MINNEAPOLIS – Matt Cassel was one day away from hitting the free agent market and fielding offers from other suitors. Then the Minnesota Vikings swooped in at the last minute.
The Vikings agreed to terms with Cassel on Friday on a deal that will keep him in Minnesota, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because an official announcement had not been made. Terms of the deal, which was first reported by NFL Network, were not immediately available.
The move helps solidify the Vikings' shaky quarterback situation. The team used a musical chairs approach to the position last season, rotating Christian Ponder and Cassel, and even starting Josh Freeman for one game during a miserable 5-10-1 season. Cassel was by far the most effective of the three, going 3-3 in his six starts and being on the field at the end of all five of the team's victories.
He completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 1,807 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions after signing as a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs. But he opted out of the final year of his two-year deal in February, and there was concern Cassel would choose to move to another team after he was forced to split time with the ineffective Ponder.
New head coach Mike Zimmer said Thursday he "would love to have Matt Cassel back if Matt Cassel wants to be back." But the coach was also bracing for the likelihood Cassel would at least test free agency before giving the Vikings an answer.
"He's got a bunch of pretty girls looking at him right now," Zimmer said then. "And he wants to explore and see what's best for him. I don't blame any of these guys. In free agency, I think that's why they have the rules is that they get a chance to go see what their market's worth. Then if they find a better situation than what they think is here, then I think that's everywhere."
It appears Cassel knew where he wanted to be all along.
Cassel's familiarity with the team's offensive players — Adrian Peterson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph among them — and the way the team responded to Cassel's leadership on the field were among the big reasons the Vikings wanted him back.
The agreement would appear to make Cassel the front-runner to be the starter when the 2014 season opens with new offensive coordinator Norv Turner calling the plays. Ponder is still on the roster, but his performance over his first three seasons has inspired little confidence among his teammates.
The Vikings have the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft, and there remains a strong possibility they will select someone to be the team's quarterback of the future. But keeping Cassel in the fold will reduce the pressure on the team to start a rookie.
"It all depends, but what I want to do is play the best guy," Zimmer said. "I don't care if he's a rookie, if he's a veteran, if he's a returner. It doesn't matter to me who the quarterback is if he can win games, and that's really what it's about, winning football games and figuring out how to do that."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org