In 1993, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino exemplified the nickname "Iron Man". Entering the season, Marino had started 140 games in a row.
During the preseason, Miami had been picked as a favorite to represent the AFC in that year's Super Bowl.
The Dolphins did not disappoint early on. They started the 1993 season 3-1, including a win over the Bills in Buffalo (remember, this was in the midst of Buffalo's string of four straight Super Bowls).
In the Dolphins' next game at the Cleveland Browns, Marino went to the ground without being touched by anyone. The future Hall-of-Famer had now started 145 straight games, but would not make 146, having torn his Achilles tendon. Ouch.
Enter backup quarterback Scott Mitchell. Many around the league cried out, "Who?". See, in the 90's, Marino's backup quarterback lived in anonymity much like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre's did. (Except for that Aaron Rodgers guy, but more on him later).
Behind Mitchell, the Dolphins cruised to a nice 9-2 record. Then, Mitchell got injured as well. His fill-ins did not win a game the rest of the way and Miami finished 1993 with a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs completely. Fortunately for Mitchell, the free agency era had already begun in the NFL. Boy, did he cash in.
The Detroit Lions decided that all that stood between them and a Super Bowl championship was a great quarterback. After seeing Scott Mitchell step in successfully for Dan Marino, they gave him a four year, $21 million contract to be the new Lions' starter.
It looked like utter disaster from the very start. Mitchell started nine games in 1994, going an ugly 4-5 along the way. He threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (10). Detroit stuck with him, though.
Mitchell outplayed even himself in the 1995 season. He led Detroit to a 10-6 record while posting some eye opening stats. In this, his "career year", Mitchell passed for 4,338 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. The Lions looked like a wise team.
After Mitchell lost a 58-37 thriller in the playoffs at Philadelphia, he crashed back down to Earth. Humbled and mediocre, Mitchell played three more barely-average season with Detroit before floating amongst the Baltimore Ravens in 1999, and the Cincinnati Bengals in 2000 and 2001.
Having been the first example of "great backup to mediocre starter", he has been used as the measuring stick in recent years.
Matt Cassel, current starting quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, is most worthy of being compared to the Scott Mitchell example.
Following his outstanding 2007 season, throwing an NFL record 50 touchdowns, leading the Patroits to the only 16-0 regular season in history, Tom Brady stepped on the field against, ironically, the Kansas City Chiefs, to begin his 2008 campaign.
Then Brady went down with a season-ending ACL injury to his knee.
Enter Matt Cassel.
Having entered with little to no expectation of, well, anything, Cassel proceeded to guide New England to an 11-5 record in 2008. The Patriots missed the playoffs despite eleven wins, becoming the first team to do so, but the Kansas City Chiefs had seen all they needed to. Things were looking up for Cassel entering the 2009 offseason.
Kansas City wrested him away from the Patriots, giving up their second round pick (number 34 overall) in the 2009 draft. Then the Chiefs gave Cassel a six-year, $62.7 million contract, including $28 million in guaranteed money plus $40.5 million in total compensation the first three years.
That's a heck of a front-loaded contract, and a BIG gamble.
Cassel's had decent production so far, one division title, but immediately booted from the playoffs. Kind of sounds familiar. Chiefs fans shouldn't be surprised, then, by Cassel's three interception performance against the Chargers this past Sunday.
Kevin Kolb of the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Flynn of the Seattle Seahawks both got lucrative deals but haven't backed them up on the field just yet.
Perhaps it's the mystery. The proverbial "un-known quantity". Unfortunately, most of these types of signings reek of the impulse buy one makes at the checkout of the supermarket. It's why there's always little, very unnecessary items sold at cash registers.
Everyone gets impulsive.
But for NFL general managers, impulse can take away your job.
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