NFL fans the world over are anxiously awaiting the end of the NFL lockout. Fans of every team league wide just want to see their guys back on the field. As long as a deal gets done in time to not miss any regular season games most fans will be content. Yes, we have all missed our regular off season influx of information from rookie camps and OTAs, and also the latest information of which free agents are going where. However, if the season gets under way on time our lives will not have been effected much at all (unless of course you write for a sports blog and have had to come up with weekly topics despite the fact that NOTHING interesting is going on). If you really get right down to it, if training camp is able to start on time, the veteran players really won’t have been effected that much either . The only places where they will REALLY have missed the OTAs are in places where coaches are putting in a new playbook or scheme. That is not our Kansas City Chiefs (thankfully). For the other teams it will largely just be getting the rookies and new free agents adjusted to the team’s way of doing things.
That all having been said, there is one person on each organization that will have their work cut out for them once this lockout ends. That person is the General Manager. For the Chiefs that person is Scott Pioli.
The general consensus amongst “experts” like Adam Schefter is that once a deal is reached there will be about a two week period for free agency before teams can begin camps/practices/etc. So in a two week period a team’s general manager will have to resign his own team’s free agents, sign any other free agents that the team may need (including undrafted college free agents), and try to sign as many of the team’s draft picks as possible. That is an entire off season’s worth of work in two weeks. Think about it, teams normally start resigning players as soon as their season is over and then the free agency period starts in early March. Teams would have all of May, June, and July to try and sign their rookies before camp starts. That’s literally condensing six months into a couple of weeks. The GMs that are able to get this massive amount of work done will set their teams up for success while those who aren’t up to the task will leave their teams (especially their coaching staffs) in a really tough spot.
When Scott Pioli was announced as the Chiefs new GM he was generally thought of as THE top GM candidate available. The accomplishments the Patriots racked up while he was there are very impressive. The only question was how much credit Pioli deserved for it and how much of it was actually Bill Belichick. I don’t think anyone can question that the Chiefs are better off now than they were when Pioli took over. I’m not here to list all Pioli’s pros (like hiring Todd Haley and the 2010 draft) and cons (like the 2009 draft) since he came on board. I think at this point most people’s opinions of Pioli are pretty set and will probably only be changed if the Chiefs either fall on their face or become one of the elite teams in the NFL. However, I think we will learn a lot about just how good Scott Pioli is by his performance between the end of the NFL lockout and the start of whatever kind of camp/preseason that the league ends up having.
There are three equally important jobs that Pioli MUST accomplish successfully in order for the Chiefs to have a shot at repeating as AFC West Champs.
1. Resign In House Free Agents. The Chiefs must resign their top free agents. Tamba Hali is at the top of this list, but since most reports seem to indicate that the franchise tag will still be in place in the new deal, don’t be surprised if Tamba is NOT the top priority once the lockout is lifted since the Chiefs would already hold his rights for next season. Even someone like Brandon Carr may not be at the top of the list since the Chiefs have a first round tender on him to help protect him. The first players that could be inked might more likely be players like Shaun Smith who are free to sign with any team they want.
2. Sign Additional Free Agents. The Chiefs roster is not “hole free” even after the draft. If the Chiefs want to take a clear step forward from last season they will need to add at least a few key free agents to the current roster. The “stress” of the rushed free agency season may cause some teams to panic and over pay for players to ensure that their teams aren’t left with a gaping hole at a key position. Pioli must quickly fill any roster spots that he feels the team still needs. This will mean opening up the check book enough to draw good players in but not “going all Daniel Snyder” and hurting the team in the future with ridiculous long term contracts.
3. Sign The Draft Picks. Some experts have speculated that teams may not even negotiate with their rookies until the free agency “window” closes. However, rookies are the players that have missed out the most from not having OTAs and are the most behind. Therefore, they are the players that the coaches want to get their hands on the most. If GMs ignore their rookies completely until every last free agent is taken care of it will reduce the likelihood even more that a rookie will be able to come in and make an immediate impact. Not to mention that it looks like the GMs will be working under some kind of rookie wage scale for the first time. Even if that keeps the salaries in check, it also takes away any president set by previous seasons. That means that there isn’t anything to use as a basis for a deal. The best hope is that the wage scale specifies very specific ranges for each slot so that there isn’t much negotiating room.
For a GM to accomplish all three phases above in time for the start of the season they are going to have to have their “stuff” together. They are going to have to have a clear game plan laid out with backup plans for their backup plans in case they miss out on a player that they wanted/needed. The GM is going to have to delegate to some of his staff to accomplish so much in a short time. In short, we are soon going to see just how good Scott Pioli is.
When I look at the guys calling the shots for their teams in the AFC West, I like our odds. AJ Smith has a good eye for talent, but is known to be a little “tight” with his money and stubborn in negotiations. That doesn’t sound like a good mix for this very rushed free agency period. John Elway is the new kid on the block when it comes to running a team and he has a first time head coach to work with. Al Davis is just plain crazy. So of all the teams in the AFC West I like the Chiefs odds of “winning” the offseason over their rivals.
Let’s all just hope we find out the answers sooner rather than later.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!