Wednesday, March 4, 2009

West Coast Office

Get By Remix (Feat. Mos Def, Jay-Z, Kanye West & Busta Rhymes) - Talib Kweli

Meanwhile, on the left coast of the AFC, Scott Pioli has basically opened up Patriots West with the acquisition of Matt Cassel and the hiring of Todd Haley. Haley and Pioli go back, Haley shows the same predilection toward aerial assault that made the Pats deadly for the past two years, and Mike Vrabel immediately injects veteran savvy to an athletically talented but noticeably young defense. But the centerpiece of the deal is Matt Cassel, and as such he merits the bulk of the discussion and attention. This is both a great and slightly sad thing.

First, the great: Matt Cassel brings immediate credibility to a Chiefs quarterback position that hasn’t had any for three years. The kid has a track record that is head and shoulders better after one season than anyone else on the roster, has the physical gifts to hit every part of the field, and is capable of running a pass first offense. Furthermore, it’s not as though he’s arriving in KC to find the cupboard bare. Tony Gonzalez needs no introduction, and Dwayne Bowe remains one of the most sneakily overlooked number one wideouts in the league, using his mass to create separation and proving that yes, strength is still as relevant as speed on offense. Furthermore, if Larry Johnson can regain even a shred of the juice that made him everyone’s favorite running back two years ago, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t welcome his new alien overlords. The whole move, combined with the maturation of last years excellent draft class (GLENN DORSEY IS A MONSTER), feels like a sea change for a franchise known for stagnation, with Pioli acting as the monolith for the evolution.

And yet if this is the dawn of a new era, what becomes of the noble Neanderthal, Tyler Thigpen. It’ a little ironic that, after having shown so much promise toward the end of the season (he was carrying the team on his own, and doing it with no run game in his first year as a starter), Thigpen now finds himself replaced by a fellow former 7th rounder who didn’t have a steady starting gig last year. The harsh reality of the NFL is that it continues to reward pedigree over performance in all but the rarest of circumstances (you could argue that Cassel’s USC alum status factors in here). Thigpen, then, becomes another casualty of the war against workmen becoming stars, and we all sit and watch him disappear because of the fireworks surrounding Cassel’s emergence as a more obvious savior in the image of our mind’s creation. Call it being so oppressed we don’t realize we’re oppressed, if you will.

I’m not saying that I think Cassel is the wrong move. I actually think he fits the likely change of tone that KC is planning on. The “STOP CALLING ME TOM BRADY JR.” sense of F-U he radiated (which, ironically, makes him more Brady Jr. than anything else) throughout last season fits the cold, unforgiving calculations that we expect of a Pioli organized unit. Further, Haley, like McDaniels in New England, runs a system built on combining a lack of common convention with a precise execution of the new system. Cassel is built for this; Thigpen, on his best days, looked like a young Favre, improvising a new system on top of a traditional system. Nevertheless, however much we want to believe that Cassel to KC signals a major shift in the landscape of the league, it also represents a tragic continuation of business as usual in other important ways. More good than bad, but it’s just a shame that Cassel’s rise has to banish Thigpen to likely permanent obscurity.

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