Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bye-Week Rant: 2011 Free Agency and Chiefs Criticism

If you’ve ever spent any time with the Tao Te Ching, you know that the world is referred to as the 10,000 things. As a kid, these 10,000 things -– when focused on Kansas City Chiefs football –- resembled an easy-to-read bar graph; absorption as a fan was either relatively high or relatively low. This, of course changed as my mind matured, and access to the National Football League and its teams developed.

Of course none of us lay fans are behind the closed doors of upper-management offices, but things like sports-talk radio and the Internet have spawned incredible growth regarding thought and conversation about our teams. We then all become, in varying degrees, armchair general managers. I have no problem with this. I do it. You do it. We all dabble.

It was easy for Chiefs fans to recognize that Carl Peterson, while among the best GMs in his initial five years in Kansas City, was in charge of the franchise way too long, and by being so his glaring deficiencies at handling coaches and personnel became more and more exposed. The 10,000 things rose and fell with patterns recognizable. Although different, the same was true with Scott Pioli when he came in. It seemed unanimous that this was the hire to make, and Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt pulled the trigger.

Herman Edwards was not retained, and as the 2008 season’s playoffs wore on and the Arizona Cardinals continued to stay alive, it became clear that Todd Haley would be Pioli’s coach of choice. I didn’t get that at first, but I quickly warmed up to the idea that coaches that appear to be jerks are the ones that have the most success. Pioli’s acquisition of quarterback Matt Cassel was astonishing in terms of both the actual choice itself and the dollars spent on him, but it made some sense because Pioli had spent time with Cassel in New England.

What followed was a foreign sense of secrecy and the small organizational changes that slowly shaped the identity of this new regime. This was a touch confusing in that, in this time of access, things around the league just seem to get out, the Chiefs quick to become an exception.

It seemed, though, that the organization was on the right track. They double the win total of the previous season in their first campaign, and in the second, they win 10 games, the division, and the right to go to the playoffs. Clearer than ever was the obvious rise of the 10,000 things.

Then the lockout happened, and when it was over, things immediately grayed.

Web sites began to publish and identify the fact that Kansas City had developed a trend of spending fewer salary-cap dollars than most teams over a stretch that nearly paralleled Hunt’s inheriting his father’s role as head white guy in charge. As the 2011 free-agency period came and went, fans, spurred by frequent and emphatic media-personality reports, felt their frustrations grow with regard to the notion that, for at least this season, the Chiefs spent $30 million less than the cap ceiling. Speculation supposes that the franchise will continue this trend until 2013 when the NFL will impose a cap floor.

As we’re all aware, criticisms run high and frequent when a team is losing, and the horrible pair of games to start Kansas City’s season magnified the media’s lack-of-spending finger pointing. Negative energy toward the regime multiplied with reports that Haley’s training-camp plan was foolish and flawed, that Haley is disliked by his boss and vice versa. Even worse: the sub-story to that last gripe that continues to imply that Pioli leaks, with consistency, notions to national writers that support such boss-to-subordinate disproval. All of this has left the 10,000 things at One Arrowhead Drive resembling a rookie meteorologist with bunk equipment. At least in the fans’ eyes.

In many ways this is all too familiar and the comparison stretches the non-existent tracks of the never-built rolling roof at the Truman Sports Complex. All you have to do is look across the parking lot at the Royals franchise and examine Dayton Moore’s five-year tenure. It’s a bit fruitless to go over every move he’s made, but basically it began with -– and is still grounded in –- Moore’s token phrase: “Trust the process.”

Fans didn’t want to, though. I mean, at first they did: Moore’s first summer yielded something insane like 14 transactions, and naturally with them came the first batch of criticism toward the most-regarded (prior to his hiring) general-manager prospect in baseball. The problem was that fans were already terribly jaded. They suffered through the Allard Baird regime, watched key players develop in the system and leave for big free-agency money.

As though a seamless transition of gripe wove Baird and Moore into the same brass suit, it wasn’t long before the pitchforks came out of the barns. Moore has made mistakes, and I think he announced that he would make some before he erred, and has since acknowledged the same. I’m sure it’s not a list he likes to pore over each day –- Jose Guillen’s contract, Mike Jacobs, Yuniesky Betancourt, and still worst of all in my mind, Jason Kendall. It was plain to see, though, that Moore was filling holes, biding time, putting Band-Aids on the big-league roster, while we were asked to trust his process of building a successful farm system, developing scouting in Latin America, and putting the “right baseball people” in place in the organization.

Headed into the 2010 off-season, baseball personalities across the country almost unanimously labeled Moore’s farm the best in baseball. But still, there were doubters.

“Great,” one (of many) skeptic said. “He can load the minors with talent, but can he do it at the big-league level?”

This was far from an uncommon sentiment.

This year, the first batch of prospects arrived, and for the first time in many, many seasons, genuine excitement began to simmer within the fan base. The club played as close to .500 baseball (in stretches) as they have in eight years, and did a lot of things statistically well in the second half of the season. Moore’s big show will begin this April and he will be judged harsher than ever over the course of the next two campaigns.

Back over at Arrowhead, Pioli is suffering similar situationally. He’s conducted himself in fashions different (read: less appealing) than Moore, but only a few. He and his head coach have in fact used the phrase “it’s a process” on several occasions, but their tagline comes back to finding “the right 53 guys,” and acquiring and developing personnel "through the draft."

And this is where the 10,000 things get real fuzzy.

At the root of it all, is this question: Why is this so difficult for fans to accept? What is so wrong with allowing this new regime to examine, and then choose to pursue or pass on free agents? Why the obsession with spending all (or more) of the Hunt family money? What if Pioli, et al pored over the list of free agents and acquired (or at least attempted to obtain) the players they felt fit the right-53 mold? What is it that’s so blinding about looking across the TSC parking lot and at very least offering an acceptance nod that Moore’s plan appears on the verge of success?

This $30 million issue has flirted with obsession. At times it’s been sickening. And at the end of it, I’m drawn back to the argument I used to have with fellow Chiefs fans about the last leg of the Carl Peterson era. In sum, my sentiment mirrored everyone else’s in wanting him replaced. The lone difference, however, was that I was not qualified to name even one candidate to fill that role. I’m simply uneducated in that regard. I don’t know names of top-tier guys in franchises across the league. Heck, I couldn’t even name but two or three general managers when Peterson was still in office. Conversations were frustrating, but similar, in that they all went like this:

“Carl Peterson needs to be fired,” Guy A said.

“I know,” I said. “But who do you hire?”

Guy A: “I don’t care. Just fire him.”

There’s only one word for this response, and believe me, I heard it dozens of times: preposterous. It’s a simple philosophy that really scatters the 10,000 things of fandom and that is that you can’t steadfastly identify the problem if you have no solution.

I stand by this now as firmly as I did then: Firing Carl Peterson was not the solution. Finding his replacement was. My buddy Old No. 7 and I have discussed this a bit and his opinion was this: As a fan I’m entitled to believe and proclaim that a G.M. should be fired, even if I have no idea who his successor should be. Playing armchair G.M. is just the same as playing armchair quarterback. I support this team, and it’s my right to suggest organizational and positional changes.

I saw his point then, and I still see it now, but that’s not going to make anything happen. I suspect, though, that many Chiefs fans view this lack of free-agency-dollar spending in ways similar to my buddy and Guy A: Dudes are out there; spend the money. Otherwise, you simply look cheap.

The primary flaw in my stance is that when it comes to my teams, I tend to be Stevie Wonder with optimism. I wanna give guys a chance. I wanted to give Trey Hillman a chance. I felt that he was Moore’s first hire; we should give Moore the benefit of the doubt, his success in Japan could translate. I was pretty far off the mark on that one, but I wanted to give him a chance to the point of criticizing Moore for binding Hillman’s hands to some of the aforementioned Band-Aids. Turns out it was a much larger problem than that, and I see that now.

With the trio of Hunt (money), Pioli (say so), and Haley (front lines), my optimism hasn’t wavered, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

That said, here’s a look at some of the key areas of the Kansas City Chiefs roster heading into the 2011 season, and keep in mind the right-guy/draft-based mantra:


What they did:

The Chiefs drafted Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round of the draft, did not renew the contract of Brodie Croyle, and later signed Stanzi (July 28) to a contract. Tyler Palko was already under contract. With starting QB Matt Cassel in year three of his allegedly front-loaded five year, $63 million deal, the position’s needs were -- like it or not -- addressed.

Who else was out there:

We’re not going to look at who else was available on the free-agent market (19 signings of all sizes and dollars), but if you want to make a realistic argument that the Chiefs could cut ties with Cassel and his contract money after two years, I’m all ears.

Running Back/Fullback

The Chiefs drafted fullback Shane Bannon in the seventh round of the draft and signed him to a deal on July 28. They also signed Le’Ron McClain on August 3. They waived RB Tervaris Johnson in late August, Bannon in early September, then added him to the practice squad before releasing him from it, too. Most recently, RB Shaun Draughn joined the PS.

Who else was out there:

We’re not going to look at who else was available on the free-agent market (27 signings) because with the addition of McClain to a ball-carrying committee that included Jackie Battle (nice for the occasional spell), Thomas Jones (despite the lackluster performance we’ve seen through five 2011 games, Jones was dependable in ’10), and arguably the best back in the league in Jamaal Charles, the position’s needs were addressed. If you want to fault the Chiefs for not spending salary-cap dollars on a fourth running back -– and let’s not forget Dexter McCluster -- in case one, i.e. Charles, were to get hurt for the season, then frankly I’m interested in seeing your 53-man roster.

Wide Receiver

What they did:

After a career/Pro Bowl year from Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs went big in the draft and gambled on Jonathan Baldwin in the first round of the draft. They signed a dude named Josue Paul on July 27, released Chris Chambers the following day, and on the 28th, they acquired Todd Haley-guy Steve Breaston (five-year deal). That same day, Terrance Copper signed a contract, and on the 30th, Zeke Markshausen agreed to a deal. On August 10th it was Keary Colbert joining the team, and in late August, Chris Manno, Paul, and Chandler Williams departed. Markshausen, Jeremy Horne, and Verran Tucker were waived, and ultimately, Horne made it back to the practice squad before joining the team once more.

Who else was out there:

Twenty-three wide receivers signed deals during free agency, but again, none of them seemed like worthy pursuits if you head into the season anticipating a repeat performance from Bowe, immediate impact from your first-round pick, and you’ve added Breaston to the mix. What’s more: You’ve made two cuts and tried out five other guys for the position before inking a deal with Colbert. In sum, you have what you anticipate to be your one, two, and three, plus Colbert, Horne, and Jerheme Urban (already under contract) for when you want to go four and five deep. Just like the Charles injury, you can’t anticipate the Baldwin setback. You took a risk on the personality of Baldwin, and it perhaps cost you some early-season offensive production, but even if you’re willing to roll those dice, you don’t sign another middle-to-top tier wide out as a safety net.

Tight End:

Critics of the Chiefs' spending tendencies are quick to mention that this team lacks depth. In the positions we’ve addressed so far, they do not. If you’re required to build a 53-man roster, then dress only 46 on game day, you’ve got 22 starters on offense and defense combined, a punter, a kicker, and a long snapper bring you to 25. That leaves 21 spots for special teams, substitutions and sub packages. In my estimation, those slots have to be reserved for backup quarterbacks, running backs, a fullback, tight ends, two or three backup offensive linemen, and then the rest are defensive guys; your nickel and dime packages, your linebackers and linemen that spell your starters.

What they did:

Kansas City’s plan was to have Tony Moeaki as the primary pass-catching tight end with Leonard Pope and Anthony Becht as their blocking TEs. Becht, however, was hurt, so they bring in Jake O’Connell after having waived him. In late July, they signed Charlie Gantt to a contract and cut Brad Cottam. Gantt and Cody Slate (who they signed last winter) were later waived. Like the situations with Charles and Baldwin, the Moeaki injury was unforeseen, so I don’t have a problem with these three TEs qualifying the position’s needs as addressed. Pope and O’Connell are primarily going to provide pass protection and run-blocking schemes with either of them being targeted for the occasional pass. Moeaki had a pretty huge rookie season, so he’s your go-to guy.

Maybe this was short-sighted of the Chiefs, though. There were 13 tight-end signings in free agency, but the big names were spoken for, which leaves the Chiefs with the option of basically finding themselves another Pope or O’Connell on the market when they’ve already got those guys in house. Nevertheless...

Who else was out there:

1) Jeff King signed with Arizona before the Moeaki injury.
2) Ben Hartsock signed with Carolina before the Moeaki injury.
3) Todd Heap signed with Arizona before the Moeaki injury.
4) Daniel Fells signed with Denver before the Moeaki injury.
5) Zach Miller signed with Seattle before the Moeaki injury.
6) Marcedes Lewis was franchised by Jacksonville pre-lockout.
7) Kevin Boss signed with Oakland before the Moeaki injury.
8) Lee Smith was cut by the Patriots after the Moeaki injury and then 30 other teams passed on him before he was claimed by the Bills. He has yet to see the field.
9) Chris Gronkowski had seven catches and a touchdown through 14 career games for Dallas, who cut him this off-season. Indianapolis claimed him off of waivers.
10) Dante Rosario saw action in six Carolina Panther games last year, but was waived with the addition of Jeremy Shockey. Miami signed him post-Moeaki injury, then cut him. Denver signed him, but have yet to award him any live action.
11) Dan Gronkowski was cut by Denver (after they traded for him a year prior), and picked up by the Patriots who cut him after two games.
12) Jason Witten signed a five-year $37 million extension with Dallas.

But what about this year?

The Chiefs did all that was necessary and available in making the position better. They have three things left to do: 1) hope for a healthy Moeaki for all of 2010, 2) anticipate that he won’t be, and address the position through the draft, and 3) focus on stopping the tight end on the other end of the ball.

Offensive Line

What they did:

Now we get into the meat and potatoes of Kansas City free-agency action (or lack thereof if that's your perspective), which is a good time to remember the gripe: The Chiefs have $30 million in salary-cap space lying around in the Hunt family bank account. KC decided to get rid of veteran Brian Waters, a move I suspect leaves a 50/50 split with fans. Waters was a foundation for this club, and I imagine many fans wanted him retained for sentimental reasons.

The team, however, selected Jon Asamoah in the third round of last year’s draft, and has theoretically been grooming him as the club’s right guard ever since. At left guard is Ryan Lilja, and at center Casey Wiegmann. Two thousand eleven second-round pick Rodney Hudson is the backup to these three linemen. At left tackle is Branden Albert, whose backup is Jared Gaither. At right tackle is Barry Richardson; Steve Maneri is second on the depth chart. Gaither was acquired in free agency, and Maneri was a waiver claim.

Offensive line is a special unit, one that requires talent, repetition, and unity first in order to succeed. It’s possible that through weeks one and two, the Chiefs’ big men were still gaining that. It’s possible that they showed improvement in protection and scheme in week three, and even more in week four, and if that’s the case, then the backups -– the free agent, the waiver claim, and the rookie -– have yet to even be judged.

Who else was out there:

1) T Doug Free signed a four-year $32 million ($17 guaranteed) extension with Dallas.
2) The Giants added C David Baas.
3) Former Raider G Robert Gallery signed a three-year deal with Seattle.
4) T Jermon Bushrod agreed to stay with New Orleans for two more years.
5) T Tyson Clabo remained a Falcon.
6) Arizona resigned C Lyle Sendlein with a multi-year deal.
7) G Davin Joseph agreed to stay with Tampa on seven-year terms.
8) Tampa also inked T Jeremy Trueblood for two more seasons.
9) St. Louis and G Harvey Dahl signed a four-year deal (his third team in six years).
10) Philadelphia signed G Evan Mathis (his fourth team in six years).
11) Washington added two-time Pro Bowler T Jammal Brown for five years.
12) Arizona resigned G Deuce Litui.
13) New England resigned T Matt Light.
14) John Greco (four career starts) became a Brown via a draft-pick trade with St. Louis.
15) T Ryan Harris signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia and was cut last month.
16) C Jonathan Goodwin (one Pro Bowl) signed a three-year $10.9 million ($4 million guaranteed) deal with San Francisco.
17) New Orleans and C Olin Kreutz (six Pro Bowls in 13 seasons) signed a one-year deal.
18) Washington added T Sean Locklear (does not appear to have seen action this year).
19) The Redskins also added C Donovan Raiola (does not appear to have played).
20) Carolina signed C Ryan Kalil to a six-year $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) extension.
21) T Joe Thomas and Cleveland agreed to a seven-year $84 million ($44 million guaranteed) extension.
22) Baltimore acquired T Bryant McKinnie for two years, $7.5 million.
23) Cincinnati and T Andrew Whitworth extended their deal four more years.
24) The Bengals also inked a four-year extension with C Kyle Cook.
25) G Caleb Schlauderaff became a Jet via trade with Green Bay, who took the guard in the sixth round of this year’s draft..
26) The aforementioned Brian Waters got $5.5 million for two years in New England.
27) G Kyle DeVan (logged nine games with Indianapolis two years ago) was added to the Eagles via waiver claim.
28) Baltimore signed C Andre Gurode (five Pro Bowls in nine seasons with Dallas) to a one-year deal.
29) Seattle claimed T Jarriel King (zero pro snaps) off of waivers.
30) Dallas signed G Derrick Dockery (third team in eight seasons, but 16 starts in his first seven).
31) Miami added G/C Ryan Cook (zero snaps this year).
32) Denver signed Tony Hills to a two-year deal (three games last year in Pittsburgh; no snaps this year).
33) Sam Young became a Bill via waiver claim (two games for Dallas last year; no snaps this year).

As you can see, there was a fair amount of offensive-line action in free agency, but as I mentioned, this unit in Kansas City is still showing its potential to gel, and in the event of injury, there are viable options at backup, even if they include someone who’s not yet healthy, an unproven rookie, and a waiver claim. Until the moment that one of their services is needed, though, it’s unfair to judge.

It should also be noted that the Chiefs signed Chris Harr, Mike Ingersoll, Butch Lewis, and David Mims to deals in late July. All four were later waived. They also resigned Ryan O’Callaghan (currently on Injured Reserve), agreed to new deals with Wiegmann and Richardson, and have played musical-practice-squad spots with Butch Lewis and Lucas Patterson. This is not to say that other teams don’t follow similar suit, but Kansas City has, at least, given significant attention to their offensive line needs, and if you think any of those 33 free agents would have been a better deal for this team, then bear in mind the following: 12 were extensions or new deals with whom they already played; two are journeymen; 10 have little-to-no experience or were cut shortly after being acquired by a team. Nine remained.

Of those, one was Waters, one was a known locker-room cancer, and most of the rest signed big-money deals, a move you don’t want to make when you’re relatively certain who your starting five will be. You could argue, though, that getting a free-agent offensive lineman might have benefited the Chiefs, but the different part of that lineup would’ve needed just as much time to get into rhythm as the line that’s already in place has needed.

But what about this year?

The only thing you need to know is that nine of those 35 players are playing for teams with a better record than the Chiefs, and most of them have more wins for reasons that are not limited to the play of the offensive line.

Defensive Line

What they did:

It’s possible that the Chiefs did more to shore up their defensive line than any other area of the roster this off-season. With their second third-round pick in the draft they took defensive lineman Alvin Bailey, and in the sixth round they selected another in Jerrell Powe. Contracts for other defensive linemen included deals with the following: DL Brandon Bair, DL Harold Ayodele (later waived, along with DL Dion Gales), and DT Anthony Toribio (who was waived and put on the practice squad). In late July they signed veteran DT Kelly Gregg, and in early August, KC acquired DL Amon Gordon.

The defensive-line portion of the depth chart, then, is full of guys who’ve become Chiefs as recent as this summer and as long ago as three seasons (Glenn Dorsey). Wallace Gilberry became a Chief in the summer of 2008 (and signed a new deal this July) as well, and currently holds the second spot behind Dorsey at right defensive end. For my money, that’s a unit that’s getting significant time to work together, and all in all, you have a nice average age.

If you’re thinking about the departure of Shaun Smith, he’s played in four games with Tennessee, logging seven tackles and an assist. Through three with KC, Gregg has five tackles, four assists, and a pass deflection. Ron Edwards was a Herman Edwards Band-Aid. He didn’t play terribly in the Haley regime, but I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did.

Who else was out there:

1) Washington signed a six-year deal with DT Barry Cofield (FR, 2 T, 2 A on the season).
2) Carolina nabbed the aforementioned Edwards (put on Injured Reserve in August) in a three-year $8.25 million deal.
3) San Francisco and DE Ray McDonald (2.5 S, 7 T, A on the season) agreed to five-year, $20 million ($7 million guaranteed) terms.
4) New England acquired Albert Hanynesworth (2 T) via draft-pick-trade with Washington.
5) Philadelphia signed DE Jason Babin (7 S, PD, FF, 10 T, 2 A so far) to a five-year deal.
6) Washington gave DE Stephen Bowen (2.5 S, 8 T, 2 A on the year) a five-year contract worth $27.5 million ($12.5 million guaranteed).
7) DT Alan Branch (6 T, 5 A) agreed to two-year terms with Seattle in a deal valued at $8 million (half guaranteed).
8) Marcus Spears (3 T) and Dallas shook hands over five years and $19.2 million extension.
9) Chicago gave Vernon Gholston (5 T, 5 A) a contract.
10) DT Justin Bannan (2 PD, 6 T, A) became a Ram.
11) Philadelphia coughed up $25 million for DT Cullen Jenkins (4 S, FR, 8 T, 2 A).
12) Cleveland acquired DT Brodrick Bunkley via a trade with Philadelphia. The tackle did not report, however, and the trade was voided. A new deal sent him to Denver, where he’s recorded 5 T, 2 A.
13) Washington got DE Vonnie Holiday (Editor’s Note: As Chiefs fans, we already know Holliday is a terrible football player, so we won’t bother with his stats.) as part of a trade for Tim Hightower.
14) Denver offered DE Ty Warren (Note: If he’s played, he hasn’t recorded any stats.) a two-year $10 million ($2.5 million guaranteed) deal.
15) Philly gave DT Anthony Hargrove a one-year deal.
16) The Eagles also signed DT Derek Landri (released him last month, then signed him again) for one season.
17) New England acquired DE Shaun Ellis (3 T) for one year.
18) The Patriots also signed DE Andre Carter (.5 S, 7 T, 3 A).
19) Jacksonville signed Matt Roth (2 S, 4T) to a one-year, $3 million deal.
20) Indianapolis signed DE Tyler Brayton (2 A).
21) Minnesota landed DE Styles G. White (waived last month).
22) DT Kyle Williams (PD, 4 T, 5 A) signed a six-year $39 million ($17 million guaranteed) deal with Buffalo.
23) DT Clinton McDonald (6 T, 5 A) became a Seahawk via trade with Cleveland.
24) DE George Selvie (T) was claimed by Carolina off of the waiver wire.
25) Cleveland selected DL Emmanuel Stephens (2 T, A) via waiver claim.
26) Seattle signed DT Anthony Hargrove (4 T, 2 A) after Philadelphia cut him.

As you can see, there are roughly three DEs and one DT that were signed for big money, and have made an impact through five games. Here’s the problem with the Chiefs going after any of those guys: Signing either of the DEs would essentially mean giving up on Dorsey, Jackson, or both, and it’s too early to do that. With the DT, I simply don’t see Pioli bringing in a free agent and signing him to a $25 million deal. Besides, Philly’s playing a 4-3, and in the Chiefs’ 3-4, LB Tamba Hali is playing better football then that FA DT, and he’s a guy KC gave a new deal to in the off-season. My question, then, is where would you have had the Chiefs spend salary-cap dollars in the defensive front? To me it appears they spent wisely in-house, brought in a couple of free agents to plug in while they continue to develop their draft picks, and have gotten decent production out of nearly the entire unit.

And the Chiefs D-line this year?

We know Gregg’s stats. Tyson Jackson has 2 PD, 6 T, 8 A, while Glenn Dorsey has 7 T, 12 A. Aside from the reminder that the jury’s still out on Jackson and Dorsey, Gregg was obviously an improvement, simply based on Edwards’ unavailability and non-noteworthy play prior. If the numbers on Jackson and Dorsey seem small, remember that the 3-4 is meant for DL guys to gum up the works, which frees LBs to make plays. With that in mind, their stats are pretty good/could be better.


What they did:

The Chiefs knew they’d stay pat with Hali and Derrick Johnson at linebacker, but were interested in adding to the corps that consisted of Jovan Belcher, Andy Studebaker, and Demorrio Williams. In the third round, they nabbed Justin Houston, and in the fifth took Gabe Miller. The also signed Amara Kamara, Brandon Siler, waived Eric Bakhtiari, Michael Johnson, Kamara, Pierre Walters, and Justin Cole –- Miller went on IR, while Cole made the practice squad. This left their depth chart with Houston, Belcher, Johnson, and Hali as starters. Studebaker and Williams back up, while Cory Greenwood and Cameron Sheffield fill third- and second-string spots, respectively. Johnson was given a new deal last year, while Hali’s new off-season contract cemented this duo as the leaders.

Who else was out there:

1) Takeo Spikes became a Charger.
2) Detroit signed a two-year deal with Justin Durant (2 S, INT, 11 PD, FF, 246 T in four years).
3) Clint Session inked a five-year, $29 million ($11.5 million guaranteed) with Jacksonville.
4) Cincinnati acquired Thomas Howard (4 S, 7 INT, 25 PD, 335 T in five seasons) for two years, $6.5 million.
5) Carolina extended Jon Beason’s deal -– five years, $50 million ($25 million guaranteed).
6) Arizona negotiated terms for Stewart Bradley (3 S, 3 INT, 14 PD, FF, 156 T in three seasons).
7) Philadelphia resigned Akeem Jordan (S, 2 INT, 7 PD, 113 T) to a one-year deal first, then renegotiated to two.
8) Detroit locked up Stephen Tulloch (5.5 S, 2 INT, 12 PD, 325 T in five seasons) for the year with a $3.25 million deal.
9) Buffalo gave Nick Barnett (15.5 S, 9 INT, 37 PD, 3 FF, 596 T in eight seasons) three years, $12 million (half guaranteed).
10) Manny Lawson (14.5 S, 2 INT, 16 PD, 6 FF, 185 T in five seasons) signed a one-year, $3 million deal with Cincinnati.
11) Indianapolis signed Ernie Sims (4.5 S, INT, 10PD, 5 FF, 331 T in five seasons).
12) The Jets added David Harris for four years, $36 million ($ 29.5 guaranteed).
13) St. Louis signed Brady Poppinga (5 S, 2 INT, 8 PD, 2 FF, 187 T in six seasons).
14) Pittsburgh resigned LaMarr Woodley for six years, $61.5 million ($ 45 million guaranteed).
15) The Jets signed Aaron Maybin (S, FF, 15 T in two seasons).
16) Pittsburgh extended Lawrence Timmons with a five-year, $50 million deal.
17) San Diego signed Na’il Diggs (11.5 S, 5 INT, 30 PD, 4 FF, 496 T in 10 seasons) for one year.
18) Cleveland claimed Quinton Spears (zero NFL snaps) off of waivers.
19) Minnesota did the same with Xavier Adibi (42 T in three seasons).
20) Oakland signed Ricky Brown (4 PD, 3 FF, 74 T in five seasons).
21) Minnesota and Chad Greenway (6.5 S, 5 INT, 17 PD, 7 FF, 367 T in five seasons) agreed to a new five-year, $40 million deal.
22) New England claimed A.J. Edds off of waivers.
23) Pittsburgh signed Troy Polamalu to a new four-year deal.

So we see a few free-agency similarities when comparing the transactions of linebackers with those of both the offensive and defensive linemen. Obvious talent with Spikes, but he’s entering his 14th season, and there are several guys with good career numbers on the list that are younger.

What about this year then?

Six of the 23 names were extensions or new deals for guys previously with a team that had become a free agent. Roughly eight of those were guys of low-caliber talent/production, and two were perhaps too old, leaving about seven potential candidates for the Kansas City Chiefs to pursue, but let’s look at all of the linebackers that were free agents, and compare their performances with those of the Chiefs.

Free Agents:

Spikes: S, 2 PD, 17 T, 20 A
Durant: 18 T, 3 A
Session: 9 T, 7 A
Howard: 19 T, 13 A
Beason: 4 T
Bradley: PD, 8 T, 5 A
Tulloch: S, 2 PD, FR, 28 T, 4 A
Barnett: 2 INT, TD, 3 PD, FF, 24 T, 18 A
Lawson: 3 PD, 5 T, 4 A
Sims: T, 2 A
Harris: 2 S, INT, TD, 2 PD, 22 T, 9 A
Poppinga: PD, 16 T, A
Woodley: 3 S, INT, 2 PD, 12 T, 7 A
Maybin: S, FF, T, A
Timmons: 3 PD, 21 T, 9 A
Diggs: T, 4 A
Spears: n/a
Adibi: n/a
Brown: n/a
Greenway: PD, 27 T, 6 A
Edds: T, A
Polamalu: S, 6 PD, FR, TD, 23 T, 12 A


Justin Houston: PD, 10 T, 2 A
Jovan Belcher: PD, 19 T, 11 A
Derrick Johnson: 4 PD, 23 T, 8 A
Tamba Hali: 4 S, 18 T, 11 A

It’s evident that there are a few playmakers on those lists. Of note: KC’s Derrick Johnson is tied with Polamalu, ahead of Spikes, and one behind Barnett in tackles. He’s also right in the mix in terms of assists. Hali, as you can see, leads all linebackers with sacks, and is right in the thick of things with tackles and assists. You of course recall that the Chiefs resigned both of these guys to new deals in the last year and-a-half. Houston is a rookie, and is producing better in a couple categories than many on the list, and he’s yet to start a game. Belcher tied or better than Houston in all of the categories, perhaps thanks to five starts. Also, a mere five of the 23 listed play for teams that currently have a better record than Kansas City.


We’re not going to examine the secondary, for the simple reason that you have Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr continuing to play mostly solid football at the cornerback position. They have occasional coverage breakdowns, but are still borderline top-tier. You enter the season with Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis at safety, and of course no one counted on Berry being lost for the season in the first quarter of play of the 2011 campaign. If you want to argue for depth, though, they selected Jalil Brown in the fourth round, signed Travis Daniels, Javes Lewis, waived Javes Lewis, Mario Russell, Demond Washington, Quinten Lawrence (later added to practice squad), released Jackie Bates, resigned Jon McGraw, signed Sabby Pisictelli, signed and waived Reshard Langford and Ricky Price as well.

So like every other position, and much like every other team in the league, they gave the secondary noteworthy consideration in terms of bringing in guys, signing the decent ones, waiving those deemed inferior.

The point, though, is that the whole thing’s a process. This is year three of the Scott Pioli regime, and the secondary is a microcosm of what the Chiefs are doing at every position: retaining the best talent while continuing to develop depth. So even though the defensive-back portion of the depth chart looks solid, you draft a cornerback to continue to develop. Therefore, I fault the Chiefs for nothing in this area.

Special Teams:

There’s not much need to focus on this portion of the team, because for the most part, you’re set at place kicker and punter, and the Chiefs special-teams unit has performed fairly well.

Where that leaves us, then, is the assumption that the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, secondary, and special-teams portions of the team were set, and that if there was supposed to be more movement in free agency, then the traffic should have happened on either line or in the linebacking corps.

Your challenge, then, is to select players from those areas, the dollars that come with them, and puzzle-piece them into the Chiefs salary cap. The tricks will be to know which guaranteed dollars go into this season, which go into upcoming seasons, and how the future-seasons dollars will impact contracts that are already on the Kansas City payroll for the next couple of years. Oh, and don't gorget signing-bonus money. You wanted your chance to play G.M., to have the checkbook for the season. Now do it.

In addition to meeting salary-cap restrictions, your argument has to include evidence that those you sign will mesh with the talent in place, and system fundamentals. I’ll wait for you to assemble your roster, to make some sense of these jumbled 10,000 things. Hit me up on Twitter when you’re done.