When the Chiefs’ safety Bernard Pollard went crashing into Tom Brady’s left knee, life as they knew it for Patriots fans ended. Also for one team in every fantasy league who had happily spent their first pick on the quarterback who would assuredly give them another 50 touchdowns this year. Since Brady had the NFL’s third longest starting streak of 128 games, why would anyone bother to draft his back-up? Most Brady owners could not even tell you his name before last Sunday. Now that Brady is out for the year, what does this all mean to fantasy football?
Probably less than you might think.
Sure the Brady owner has to hope to grab Matt Cassell and he won’t be Tom Brady but chances were great that even Brady was not going to replicate his record-setting 2007 season. He would have fallen; the only question was how far. Now Cassell takes over as the Patriot that no one knew and head coach Bill Belichick says he is in no hurry to sign a new quarterback. Cassell was a back-up quarterback but he was a veteran back-up. He’s been with the Patriots in the same system for four years. That is key – the same system. The one initially argued as being the core reason for Brady’s success. He may have run the offense to perfection, but Brady did not write the playbook.
Brady’s career coincided with the arrival in 2000 of Bill Belichick who selected him in the sixth round of his first Patriots draft and gave him the reins in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe was injured. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, perhaps none are as insistent on “Team and Scheme First” as the Patriots. Recall too that the complex system allowed passing success despite the absence of any individual playmakers for the first five years of Brady’s career. Cassell is not going to step in and throw for 50 scores, but he is also not going to allow the Patriots passing game to fall off the map or even drop below average.
Not only does Cassell have the system going for him, he starts out with two very valuable receivers in Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Arguably the most talented split end and the best slot receiver in the NFL. Cassell only threw 18 passes in the wake of Brady’s injury last week but still connected with Moss for 64 yards on three receptions with one touchdown. Welker only had three catches for 31 yards but the Pats were at home in a game they knew they could win.
By no means is losing a Brady a positive but his departure doesn’t turn the Patriots into just another average team with a no-name quarterback. This is one reason why the Patriots are so insistent on a “Team First” mentality. Randy Moss is one of the few wide receivers that can make a quarterback better and Wes Welker is unstoppable unless the defense over commits to covering him. Cassell will not throw for 50 scores because Brady wasn’t going to either – no quarterback with over 40 passing scores ever had more than 30 the next season and all but Marino had 26 or less. Had this happened two years ago, Cassell would be less attractive since there was only the system. This year he has that and two of the most dynamic receivers in the game.
Cassell has already hooked up with Moss for a score and completed 72% of his passes last week. The fantasy value of Moss has reasonably declined but only slightly because Moss will make Cassell a better quarterback. Wes Welker will remain a favored option in a system that made him the #1 in the NFL with 112 catches last year. Both Moss and Welker were already due for a decline after a record-setting year but Cassell will not make it a free fall by any means. Yet another buffer – the Patriots have a softer schedule this season than any that Brady had. It is one of the easiest in the league.
The Patriots rushing game remains in capable hands with Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris splitting the load and both gaining over five yards per carry. Behind them looms Lamont Jordan who will surely show up as the surprise star of some future game because the Patriots – and their system – constantly keep opponents and fantasy owners guessing. The loss of Brady will be felt to be sure but it won’t be catastrophic – not at all. Brady never tackled anyone. He didn’t kick field goals or run the ball. He never caught an interception or ran a fade route in the corner of the endzone. He excelled at running a system which is still in place and will be manned by another player with four years experience in that scheme while watching Brady operate.
The oddity in Brady was that he was a personality in an offense that was designed to have none. The question is less if Brady was the key; it is more about whether The Patriot Way by Bill Belichick still exists. It does.