Mike Vrabel’s impending retirement has been coming for a while but now that it is official, the Kansas City Chiefs can officially usher in a new era.
Mike Vrabel’s retirement is symbolic in a lot of ways for the Chiefs. Usually when a veteran is brought in to a new team late in his career, he is there to help his new teammates get over the championship hump. That was not the case in Kansas City.
Vrabel was brought to KC to provide leadership and help change the culture of a team that had become accustom to losing. Vrabel succeeded and helped the Chiefs arrive a little bit ahead of schedule in 2010. While his play most certainly slipped, the Chiefs finished 10-6 and captured the AFC West championship.
His job was done and it was time to move on.
Now, the Chiefs must do the same.
The Kansas City Chiefs roster has been gutted twice in recent years. First, former coach Herm Edwards rid himself of all veterans in favor of a roster of youngsters. While Edwards had the right idea, he put too much emphasis on youth and not enough on winning. As a result, his inexperienced 2008 squad won only two games. The mistake cost Edwards his job.
Enter Todd Haley and Scott Pioli. When the two arrived they began an overhaul that started with trading for QB Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel. The 2009 season consisted of constant roster turnover. The young and talented were kept as were the old and useful. The rest of the roster was cut or traded away in favor of players that fit the culture and style of the new regime.
At first, it seemed as though Pioli and Haley were only interested in castoffs from the Cardinals, Patriots and Dolphins. In hindsight, it is clear that they were merely trying to fill up the roster with players who already knew the drill and who would change the mindset of the entire group. This meant a 2009 season of change, losing and confusion.
But it worked.
The 2009 group became a team and in 2010 that team moved forward and began to win games. The roster turnover slowed. Fewer and fewer players were being brought in off the waiver wire because the roster was now full of Chiefs, not castoffs.
Now the Chiefs need to concentrate on adding talent and depth. The retirement of Vrabel signifies that the Chiefs will no longer need a mixture of declining veterans to lead their inexperienced youth because it is time for their young players to become those veteran leaders. The only difference is that they will be veterans in their prime, as opposed to players in the twilight of their careers.
This masterful passing off of the torch is something we have been seeing in New England for years. It is how they have built a consistent winner. Year after year, the Patriots are contenders. Sure, sometimes they need to reload and bring in some old dudes at certain positions. This usually happens when they whiff terribly on a draft pick. All in all though, the system works pretty well.
The Chiefs are now entering that phase. Andy Studebaker has studied under Vrabel patiently for two years. He will likely now get his chance to step up and be a leader. He will also be able to pass his knowledge down to young Justin Houston who could likely replace him sooner rather than later. But that won’t stop Stuebaker from teaching because a guy named Mike Vrabel has already taught him how to be a leader. I’m not saying Studi won’t do everything in his power to keep Houston second string but he’ll do it with his play on the field, not his mentor-ship off.
In the end, that is exactly what the Chiefs want. Guys like Studebaker teaching guys like Houston everything he knows while fighting like hell to hang on to his starting spot. It is the team first attitude that the 2009 season laid the groundwork for.
It is the winning formula Pioli brought with him from New England.
There are sure to be bumps along the way, but make no mistake, the Kansas City Chiefs are going to be winning for some time to come.
Vrabel’s departure is another step in that direction.