Any time the Chiefs have moved from one era to another, the stark differences in personnel have been downright striking. As the Vermeil era transitioned to the Edwards era, for example, the premium on savvy (and occasionally disinterested) veterans dropped in order to make way for the purity of promising and enthusiastic youth.
So the new regime mowed down much of the remaining talent that didn’t fit the profile, and those that did stick around stuck out like sore thumbs. But Pro Bowl guard and current NFL Man of the Year Brian Waters was one of the few vets who not only endured the ill-fated transition, but embraced it as well. This endeared him to the shifting coaching staff at the time, and it commanded the respect of his incredibly young teammates. As Waters always has.
Now the Chiefs are transitioning again, and from the outset it was unclear if Waters would continue to weather the storm of personnel change. And it is now my opinion that we could be seeing the end of Brian Waters in a Chiefs uniform, and it’s not going to be a pretty departure if we do.
More after the jump.
For a good example of how touchy and defensive Chiefs fans can get about Brian Waters, look no further than my prediction that the Chiefs would draft Oklahoma OT Trent Williams #5 overall a couple days before the Draft. (Williams actually ended up going the pick before us to the Shana-skins.) The pick was controversial here at AA, and our friends at Arrowhead Pride also picked up the story and continued to righteously bash me for it.
Part of the heated response was predicting the Chiefs wanted Williams. But a big part of it was for simply leaving Waters off the depth chart, replacing him at LG with Brandon Albert and dashing him off the roster altogether. This is a risable offense to most Chiefs fans.
And why shouldn’t it be? Waters, even during the darkest and most pointless times of the past several years, has offered fans a regular show of excellence at his humble locale at left guard. He supported the youth movement when few others did. His community work over the past decade (including this year’s Man of the Year award) is simply unequalled in the NFL.
His off-the-cuff honesty in interviews is still the purest glimpse into the Chiefs locker room that this fanbase has. His agitation comes out in interviews, his pride is openly expressed, as well as anger, as well as hope. Whatever forces exert themselves on Waters, he has remained to this day his own man.
Well, therein lies the rub. That’s not what the new regime wants anymore in its players. No big personality. No altering opinions. No players that think or act independently. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it runs counter to everything we love Waters for. But under Pioli/Haley, the Chiefs prefer faceless, hardhat worker bees that completely buy into the system.
Compare everything we know about Matt Cassel to what we regularly knew and saw from the all-American Trent Green or even country boy Brodie Croyle. How well do we really know Jamaal Charles, for all his talent, compared to the weird zen of Priest Holmes or LJ’s prickly attitude? Hell, just compare the Dwayne Bowe of Pioli/Haley to the Dwayne Bowe of Peterson/Edwards! Waters is, for all intent and purposes of this new regime, antithetical to what this team needs in its players. His independence is too risky in a locker room that now demands total solidarity.
The writing is all over the wall. Why else — with all the young talent this team could already try out at the guard position in Darryl Harris or Colin Brown, or tackles that could be converted such as Barry Richardson or Ikechuku Ndukwe, or Rudy Niswanger, who’s actually played a much better guard than he ever has at center — would this team invest the effort to bring in two starting quality guards in free agent Ryan Lilja and third-round draft pick Jon Asamoah? Waters is getting replaced, and it’s happening sooner than later.
Problem is, the Bitter Season is upon us. Releasing a player after the NFL Draft, especially as it gets closer and closer to training camp, is poisonous to the player’s prospects for future employment. Every team in the league right now feels like its roster is near complete. Every team has the highest hopes for every lineman they’ve drafted. If he were to be released in this atmosphere, the odds for Waters to land a job are getting slimmer.
That may not be a big deal to those running things at One Arrowhead Drive, but I can guarantee you it’s a big deal to us fans who have loved Waters’ play, leadership, and humanity, for nearly a decade. And it sends an awful message to the rest of your locker room.
Note to Pioli and Haley: if Waters does not factor into your future plans, release him now. He has done too much for this franchise, in times of great success and times of downright failure, to be treated as a cheap commodity. Considering that this franchise holds such ridiculous “good citizen” standards for all of the acquisitions it makes, it would be a betrayal of that principle for the front office to abandon it…
Because at the end of the day, you’re not going to find a better citizen in the NFL than Brian Waters of the Kansas City Chiefs. And despite whatever words that may have been exchanged, or whatever new philosophies you want to impose, or however mismatched Waters may be with the new administration, you don’t treat good people poorly. I don’t care if it gets you a single win in 2010. It doesn’t get you honor.