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Posted: Saturday February 28, 2009 2:33PM; Updated: Monday March 2, 2009 1:43AM
Don Banks Don Banks >
INSIDE THE NFL

Patriots could have asked for more

Story Highlights

It's ironic that Bernard Pollard and Matt Cassel will now be teammates

Maybe Bill Belichick is looking to soften his gruff, all-business persona

The Chiefs are the big winners of this first weekend of NFL free agency

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Matt Cassel joins the team that effectively launched his career as a starting QB.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

The mind kind of boggles at a couple things dealing with the Matt Cassel-to-Kansas City trade Saturday. First off, I'm struck by the fact that last September 7 it was Kansas City safety Bernard Pollard who crashed into Tom Brady's left knee, ending his 2008 season and sending Cassel onto the NFL stage for what was effectively the first time in his four-year pro career.

And now, not quite six months later, Cassel and Pollard will be Chiefs teammates, with Scott Pioli, the Patriots longtime personnel guru, on the scene in K.C. as the architect of the franchise's rebuilding program.

Small world, this NFL.

I doubt it'll happen, but in a still, quiet moment in the Chiefs locker room some day, I'm guessing Cassel finds a way to let Pollard know how he wound up benefiting Cassel -- transforming him from a career backup to a well-paid starting quarterback. Not a "Thanks for blowing out Brady's knee,'' mind you, but an understanding that without Pollard's hit, maybe Cassel's moment would have never arrived. If I'm Pollard, I might even bring it up first.

Secondly, and this one's going to be discussed and dissected more than the state of Matt Walsh's video skills in early 2002, but the second-round pick compensation the Chiefs gave up for both Cassel and fellow Patriot, linebacker Mike Vrabel, is so laughably low that we must ask whether Bill Belichick has grown soft before our very eyes?

First Tom Brady is caught numerous times looking like Gisele's well-dressed errand boy, now this. Belichick doing both Pioli and Cassel a huge favor by not demanding more than the 34th overall pick in the draft for two players who could have brought far more in value from about 30 other NFL teams.

Mr. Nice Guy, Bill Belichick. I don't know that we should get used to that idea, but in this case he unquestionably did a nice thing for two people he feels a kinship for and considers friends. And that's going to make us think a bit differently of Belichick's image and reputation for a while.

Maybe he's even looking to soften his gruff, all-business persona to some degree, because like one veteran league observer reminded me Friday afternoon, even Bill Parcells got a little kinder and gentler as his long career went on. The demanding my-way-or-the-highway Parcells of those early Giants years was not the same, occasionally tolerant and even sentimental guy we've seen on the job in Dallas or Miami. Time softens everyone a bit, I suppose.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, are the big winners of this first weekend of NFL free agency. They've got themselves a 27-year-old, still-on-the-way-up starting quarterback in Cassel, a respected veteran defensive and locker room leader in Vrabel -- who can still make a play or two, we might add -- and remarkably enough, they've retained the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.

Not that I had them taking a quarterback in my most recent mock draft, but we now know they can sit there and wait to see if either Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry falls to them, or they get to pick one of the two top-ranked offensive tackles, either Baylor's Jason Smith or Virginia's Eugene Monroe. Pioli also now has the option of shopping the third overall pick, and perhaps recouping the second-round selection they just dealt, and much more.

There's lot more work to be done in Kansas City. And maybe even a couple more high-profile trades executed, at least if disgruntled running back Larry Johnson and tight end Tony Gonzalez get their wish. But after hitting rock bottom in 2008, with a 2-14 record that made it 23 losses in their past 25 games, the Chiefs are on their way back.

Strangely enough, they have the unlikely pair of Bernard Pollard and Bill Belichick to thank for that.

 
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