The Patriots made it official and franchised Matt Cassell. They did it on the first day that the franchise period was open, which is different than what they've done in the past -- usually they've waited until the end of the franchise period, which is from 5 to 19 February this year.
What does it mean that they franchised him this early? To me, it indicates that the Patriots are not looking to sign Cassell to a long term deal. There had been some speculation that they could try to sign him for a moderately prices 3 year contract -- maybe 3 years for $20-$25 million, and keep him on as a back-up. If they were going to do that, they'd have been negotiating now and trying to avoid the cap issues of the franchise tag.
The tender offer for the QB franchise tag is $14.6 Million. If Matt Cassell chooses to sign it, he'll immediately count 14.6 million against the salary cap, which will handcuff the Patriots in the upcoming free agent season. Free agency starts on 27 February.
I expect that Cassell won't immediately sign the franchise offer, but I could be wrong. This is a guy who made about $500,000 last year, so $14.6 Million is a huge sum. A lot of time players get mad when they get franchised -- they feel it limits their options. I don't think you'll see that from Cassell. He's said all the right things so far, so even if privately he's unhappy, you won't ever hear about it. Plus he's got 14.6 million reasons to be happy. Worst comes to worst for him, he signs the tender, plays another year, then hits free agency next year.
I still believe a trade is the most likely scenario. The early use of the franchise means the Patriots can start shopping him now, if they want. Hard to say if they'll do that or not, since we don't really know the status of Brady's injury.