Is The “Franchise QB” Window Closed For Matt Cassel And Kyle Orton?


Confession: I wrote this post on December 21st before embarking on my families’ 6 Christmas celebrations in 7 days multi-state road trip extravaganza. Therefore, if Kyle Orton did anything to raise or lower his stock drastically vs. the Raiders you’ll understand why it isn’t mentioned in the post. Happy Hollidays!

As I mentioned in my piece last week, I think the most vital and interesting dilemma facing the Chiefs going into next season has got to be what they do with the QB position. Yes, the head coach is important, but as I stated a couple weeks ago, in today’s NFL it’s really all about scoring points and throwing the football is the easiest way to do that.

I have been on the “draft a franchise QB” bandwagon for a while now. The Chiefs haven’t made a serious investment in a QB draft pick since Todd Blackledge. There is a strong class of QBs in this year’s draft so if the Chiefs wanted to go get one, they could. The real question is wether or not Scott Pioli WILL do it. Most people, despite how much they wish he would, don’t seem to think that he will.

So for the sake of this piece, let’s pretend Pioli has gone on the record as saying the Chiefs WILL NOT be drafting a QB in the early rounds of this draft. Also, for arguments sake, let’s say that the Colts have decided to keep Manning around for another season, so he is off the table. Finally, let’s assume that whomever is the new coach doesn’t want to go into the season with the unproven Ricky Stanzi as a possible starter.

That leaves us, in all likelihood, with a choice between Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton.

Now I understand that most, not all, but most are ready to move on from Matt Cassel (myself included). Romeo Crennel, when talking about the switch from Tyler Palko to Kyle Orton, talked about how in the NFL sometimes if a guy isn’t getting it done you have to try starting a new guy even if you don’t know how it will go simply to see if it will be any better. I agree, after all, if the current guy wasn’t good, what do you have to lose? I think that is where most of us are with Cassel and Orton. We think Orton looks better, but frankly we don’t know. We’re just ready to try something new because we don’t feel like Cassel was getting the job done.

Now, Orton and Cassel’s career numbers are VERY similar. So statistically speaking, Orton isn’t really an upgrade. The real question is can either of these QBs become something more than what we’ve seen so far in their careers? Has the book already been written on Cassel and Orton? Has their window to develop into a Super Bowl caliber QB already closed?

I’ll try to find an answer after the break.

Both Matt Cassel and Kyle Orton have four seasons under their belt where they were the team’s main starter. Cassel had one with NE and then three in KC ,and Orton had two with both the Bears and Broncos. As I stated before, their stats are eerily similar. In those four seasons, here are their stats.

Cassel: 1,020 of 1,728 (59.0%) for 11,446 yards (6.6 YPA) with 74 TDs and 43 INTs

Orton: 1,091 of 1,872 (58.3%) for 12,296 yards (6.6 YPA) with 68 TDs and 46 INTs

Even the records of their teams in those seasons are deadlocked (FYI, I didn’t take the time to factor out games during those seasons when they weren’t able to start). With Orton’s Bears and Broncos going 32-32 in those four seasons and Cassel’s Patriots and Chiefs teams going 31-31 (add a W or L for yesterday’s game) in his four seasons.

So the numbers say it’s a toss up. The Chiefs have more invested in Cassel, but most of us would rather see what Orton can do since we’ve seen Cassel for the better part of three seasons already.

Regardless, if the Chiefs want to win the Super Bowl and plan on either of these guys being the QB to do it they would need them to up their game. The question is, can that be done? Or, after four seasons as a starting QB, are these guys already defined in terms of what they are capable of?

What I’d like to do is take a look at a couple of other NFL QBs to see if they were defined by their stats in their first four seasons as starters in the NFL. I’ll leave their names out for now to avoid any bias. Here are the stats for QB “A” and “B” for their first four seasons as a starter.

QB “A” – 987 of 1,805 (54.7%) for 11,385 yards (6.3 YPA) with 77 TDs and 64 INTs

QB “B” – 1,110 of 1,782 (62.3%) for 12,127 yards (6.8 YPA) with 79 TDs and 53 INTs

Now, take a moment and really compare these two QBs to Cassel and Orton. If you had to rank these two QBs along with Cassel and Orton in terms of their numbers over four seasons as a starter. I think you would have to go:

QB “B”
Cassel and Orton (tie)
QB “A”

QB “B” has the best completion percentage and YPA as well as the most TD passes. Both Cassel and Orton are between the two in both completion percentage and YPA with less TD passes but also less INTs then both of our mystery QBs.

So who are these test subjects?

QB “A” is Eli Manning. Manning didn’t set the world on fire right out of the gate. Those numbers even include the 2007 season when the Giants won the Super Bowl. This season Eli has already thrown for well over 4,000 yards with a completion percentage of over 60% and a YPA over 8. So he seems to have overcome his slow start.

QB “B” is Drew Brees. His first four seasons as a starter were with San Diego. Although his numbers are slightly better than Cassel and Orton, it wasn’t until he got a change of scenery in New Orleans that his numbers and career took off. This season Brees will become the new record holder for passing yards in a season and has thrown for at least 4,300 yards and 30 TDs in each of his last four seasons.

So, if you just go by the numbers (I know, numbers don’t tell the whole story), it’s possible that either Cassel or Orton could still have an upside somewhere between Eli and Brees. I think we’d all take that. Now, to be fair, both Cassel and Orton are a little older then either Eli or Brees. Eli and Brees were both 27 when they began their 5th season as a starting QB. Next season Cassel will be 30 and Orton will be 29.

Look, I’m not saying that either of these two will become perennial Pro Bowl QBs that can lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl. I would still like to draft a QB in the first round. Unfortunately, I don’t know if that is likely to happen. If I was a betting man, I’d put money on the Chiefs starting QB next year being either Cassel or Orton. So I think Chiefs fans need to at least prepare themselves for that.

So what do you think? Are either (or both) of these QBs capable of continuing to develop into something more then what they are now? Could Cassel be the next Eli Manning who just needed a lot of time to develop into a top tier QB? Could Kyle Orton be like Drew Brees (they both went to Purdue!) in that he just needed a change of scenery and the right system around him for his career to take off? Or are these guys just mediocre starting QBs who will never take the next step?

That is the most important question for GM Scott Pioli to figure out before next season.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!