Odd Man (of the Year) Out, ctd: The Emergence of Asamoah

From my piece a year ago, Odd Man (of the Year) Out:

Now the Chiefs are transitioning again, and from the outset it was unclear if Waters would continue to weather the storm of personnel change.

It’s starting to look like it finally might be happening, per PFT’s Gregg Rosenthal…

Pro Football Weekly credits team sources that say Waters “might be nearing” the end of his time with the team. And that Waters could be released “soon.”

The Chiefs like backup Jon Asamoah, who makes $3 million less than Waters.  The news doesn’t come as a huge shock because we’ve read previously that Waters would have to compete to keep his starting job.

No, it’s not a huge shock at all.  When you draft a guard in the third round (Asamoah was a 3rd in 2010), guess what, he’s going to be a starter sooner rather than later.  And Chiefs GM Scott Pioli didn’t sign Ryan Lilja to be pushed out of his starting spot by a young guy.

A breakdown of this potential roster shift, along with a ton of offensive line discussion, after the break.

Crock’s projected depth chart for 2011, should Waters remain with the Chiefs:

LT: Branden Albert, Barry Richardson
LG: Brian Waters, Jon Asamoah
C: Rodney Hudson, Tim Barnes
RG: Ryan Lilja, Jon Asamoah
RT:  Jeremy Trueblood, Barry Richardson

Tackle and Center?

Let’s cover a few given truths about the OLine, before we get to this whole Waters/Asamoah mess:

There are going to be at least two free agency acquisitions for our OL.  I would expect the Chiefs to open their pocketbooks for a starting right tackle, someone like Matt Light is high on Pioli’s list. I’m sure they’d be interested in Ryan Harris of the Broncos (he’s an RFA, however), or James Lee (RFA) or Jeremy Trueblood (UFA!) from the Bucs, who have connections to our current offensive coordinator, Bill Muir.  (My money is on Light or Trueblood.)  Either way, expect to see Richardson set as a swing reserve, backing up the RT and LT.

The other free agency acquisition I’d put money on would be at center.  There’s no doubt rookie Rodney Hudson is locking down the starting position there, but Rudy Niswanger’s time as a backup on this team is basically over.  We’ve had plenty of discussion on AA already about the embarrassment of riches in the UDFA market this year, and there’s some really promising center talent to check out if we were so inclined:

  • C Zane Taylor, Utah
  • C Ryan Pugh, Auburn
  • C Kris O’Dowd, USC
  • C Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU
  • C Tim Barnes, Missouri
  • C Alex Linnenkohl, Oregon

Plenty of developmental prospects that, barring injury to Hudson, won’t need to see the field for 2011. (And yes, I’m assuming Casey Wiegmann retires — aren’t you?)

The Guards

So what to make of the guard position?  As I’ve written before, Waters, Lilja, and Asamoah give the Chiefs the best guard lineup in the AFC West, and one of the best in the league.  Waters and Lilja, along with Hudson and Albert, are great athletes who can pull extremely well.  Asamoah doesn’t quite pull with the fluidity of the elderstatesmen, but he brings the lumber in the downhill run game better than both. And Asamoah can catch passes, as the Chiefs designate him as a receiver from time to time in the red zone.

All three players are aces on character — Waters is the reigning NFL Man of the Year, Lilja has always been a good soldier, and Asamoah was brought in during Pioli’s famed 2010 “team captain” draft class. They each bring a different personality to their roles as lineman.  If this were a ’90s boyband, Waters would be the confident leader of the band, Lilja is the quiet straight man, and Asamoah the always slightly-pissed-off badass.

It makes for a deep and impression line when all three are on the field (the Chiefs trot out Asamoah for an imbalanced OLine, ten to fifteen snaps in a game).

Of course, there is another intriguing guard that the Chiefs carry.  They have long allowed the young, promising Darryl Harris to languish on their practice squad, and clearly believe he can eventually provide solid depth. He moves well for the zone blocking system, and hits well, too.  Every preseason, he’s a standout player.  Keep this in mind: there’s not great pickings in free agency at guard, and the otherwise amazing UDFA market is actually pretty weak at the position. So if we were to actually lose Waters, it would not only be due to our confidence in Asamoah to start, but in Harris’ ability to backup both guard positions. (Niswanger plays decently at guard as well, but I’m assuming he is not resigned.)

Crock’s projected depth chart, with a released Brian Waters:

LT: Branden Albert, Barry Richardson
LG: Ryan Lilja, Darryl Harris
C: Rodney Hudson, Tim Barnes (UDFA)
RG: Jon Asamoah, Darryl Harris
RT: Jeremy Trueblood, Barry Richardson

Not a bad depth chart overall (actually, if Albert develops this year into a franchise LT, it’s a damn good line), with one major issue: it would feature a change at every OL position except left tackle.  Which is a huge issue in a lockout-shortened offseason.

So what’s the best move for the Chiefs and Brian Waters?

As much as it pains me to say so, because I’ve long been a fan of the guy and what he represents to this team, but I believe the best move is to drop Brian Waters.  Keeping him may stall the development of Jon Asamoah, who needs a season as The Guy at a guard position.  Less importantly, keeping him spells the end of Darryl Harris in Kansas City, who can no longer be retained on the practice squad. 

It comes down to this question, which I’m not sure we know the answer to: Do the Chiefs still believe they are a rebuilding team, or do they believe this is a team ready to compete for postseason runs?

So long as the Chiefs aren’t overly seduced by their 2010 success, they should still looking at themselves as a rebuilding franchise (and I’m not sure they do). Moderate changes on the offensive line (like the changes I highlighted in the first depth chart) are the direction that competing franchises go.  Wholesale changes (like the ones I highlighted in the second depth chart) are the ones teams like the Chiefs should pursue.  The sooner you can get as many of the right pieces in place for the future, the better.  And 34-year-old Brian Waters, for all his talent, impedes that process.

Nobody wants to lose a leader like Brian Waters.  As we’ve written ad nauseum on this website, he’s left a stamp on this franchise that justifies the Ring of Honor.  Even during the dregs of the Herm Era, Waters retained his optimism.  Even during last year’s ass-stomping at the hands of the Broncos, he ran 60 yards in futility to track down a fumble returned for a touchdown.  Even when the entire fanbase was losing patience in Branden Albert, Waters argued he could be great.  And of course, we can’t soon forget the years he destroyed lives alongside Willie Roaf, Casey Wiegmann, Will Sheilds, and John Tait.

But in a remarkable number of ways, Asamoah is the natural progression from Waters.  Like Waters, Big Jon plays with a furious nastiness that extends from whistle to whistle (though perhaps not as nasty as Waters in his heyday).  Like Waters, he moves well in space.  He is comfortable in his own skin and speaks well with the press.  Missing the leadership Brian Waters provides? Asamoah was a team captain for two years in Illinois.  They’re even both very good with their hands — Waters came into the league as a converted TE, and Asamoah is an eligible receiver half the time he’s on the field!

Waters is not a guy we part ways with lightly, but you’re not going to find a more natural successor than Big Jon.

It may be time the Chiefs explore that option.

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