were bringing him in to be the backup to Christian Ponder.

The Vikings had gone through the 2012 season with Joe Webb as the backup to Ponder, and while they made the playoffs, the feeling was that if Ponder struggled or got hurt they needed to have a legitimate backup quarterback.

Cassel, who had been released by the Kansas City Chiefs, was considered to be that guy. Cassel made it clear from the moment he signed that he was on board with helping Ponder and that this wasn't a competition.

Ponder, however, not only struggled during a disappointing 2012 season in which the Vikings went 5-10-1, he was often terrible, looked lost and only continued to start because the Vikings seemed to be intent on trying to save face.

Cassel, who will turn 32 in May, started six of the nine games in which he appeared and accounted for three of the team's wins. He led the Vikings to their first win of the season, a 34-27 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in late September in London.

Cassel, who at the time was playing in place of an injured Ponder, had the starting job taken from him following a blowout loss to Carolina in the game after beating the Steelers. He did not start again until December.

Cassel started the final four games of the season and went 2-2, beating Philadelphia and Detroit and losing to Baltimore and Cincinnati. The veteran finished ranked 25th in the NFL with an 81.6 passer rating, completing 153 of 254 passes for 1,807 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

These stats won't blow anyone away but things have changed at Winter Park, as Mike Zimmer takes over as coach and Norv Turner assumes offensive coordinator duties.

The Vikings would be crazy to bring back Ponder, he should be released, and the less-than-a-season Josh Freeman experiment didn't work. That left Cassel as the most likely quarterback to start the 2014 opener for the Vikings and, if that's the case, he is going to want to go from making good money for a backup to making acceptable-market value for a starter.

Even if the Vikings draft a quarterback, especially if it's in the second or third round, they might not want him to start, so Cassel would be atop the depth chart to begin the season.

2. Enough is enough:

Under the above scenario, Cassel's agent will go to the Vikings, ask for more money and just might get it. That means he likely returns.

But what if there is more at work here?

While coach Leslie Frazier claimed during the season that it was his decision to continue going back to Ponder, there are few who believe that. Frazier eventually began to make it clear that the decision wasn't his alone.

Frazier has been fired but general manager Rick Spielman, the man who certainly had a role in Ponder getting chance after chance, remains and that might be enough for Cassel to say one season of dysfunction at Winter Park is enough.

Cassel didn't hide the fact that when he lost the starting job that he was disappointed and after the Vikings played brutal as a team in a 35-10 loss to the Panthers, it was the newcomer, Freeman, who was given the start in a Monday night debacle in New Jersey against the Giants.

This was a massive slap in the face to Cassel.

There is a chance that he might like Zimmer and Turner but have little interest in continuing to work in a building where the general manager might be attempting to call the shots when it comes to who plays quarterback.

3. Thanks for the memories:

Zimmer will attempt to rebuild the Vikings' defense and he will oversee the entire on-the-field product, but Turner is going to be in charge of the offense.

That isn't a bad thing, but the third scenario might be that Cassel has been told the Vikings are going to go in a different direction.

Because the Vikings are waiting to announce their entire assistant coaching staff at once - this is beyond silly and the coordinators should have been introduced long ago - no one has any idea if Turner has another veteran quarterback he wants to bring in or if the Vikings are confident they can trade up in the draft and grab a QB.

Heck, maybe the Vikings think they can get a starter with the eighth pick in the opening round, a dangerous assumption, or, worst case, the Ponder experiment is going to continue.

If Cassel hadn't exercised his option to get out of his contract, the Vikings would have had until the seventh day of the league year to cut him or pay him a $500,000 roster bonus.

Cassel has taken that decision out of the Vikings' hands and is now in control of his future.

That makes sense and is a wise move.

But what we still need to learn is Cassel's exact motivation for making that move.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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