There's something wrong with Matt Cassel's pants. His pockets aren't big enough for the free agent check some team is going to write him this offseason.
"Maybe I'll keep the pants and just buy my wife a bigger purse," he says with a laugh.
I ran into Cassel at the Madden Challenge in Turks & Caicos as EA Sports flew in a variety of athletes to meet and greet the contestants. And while players like Marshawn Lynch and Bernard Berrian shook plenty of hands and posed for pictures, Cassel was by far the most popular pro. When he first stepped foot inside the competition, the gamers literally stopped what they were doing to point out the emerging superstar, greeting him with pounds, cheers and chest bumps as he stood inside the pit of trash-talking competitors and watched the tournament unfold.
"The amount of trash talk is crazy," Cassel said. "It's a lot like what we hear every time we play away games, but I never expected anything like this at a Madden tournament."
Cassel then took time to jump on the sticks himself, battling the Jets' Brad Smith to a hard-fought tie as "Eye of the Tiger" blared over the speakers.
After the game, I caught up with Cassel to talk Madden, his future and his surprising ability to scramble:
ESPN: Heading into the season, Madden rated you a 76 overall. Now your character has been updated to an 85 online. Does that number seem fair?
Matt Cassel: It's fair because heading into this season, nobody knew too much about me. I was lucky enough to get to play this year and prove I can play on this level, so yeah, Madden definitely dogged me! [Laughs] Just kidding. I actually think they do a pretty good job on the ratings and the more they can update every player throughout the season online, the more accurate they'll be in the future.
ESPN: How realistic is the game?
Matt Cassel: It's a lot more strategic than I ever thought, especially after watching these guys in the tournament play. I like how they are able to read the defense and call an audible similar to the way we do it in real life. It's pretty intense.
ESPN: Do you play a lot of Madden or are you into other games?
Matt Cassel: When I go home, I love to play the Tiger Woods game with my brothers. It's always fun to sit there for a few hours and play. When I was a kid, we used to play Madden and NCAA Football all the time. I have two brothers, so we grew up on these games.
ESPN: Who was your team back in the day?
Matt Cassel: I was a big Cowboys fan. My dad was from Texas, so he always had us watching Dallas.
ESPN: And now the Cowboys are by far the most popular team in Madden.
Matt Cassel: I know, it's unbelievable. I'm watching the games and all I see is Dallas versus Dallas. I'm like: "Patriots, can we get some love?"
ESPN: Before the season, a lot of announcers and sports writers were calling you out, saying you shouldn't even be the backup in New England, then you go out and end up having a storybook-type season out of nowhere. What was that ride like for you?
Matt Cassel: It was a great experience and it was fun to have an opportunity to go out and play for four quarters. In the preseason, you usually only get a small window of opportunity, but when you get out there for four quarters and you're able to put it together, then you're able to go out there game after game and continue to get better, it was great, especially when I was able to prove a lot of my critics and naysayers wrong.
ESPN: The most surprising thing to me about how you play is actually your speed. Were defenses caught off guard at first by how fast you are?
Matt Cassel: People amongst my team knew I had a little speed, but I don't think anyone else knew that I could run. If the defense sets me up to where I can take off, I have no problem doing it.
ESPN: In Madden, you're slow. You're only a 64 speed, the same as Tom Brady.
Matt Cassel: I'm going to have to track Madden down, see if he'll improve it now that I've had a few good runs.
ESPN: You're one of the top free agents heading into the offseason, what do you think is going to happen next?
Matt Cassel: I don't know. It's just a waiting game at this point to be completely honest. Right now, I'm taking some time away from it all, but whatever happens, we really just feel blessed that the season went the way it did.
ESPN: What's funny is that when you took over the team, we actually simulated the Patriots' season with you as the quarterback in Madden, and the game predicted the team would finish 11-5 just like you did in real life.
Matt Cassel: This game gets more realistic every year. Pretty soon they'll find a way where you can even feel the hits.
ESPN: The day they make me feel a Ray Lewis hit is the day I retire from gaming. I'll leave that one up to you.
Matt Cassel: Good thing I'm faster in real life than I am in the game.