NEW YORK - Matt Cassel's meteoric rise landed him a seat next to established stars Ray Lewis and Larry Fitzgerald at an event Friday promoting the "Madden NFL" video game.
Yet even as he's secured his first starting job since high school, Cassel can't escape other quarterbacks' shadows. When he was introduced, the first name mentioned wasn't his but "Jay Cutler."
Cassel inadvertently became intertwined with one of the biggest stories of the offseason: Cutler's falling out with Denver and subsequent trade to Chicago after he learned the Broncos had tried to acquire Cassel.
"It's weird," Cassel said, "because I didn't have anything to do with it. I was just a name in the mix, I guess. ... Unfortunately, that's how the NFL works sometimes.
"Jay now is on a different team. (Kyle) Orton's on a different team. Everything works out in weird ways in the NFL."
No weirder than Cassel rocketing from a guy who didn't start a game in college to a hot commodity in the pros.
A backup for four seasons at Southern Cal and another three with the Patriots, he was thrust into the limelight when Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury in the 2008 opener.
Cassel led New England to an 11-5 record, and the Patriots put the franchise tag on him. He was traded to the Chiefs in February - but not before the Broncos' interest caused a ruckus in Denver.
And every time the saga was mentioned, so was Cassel's name.
"I still don't know how it all went down," he said, "but that's football for you."
A year ago, Cassel was little more than a trivia question: Who's Tom Brady's backup? Now he's going into a season as a projected starter.
"My preparation doesn't change from being a backup to a starter," he said. "I've always pushed myself and taken great pride in what I do. From that standpoint, it's no different than any other offseason.
"But there definitely is a feeling of urgency that you want to get out there and start on the right note and get some wins under your belt."