KANSAS CITY — Matt Cassel's rocky career in Kansas City came to an abrupt ending on Thursday, when the Chiefs released their former starting quarterback with two years left on his contract.
The decision to cut ties with Cassel came one day after new general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid held a press conference to introduce Alex Smith, whom they landed in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to be their quarterback of the future.
Cassel was the first major acquisition by the Chiefs under previous general manager Scott Pioli, and he was quickly given a six-year, $63 million contract. But after leading the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010, Cassel struggled to live up to the same expectations.
He sustained a season-ending hand injury two years ago, and then lost his job to Brady Quinn after sustaining a concussion last season, spending the rest of the year as the backup.
The Chiefs had been trying to trade Cassel for a late-round draft pick but, having found no suitors, decided to release him and carve out additional space under the salary cap. He would have made a base salary of $7.5 million this season.
Hours later, Cassel reached an agreement to join the Minnesota Vikings as the backup for Christian Ponder, according to person with knowledge of the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.
"He's a good football player and deserves the respect we're going to try to give him right now," Reid said. "We think that's important."
Cassel started 47 of the 48 games he played for the Chiefs, throwing for 9,549 yards with 59 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. His best season came three years ago, when he threw for 3,116 yards and 27 touchdowns with only seven interceptions, and led the Chiefs to the playoffs.
He seemed to be validating the deal made by Pioli to acquire him from New England.
Then everything began to unravel.
He went 4-5 as a starter in 2011 before hurting his throwing hand late in the season and landing on injured reserve. During the offseason, when he appeared in a celebrity softball game as part of All-Star Game festivities at Kauffman Stadium, he was booed lustily by the crowd.
The Chiefs fired coach Todd Haley and appointed Romeo Crennel his successor, and Crennel stuck with Cassel last season. But he went just 1-7 in eight games under center, and some fans at Arrowhead Stadium cheered when he sustained a head injury in a loss to Baltimore.
Cassel briefly lost his job to Quinn, regained it when Quinn got hurt, and then lost it permanently when he struggled in a loss to Cincinnati midway through the season.
He took the benching with grace, though, and remained a leader in the locker room.
But his skill set doesn't necessarily translate well to Reid's offense, and it became clear soon after the new coach was hired to replace Crennel that Cassel's time was running out.
The Chiefs agreed to a deal two weeks ago to send their second-round pick, 34th overall, and a conditional choice in next year's draft to San Francisco to acquire Smith, who played well this past season before sustaining his own concussion and losing his job to Colin Kaepernick.
"We've communicated with him and he understood the situation that was taking place today," Reid said of Cassel, shortly after Smith was introduced at Chiefs' training facility. "It wasn't a secret to him or his representatives."
The Chiefs also signed former Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel to provide depth behind Smith, and with Ricky Stanzi and Alex Tanney also on the roster, Cassel became expendable.
"I felt at the end of the day, this was the best fit for this organization as we being this new chapter," Dorsey said. "I think (Smith) brings us experience, I think he brings leadership. I think he has all the physical skills to propel us for the years to come here."