Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have to do better this offseason. I told you yesterday that I thought some fans overreacting a bit to the Chiefs current lack of moves in the free agent market. I preached patience and talked about the virtues of making smart personnel moves and not overacting by blowing huge chunks of money on big name fee agents.
That being said, I still think this is a crucial offseason for Pioli and Haley. Thus far, their moves last season were total failures. The highlights were the trade for Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel and the pickup of Chris Chambers off the waiver wire.
Other than that, Pioli’s first season with the Chiefs was marred by what appears to be a weak, slowly developing draft class and poor free agency signings.
I don’t want to get too down on the draft class because it is much too early to judge them. I believe Tyson Jackson was the right choice and that he will develop.Ryan Succop was an absolute gem. For all the other picks, however, the jury is still out.
No, the real bungle job was free agency. Mike Goff, the only significant offensive lineman picked up in free agency, was utterly terrible at the G position. I was actually relieved when he was placed on IR because I was sure he was going to get Matt Cassel killed. The Chiefs then panicked when they realized how bad the line was, trading for Ikechuku Ndukwe and Andy Alleman from the Miami Dolphins. Neither really helped. Though I will credit Pioli for picking up Ryan O’Callahan off the waiver wire who played pretty well and could turn out to be the long-term answer at RT. Then again, if you throw enough crap at a wall some of it is bound to stick.
Pioli also switched the team to the 3-4 defense and failed to pick up adequate linebacker help. He did bring in Zach Thomas, who never started a regular season game for KC.
The effort to upgrade the WR position was also a disaster but not for lack of effort. The Chiefs brought in a parade of players including Amani Toomer, Ashley Lelie, Bobby Wade, Lance Long and Chris Chambers to go along with Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley.
Toomer and Lelie never made it out of camp and Bradley was released late in the season. The only players that stuck were Long, who was not very effective and Wade, who while he could get open on occasion, couldn’t seem to catch the damn ball. Wade finished 4th in the league in dropped passes behind Dwayne Bowe, who tied for 1st, despite missing 4 games due to suspension. Chambers was the only good move and that was mainly due to the fact that the Chargers had so many good receivers that their worst one would turn out to be the Chiefs best option.
Even with all of that, the biggest and most glaring mistake was not cutting running back Larry Johnson. Had the Chiefs cut L.J. before the start of the season they would not have been on the hook for most of the rest of his contract after winning a decision against Johnson. In the preseason, Larry hoodwinked the Chiefs new regime into thinking he was on the straight and narrow. However, once the season started and Larry got his bank, Johnson went right back to being his old scumbag self. To top it all off, Johnson wasn’t even a productive scumbag, as he could only manage 2.7 yards per carry. Johnson was so awful he slowed down the Chiefs already slow developing offense.
Still, Haley kept running Johnson straight ahead for 2 yards a pop, apparently hoping L.J. might slip into a black hole, go back in time and come out the other end 26 years old again. Unfortunately, Johnson never found that black hole, unless you count the constantly backpedaling Rudy Niswanger’s ass as a black hole. Johnson constantly found himself trying to run up Niswanger’s ass before falling down for a 2-yard loss. Larry finally took to Twitter to spew out some homophobic slurs and the Chiefs finally cut him loose.
Haley then briefly tried to turn the often-injured Kolby Smith into the lead back. Smith didn’t fair much better than L.J. in his half dozen or so carries as the lead back. Once Smith got a look at how putridly terrible the Chiefs offensive line was at run blocking, he promptly re-injured himself and retired to IR in fear of his own life. Finally the Chiefs were forced to start Jamaal Charles, who made them all look like a bunch of chumps for ignoring him for the first half of the season.
The intention of this column isn’t just to bash Haley and Pioli for the mistakes they made in their rookie campaigns. The pint is to show that a lot of avoidable mistakes were made last year and while some of them were understandable and hindsight is 20/20, Chiefs fans will not be so forgiving in 2010.
I am actually a big fan of both Pioli and Haley. I think a large part of last years plan was to institute the new a new football program and to evaluate the pieces they already have. A lot of good should come from last year’s mistakes. While keeping L.J. and not noticing Charles could be considered a failure for 2009 it is also a win for 2010. The Chiefs also uncovered a very good OLB in Tamba Hali by switching to the 3-4. Hali looked dead in the water after his awful 2008 campaign but he is now considered by many NFL types to be one of the most talented pass rushers in the AFC. Progress was made and the groundwork was laid. The early part of a construction project s not always pretty.
I am willing to give them a pass on some of last year’s mistakes but they are now out of excuses. They have had a full year to evaluate the talent and to do targeted scouting. They have all the coaches they want. The table is set.
I never expected Pioli to turn the Chiefs around in one season but I do expect to see marked improvement this season. I am somewhat impressed that through all the free agency bungles, the firing of the offensive coordinator 3 weeks before the season and the refusal to jettison LJ, the Chiefs still managed to win 2 more games than the Herm Edwards Chiefs of 2008. Still, 4 games is not enough. Pioli and Haley need to win at least 7 or 8 games in 2010 for me to feel like they have the Chiefs moving in the right direction, especially when it looks as though they will have a favorable schedule.
For the Chiefs to do that they must make better moves than they did in 2009 or the already restless natives will be reaching for the torches and pitchforks.