Matt Cassel is ready to make a run at the starting quarterback job for the Buffalo Bills.
“I think I’ve been in this league long enough to know that you’ve got to compete in everything that you do,” said Cassel, who was introduced to the Western New York media on Wednesday, a day after his trade from the Minnesota Vikings became official. “You have to earn every opportunity you get, so I know there’s going to be competition.”
That will come from EJ Manuel, the Bills’ 2013 first-round pick who has started just 14 games in the first two years of his career. Manuel is likely entering a make-or-break year in terms of having a future with the Bills, but Cassel is conceding nothing.
“I still think I’ve got a lot of football left in me,” he said. “I’ve been around long enough to understand and have great knowledge of the game and from there I think it’s about coming together as a team. It always is. It’s always about the team concept when it comes to football.”
Cassel, who will be 33 at the start of the 2015 season, is entering his 11th year in the NFL. He’s got the experience edge on Manuel, starting 71 career games with New England, Kansas City and Minnesota. He has a 33-38 career record and has thrown for 15,727 yards, 96 touchdowns and 70 interceptions, completing 59.9 percent of his passes.
“We see him as a guy to come in and hopefully compete to start,” Bills General Manager Doug Whaley said. “If he starts, great. If not, we know that he’s going to be a consummate professional and a consummate team player and help the Bills in any way he can.”
That mentor-type role wouldn’t be new to Cassel. Last season, he won the Vikings’ starting job coming out of training camp, but suffered a broken foot during the third week of the season, an injury that ended his season.
“Any time you go through an offseason, you work tremendously hard and you earn a position to go out and play and it’s all taken away … that’s difficult to handle, no doubt,” he said. “You’ve got to go through the surgery and everything else, but thankfully I stuck around and I was able to stay involved and I think that really helped me because I was able to help the coaches and do reports and do those kinds of things. If I would’ve gone home and not had football there, it would have been a lot longer and a lot more difficult for me to go through that time.”
That meant Cassel was there to support rookie Teddy Bridgewater, even though he knew the better Bridgewater played, the more likely it would be that he could lose his job.
“I’ve always taken the approach that first and foremost, you’re teammates with everybody,” he said. “We spend a lot of time in the room with each other throughout the course of the year. That relationship has to be solid, because you want their support just as much as they want your support.
“The coaches are going to pick the guy who they think is going to help them win ball games, because that’s the only stat that matters. I’ve never been one of those guys that, you know, hopes the other guy doesn’t do well. … I always try to lift somebody up, and I think through competition everybody becomes better.”
Cassel said his injury, which was actually several broken bones in his left foot, “feels great.” The Buffalo News reported Tuesday that Cassel initially failed his physical with the Bills because of the injury, but the team acknowledged the risk and passed him anyway.
“Honestly, I’ve been doing everything that I can,” Cassel said. “I’ve been dropping back and throwing, and everything else, so my foot does feel great.”
Cassel had to pass his physical to complete the trade.
“With any player with past injury history, we’re going to do as much due diligence as possible,” Whaley said. We “have complete faith in our medical team headed by Les Bisson. So he puts the stamp of approval – I’m not a doctor – I go with what he says.”
Cassel has one year remaining on his contract. He’s scheduled to earn $4.75 million this season. He said he hasn’t had any discussions with the Bills about a possible contract extension – a move that could free up cap space for the team.
“We haven’t been talking about that, but I leave a lot of that up to my agent,” he said.
Cassel said it didn’t take long for him to buy into what coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are selling.
“They impressed me right away,” he said. “Rex comes in and he’s got an outstanding personality. He’s a guy that obviously has great leadership ability and you gravitate to him as a player because he just has that type of persona and energy about him.
“Greg is outstanding in his own right. He’s smart, he’s intelligent, he’s got a great history of success, so I’m excited to be working with all those guys.”