In this second installment, I break down a few of the key decisions made and, for lack of a better description, a key style element demonstrated by the Chiefs’ new GM, Scott Pioli, in his first year on the job.
Let me begin by saying that I believed at the time of his hire that Scott Pioli was the best choice available. I still believe that but would also add that Scott Pioli was probably the only candidate worth having. A “no-brainer” if you will. At a time when time was truly of the essence, it still troubles me that Clark Hunt took so long to agree to terms with Pioli. It is because Pioli came so late to KC that I think it is not only tough, but also unfair, to make a definitive call on how well or poorly he has performed. Lest there be any doubts as to my motives here, any negative opinions I express should not be regarded as some sort of indictment against Pioli, but rather simply my critique of major moves he has made and the approach he appears to be taking all in the ultimate hope being that even he can recognize his weaknesses and thus improve upon them.
POINT 1: FREE AGENCY
What first pops out about Scott Pioli since his arrival in KC are his free agency moves and the fact he, so far, clearly favors players that either he, Bill Parcells (his father-in-law), or Todd Haley have some history with. In fact, if one does a quick count of the players that Pioli brought in, one realizes that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of the non-drafted players he brought in met the “familiarity” criteria.
In fact, this familiarity factor is the main reason why I believe that, given the opportunity, Pioli would have hired Josh McDaniels over Todd Haley. I also think that the biggest reason why Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel are now a part of the coaching staff is not because Todd Haley hired them (I don’t believe he had much say in the matter), or because of the experience and talent they bring (which is why I’m happy we have them) but rather because of the history that Pioli has with them. Moreover, should Todd Haley flop next season, Pioli now has at his disposal two tried-and-true “Patriot” guys at the ready should the need arise.
Now I suppose it can argued that with this approach, Pioli is simply trying his best to replicate the success that he experienced in New England by bringing in guys that either he, Todd Haley, or his father-in-law have crossed paths with in the past and who, because of that familiarity, Pioli feels would fit the Patriots mold.
The first thing that comes to my mind is how long can you sustain this model? Eventually, all the players you used to know will leave the league for one reason or another, right? Then what? Build exclusively through the draft? It seems to this casual observer that there needs to be a little more non-familiar effort put forth in the future.
Sccondly, does not this also beg the question as to whether this approach has resulted any measurable, tangible success for the Chiefs? If you base your entire assessment of the 2009 season on how the Chiefs played their final game, then perhaps you might answer that question in the affirmative. I don’t reach the same conclusion and I’ll explain why in my Point 2.
Okay, fine, whatever. If one is convinced that the “Patriot Way” that dominated the 2000′s is an approach that will continue to work well in the 2010′s, then emulating the Patriots as much as possible is absolutely the way to go. However, the other tiny problem I have with such a philosophy is that things change in NFL, and what worked a decade ago, is quite likely already in the process of being reverse engineered and ultimately overcome by the rest of the league. The Patriots remain a substantive force in the NFL but if the last couple of seasons are any indication, there is ample room to question whether they will recover, much less sustain, the dominance they once enjoyed.
Pioli’s approach to acquiring free agents, so far anyway, also might suggest he is either unfamiliar with league talent outside of his circle of familiarity or reluctant to take risks on players that he, Todd Haley, or Bill Parcells do not know personally. In some sense, this may suggest a certain degree of insecurity or in another, perhaps the kind of paranoia that typically accompanies a ”bunker mentality” . . . such as some might say has been imposed upon the organization since his arrival? Or maybe he’s just been too busy getting adjusted to his new position and attendant responsibilities to devote the same amount of effort and analysis that he did in the past and that eventually he’ll get up to speed on players from the rest of the league? Let’s all hope it’s the latter.
POINT 2: LJ
I’ll try to keep this short. The decision to keep LJ was about as bone-headed as it gets and unfortunately for him, Pioli must own all of that stupidity. What I find as the most insane aspect of this decision is that Pioli and his fellow travelers apparently believed this was a fabulous idea right up until the time when he was left with no other option other than to cut LJ. Forget about his off-the-field baggage; LJ never once produced and all the while Jamaal Charles was sitting there either riding the pine or inactive. Where the Hell were Pioli’s legendary talent evaluation skills on that deal? Had not LJ tweeted, I am absolutely convinced that Jamaal Charles would have never gotten his chance and the Chiefs would have struggled mightily to win more than 2 games. Frankly, LJ’s tweet probably salvaged Todd Haley’s career while helping Scott Pioli avoid some very harsh and uncomfortable off-season conversations, criticism and second guessing – not to mention a complete crash on 2010 ticket sales.
Somebody owes LJ a Christmas turkey.
POINT 3: QB SITUATION
Pioli’s response to fixing the Chiefs QB situation was very straightforward and, in retrospect, very predictable. Bring in somebody he’s personally familiar with, like the Patriots backup QB for instance, and then sign him up for a 6o million, 6 year deal. That’s what I call a serious relationship and a serious commitment.
So, did Cassel really earn the first year of his contract? It’s a rhetorical question. No, he did not.
Quick Analysis: Pioli -1.
What is Pioli’s backup plan should the all-too-frequently sacked Cassel fail to get up off the turf unassisted at some point? At this point, all indications suggest that Plan B is none other than our beloved Brodie “Mr. Glass” Croyle. Scott Pioli ought to take time to review Herm Edwards’ chapter about QB choices and who not to place your bets on.
Quick Analysis: Pioli -2.
POINT 4: OFFENSIVE LINE
The Chiefs biggest area of need going into the 2009 offseason was, without question, the right side of the OL. Pioli’s main effort on this front involved signing an aging, all-but-discarded veteran, Mike Goff. I personally liked the move, not as an isolated solution, but as one in a series of transactions that would improve the OL. Unfortunately, it ended up being pretty much the only meaningful thing that Pioli did to address the problem and because of Goff’s age and the fact that there was no Plan B in place (via the draft or otherwise), it gets rated by me as an overall fail.
But what about how much “better” the OL played towards the end of the season? How the Hell can you ignore THAT Double D?
Believe me, I can hear you cursing and screaming at me all the way through your computer screen and into mine. My response? See Point 2 above. Jamaal Charles made the offense better, in spite of Pioli’s and Haleys’ best efforts to suppress his talent. Charles gets all the credit and that’s where all the credit-giving ends.
There’s more I could say (like trading away Tony G or forcing the 34 onto 43 personnel just to name a couple of big ones) but I think I’ve covered enough ground here to provoke enough of my fellow Addicts into angry, hateful response mode. How dare I, right?
Well, I will simply close by saying that the points I’ve chosen to raise here are what I see as areas of major concern when it comes to Scott Pioli and my hope is that these are the sorts of things that can be attributed to lack of experience and/or lack of attention and are recognized by Pioli himself as areas in which he needs to improve.
Finally, for all the criticism I’ve heaped upon Pioli for only bringing in veterans that meet his familiarity criteria, I nevertheless remain in favor of bringing in Vince Wilfork – not because he is a Patriot, but because he is the best available solution for addressing our biggest offseason need. Make of that what you will.
How do you feel about Pioli? Are you satifisfied with the decisions he’s made and the approaches he’s adopted so far? Is the “Patriot Way” forever guaranteed to bring success? Do you regard Scott Pioli as somebody who regards risk as a vital element for success? Based on what he has done for the Chiefs so far, would you regard him as a “creative genius” and if so, why?