Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday WhatYouWill: Start Making Sense

I think most Chiefs fans would agree on two things so far: 1) It's great that week one in Baltimore was not a complete route, and 2) It was great to see the team dominate the Oakland Raiders, and atrocious, albeit not that surprising, to watch them lose that game at home. Beyond that, there isn't a whole lot that folks can file under the tab of agreeance. As I mentioned Monday, Bill Maas has stirred up quite the flavorful broth, and I, for one, love it. It isn't a matter of who Maas' source is, or whether or not his slant is correct. What it suggests, on the other hand, is that Todd Haley might be committed to the notion of every position on this roster being a must-earn job. Even the quarterback slot. It's not atypical of a coach to say this when honing his 53-man roster, but it is uncommon for a coach to mean it when it comes to the quarterback position; most head honchos will tab their guy, and make every effort to dispel the notion (among fans and media) of a quarterback controversy. Why this scenario could be unique in Kansas City, after the jump.

1) Pioli-Haley Relationship

Scott Pioli was hired by Clark Hunt on January 13 after a largely quiet, yet allegedly thorough search for the right candidate that was nothing less than a shrewd evaluator of football talent, a person skilled enough to bring championship-caliber competition to the organization. While the playoffs (playoffs?) continued, and Pioli still did not have his head coach tabbed, it began to appear that Arizona Cardinals Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley was Pioli's top choice. Five days (Feb. 6) after the Super Bowl, Haley was in fact hired. Photos of Hunt, Pioli, and Haley were taken. Press conferences were held. Articles were written, and bold statements under the umbrella of championship football, were made. The key phrase -- one that has been repeated over and over again -- centered around the notion of "not the best 53 guys, but the right 53 guys" will make this team. And so it went.

2) Cassel Signing

Ironically, the number 22 now comes into play for a couple of reasons. Chiefs left guard Brian Waters wanted to meet with his new bosses. Apparently he was disrespected. Some speculated that Waters might've been treated as expendable by the new brain trust. Several printed that Haley told Waters, "I could take 22 guys off the streets and win two games," which is of course a reference to the illustrious 2-14 2008 Chiefs team record, and to some, confirmation of the rumor that Todd Haley is a complete jerk. Twenty-two is also significant because that is exactly how many days after Pioli hired Haley, that Pioli sent a second-round draft pick to New England in exchange for Mike Vrabel and Matt Cassel. Much like the speculations of Haley being Pioli's guy, it was widely rumored that Pioli was interested in pulling the trigger for Cassel before the move was actually made.

I got no beef with Cassel. Other than a horrible first half against the Raiders last week, he hasn't played nearly enough for me to form an opinion on him, but more on that in a minute. For the record, though, I'm not terribly concerned with Cassel's first-half-ending pass selection that conceivably prevented the Chiefs from attempting a field goal. What bothered me more were the two picks he threw, and what bothered me most were the multiple, ultimately drive-stalling throws at receivers feet. He can hopefully learn from making poor choices (the one pass and the INTs), but making awful throws to wide-open guys was nothing shy of frightening.

3) Elapsed Time of a Contract-less Cassel As a Chief

In my mind, one of the most peculiar things about the Cassel signing was how long it took for the Chiefs to sign him to a deal. Hours before the NFL draft started in April -- exactly two months after the Chiefs acquired Cassel -- it was widely reported that the Chiefs had signed Cassel to a huge deal, one comparable in numbers to those of Matt Ryan and Matt Stafford. Those reports turned out to be inaccurate. Nearly three months later, the deal was signed for real, a six-year, $63 million agreement. Many local media members felt that this deal was ridiculously unnecessary. The point, though, is that it took the franchise most of five months to make it happen. People wondered all the while why it took so long. When it was done, they wondered why the terms were what they were.

4) Cassel Contract

I've never been shy of proclaiming my love for Brodie Croyle as the Chiefs quarterback. I saw a moderate amount of film of him, purely by circumstance, before the 2006 draft happened, before he became a Kansas City Chief. The pick was immediately slammed by several local media members, specifically Cory "Cowboy" Anderson of KCSP 610 AM. His belief was in synch with numerous others that felt the guy's college numbers at Alabama were overrated, that his body of work in both Tuscaloosa and in high school was incomplete due to injuries. The latter part, of course, is true. I simply wanted the kid, along with his unmistakeably tangible arm and mind talents as a quarterback, to be given a shot on a good football team with a good offensive line, a good receiving corps, and a good running game. Since 2006, he has had neither.

He has a fragile body. That remains undisputed. What burns me though, is the repeated mentioning of his record as an NFL starter. When we assess quarterbacks, we seldom talk about wins right up front. We might mention that a guy led his team to this many wins, but ultimately, we're concerned with passing accuracy, TDs vs. INTs, pocket poise, leadership, and the specifics tied to the position. Wins is a category better left to starting pitchers in baseball. After Croyle's significant 2008 injuries, I figured he'd be gone from the team, perhaps the league, because frankly, very few are going to give such a guy another shot. But back to the contract.

The length and price tag associated with Cassel's contract were somewhat jaw-dropping. You throw a large pile of money like that at a mostly unproven kid, you'd better know what the heck you're doing. Anderson's slant on the thing was this: You didn't have to do that; you could've waited. He's right for one reason: the Chiefs could've waited. This wasn't a situation where the team had to draw up a long-term deal, and it certainly didn't have to be for all of those ($28 million) guranteed dollars. Even though it was peculiar that it took five months to get any kind of deal done, they were by no means obligated to pay him that type of cheddar. The flip side to the argument, however, boils down to confidence. You lock the dude up. You pay him like he's a top-tier young quarterback, and you clear his mind of worries of that nature; he can simply go out and play football to the best of his ability. Given that a) I don't like my Chiefs players distracted with off-the-field sorts of things, and b) the Chiefs were extremely below the salary cap for (roughly) the last 18 months, it made sense on most fronts to get it done. To most fans, it seems largely expensive, but what in the NFL isn't? Beer, parking, tickets, jerseys, the list goes on.

5) OTAs, Camp, and Pre-Season

Here's where things get interesting. Let's say that from basically spring through August, most media members, and occasionally even the head coach, whispered and sometimes spoke bluntly about the relatively consistent play of Brodie Croyle, and how it often-times appeared that he was out-performing Cassel. I didn't go to River Falls. I never attended a practice of any sort. I did attend one pre-season game, and watched most of the rest of them on TV. What I did see in the games mostly mirrored the typically faint suggestions that Cassel (at least in specific moments) didn't necessarily look like the best quarterback on this team. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Cassel and Croyle were, for the most part, equal, while fourth-stringer Matt Gutierrez looked second-best, and third-stringer Tyler Thigpen was last. That was the depth chart in my mind. Add to the mix the Thigpen trade rumors, and that depth chart makes even more sense.

So, when camp was broken, and it was time for the regular season to get underway, the general consensus was (and in many parts still is) this: Brodie Croyle is not a better quarterback than Matt Cassel. Matt Cassel will be the starter for this team. Nobody in their right mind benches a guy that is earning that kind of money. Throw in the sprained MCL that Cassel suffered in the Seattle pre-season game, though, and everything's up in the air again.

Brodie Croyle was taken off of the injured-reserve list on February 9 after tearing his MCL against the Tennessee Titans on October 19 of last year. The point of mentioning that is merely a time-frame reminder that Cassel joined the team 20 days after Croyle was deemed healthy enough to participate again at a professional level. Basically, both guys have had the exact same amount of time to prepare and compete for the starting job under the new Pioli/Haley regime. As the pre-season wound down, varying factors led to each of them starting in one of the team's first two regular-season games.

6) The Basis of Coaching = Competition at All Positions

I've said many, many times that Herman Edwards was a great man and a good coach, but very far from a great coach. In certain areas, he was a damn idiot. Game management is one. Establishing competition at all positions is another. See: Medlock, Justin. You have to do this at all positions. Edwards paid lip service to this notion, but seldom followed through. Every one knew, as sure as the sun rises, who Edwards' quarterback was going to be in almost every situation in which he was forced to consider it. What Todd Haley appears to be doing, is doing it the right way: forcing guys to compete for the starting job at every position, and even benching "should-be starters" when they under-perform. He's done it with Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley, Jamaal Charles, and it's speculated that he would like to do the same with Cassel. Again, I got no beef with Cassel, but if Haley thinks that right now, Croyle gives the Chiefs the better chance of winning a ball game, than let Brodie Bang.

7) Week One

Croyle's numbers: 16 of 24 for 177 yards, completion percentage of 66.7, 7.4 yards per attempt, 2:0 TD:INT, a rating of 116.1 against the eighth-best defense in the conference.

Sure. It's only one game.

8) Week Two

Cassel's numbers: 24 of 39 for 241 yards, completion percentage of 61.5, 6.2 yards per attempt, 1:2 TD:INT, a rating of 66.3 against the 11th-best defense in the conference.

Again: only one game.

9) Cassel vs. Croyle Pre-2009

It's true that Brodie Croyle has not won an NFL game as a starter. Neither have the other 48 guys that dressed with him on those nine-some occasions. It's true that he has been hurt, hurried, pressured, sacked, and razzled behind arguably some of the worst offensive lines in the league. It's also true that, in 16 games last year, Matt Cassel led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. He did so while leading the league in sacks behind arguably one of the best offensive lines in the league and with arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL. If you look at pre-pro numbers however, you'll see that, in two high school seasons, Croyle threw for 6,625 yards and 82 touchdowns. In 2003, his first year as a starter at Alabama, he started all 11 games, threw for 2300 yards and 16 touchdowns, and did so while twice separating the same shoulder and cracking two ribs. Two seasons later, he went 202 of 339 for 2500 yards, 14 touchdowns, and a new low school-record 1.18 interception percentage.

Matt Cassel, on the other hand, played football and baseball in high school. As a senior, he was ranked the number eight quarterback in the nation. He was also his team's punter. At USC, he backed up Carson Palmer. When Palmer won the Heisman in 2002 and moved on, Cassel lost the starting-job competition to Matt Leinart, forcing Cassel to play a little tight end, a little wide receive, and even some halfback. His career USC passing totals are 19 of 33 for 192 yards, no touchdowns and one INT. Leinart, who hasn't been able to knock of the 38-year-old Kurt Warner for the starting job in Arizona, has a worse career TD:INT ratio and a worse completion percentage in the NFL than Brodie Croyle.

10) Haley's Presser Yesterday

The significance of Todd Haley's press conference yesterday is that he did not do the expected. He did not toss out the typical ringing endorsement of his starting quarterback, who everyone -- myself included -- agrees for the moment, is Matt Cassel. There, as I've mentioned, is speculation that Haley believes that Croyle gives the Chiefs the better chance to win, that he wants to start Croyle. Said speculation also says that Pioli is vetoing such a desire. Haley was put on the spot three times yesterday, given three opportunities to sweep away quarterback-controversy germinations, and he jumped at neither. Instead, he spoke of three different cities -- New York with Glenn Foley and Vinny Testaverde; Dallas with Drew Bledsoe and Tony Romo; and Arizona with Leinart and Warner -- in which he was part of the coaching staff, and the coaching staff opted to go with either the less-expected or the lesser-paid quarterback. In each situation, it didn't appear to the public to be the best choice. In each situation, it turned out to be the right choice.

My stance then is this: I'd love for Croyle to get the shot to be the starter again, but only if he deserves it. I'd love to know that my head coach has the ability to make that decision without interference from his boss. I'd love to know that his mantra of top performers start at each position really means each position. I think that's a great foundation on which to build a team. A winning team at that.


old no. 7 said...

I thought this whole Croyle business was lunacy until I caught a whiff of those high school passing statistics. Now I'm sold. Let the kid play! His dominating performances in the road game versus Geraldine Prep and (especially) the homecoming destruction of Fyffe surely portend NFL greatness.

Cecil said...

"Neither have the other 48 guys that dressed with him on those nine-some occasions."

I'm gonna go ahead and mention that Tony Gonzalez has won a few games as a starter.

bankmeister said...

I'm gonna go ahead and say you missed the point.

Cecil said...

I'm gonna go ahead and say that Tony Gonzalez is also super gay.

bankmeister said...

He's a Falcon now. It's officially okay for you to love him.

Cecil said...

Because everyone knows how much I dig on the Atlanta Falcons.

bankmeister said...

By "a Falcon now," I meant not a Chief anymore, Ding Dong.

Cecil said...

His gheyness transcends franchise. It is meta.

bankmeister said...

I was hoping to convince you to embrace the awesomeness that is and always will be #88, but truth be told, I still hated Shannon Sharpe the Raven just as much as I did Sharpe in the Periwinkle/Sienna.