In case you just hopped on AA for the first time in several hours, this post is the second half of a Point-Counterpoint debate between Big Matt and I on the Chiefs free agency approach, specifically their spending (or lack there of). If you haven’t read his usually strong argument yet, make sure you scroll down and give it a read. Now on to the counterpoint….
So it has been about a week since the lockout lifted and teams could begin negotiating with free agents. The general vibe I get from most fans about what the Chiefs have done so far in free agency could be described as “meh”. That’s not to say that there aren’t some that are excited about what the team has done, but there are also some out there that are really upset that the Chiefs haven’t shelled out the big bucks and made a huge splash in free agency. So I would categorize the overall reaction as “meh”. Well I’m here to sell you on the Chiefs’ free agency approach as better than “meh” and certainly not something you should be upset about.
Now, I need to get something out in the open first so that I can hopefully keep some credibility. I am about to sell you that the Chiefs approach of not going crazy in free agency is a good thing. However, I must confess that I am in fact the same guy that was screaming from the rafters that the Chiefs should have spent whatever it took to sign NT Aubrayo Franklin. So am I a complete hypocrite? I don’t think so. In fact, I’ll use Franklin as an example of the Chiefs approach to free agency after the break to help you see the light.
So come along and shake off the “mehs” after the break.
All right, let’s talk about Franklin for a minute. My very own opinion was that Aubrayo Franklin could help this team more then any other free agent on the market. I thought that with where the team stood in terms of its roster and cap space that the Chiefs could afford him and still have money to resign any players they wanted. Instead they signed Kelly Gregg, a player that seems to be very “Vrabelish” in his experience and leadership. Now I happen to think Gregg will be better on the field this season then Vrabel was, but that’s not what I want to look at. I want to talk about why the Chiefs didn’t sign Franklin. Let’s look at what those options are.
1. The Chiefs didn’t think that Franklin was a good fit in KC, just wasn’t that good in general, or actually liked Gregg more.
2. The Chiefs were interested in Franklin, but Pioli wasn’t willing to pay more then he thought he was worth.
3. Pioli wanted to sign Franklin, but Clark Hunt wasn’t willing to spend the money.
Now I’m sure we could come up with a couple more reasons, but I think those three cover the most reasonable explanations. Let’s get number one out of the way before we debate between the last two. If the reason we didn’t sign Aubrayo Franklin falls within the explanations listed in #1, then we are really talking about Pioli’s ability to assess talent. That is a fair debate to have. You can look at failed draft picks or signings and make a case that he has “dropped the ball” on more then one occasion. However, talent evaluation in the NFL is tricky and nobody bats a thousand. Pioli’s track record in New England made him one of the top GM candidates in a decade. All he has done since he came to KC is help build a team that was 2-14 into a 10-6 division winner in two seasons. Yes, you can debate how much credit Pioli should get compared to Haley or even Carl/Herm for their draft picks that are thriving now. I just don’t think that’s what has some Chiefs fans upset right now. I don’t think it’s about Pioli the talent evaluator. I think what has some KC fans disappointed in the Chiefs free agency is the lack of spending. That takes us to reasons two and three.
So if it’s about the money, who is the one that isn’t willing to break the bank, Pioli or Hunt? Normally if it comes down to not wanting to shell out a ton of cash for a player it is the owner (who’s pocket that money is coming out of) that is the one that doesn’t want to do it. That’s why it’s natural to look at the Chiefs low payroll and lack of huge free agent signings and say, “Wow, Clark Hunt is a cheap (insert word of your choice here).” However, I want you to stop and think for a minute about who the GM of the Kansas City Chiefs is. What do you think about Scott Pioli?
Scott Pioli has three Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots. He also has multiple NFL executive of the year awards from that same period. He was THE biggest GM candidate on the market. No one else was even close. He had reportedly turned down other teams in the past, not even willing to take an interview. That changed when the Kansas City Chiefs came calling. So why leave the Patriots? Why leave a job where you already have success, money, and accolades from the league to go to a team that at the time was TERRIBLE (worthy of all caps)? I think you all know the answer. If you’ve ever played Madden in franchise mode and built up a team into a dynasty where you win multiple Super Bowls and the team overall rating is in the mid to upper 90’s, you know the answer. You’re ready for a new challenge. In addition to that new challenge, Pioli also probably wants to prove he can do it without Bill Belichick. At least that’s what I think, I don’t have any proof of this, but in my mind that’s what makes sense.
So here’s the question for those of you that think Clark Hunt is refusing to open his pocket book and is keeping the Chiefs from signing the players they need to compete for a Super Bowl. Why would Scott Pioli put up with that? Can anyone actually make a valid argument for why Pioli would be fine with being handcuffed to one of the league’s lowest payrolls when he could have almost any GM job he wanted? I mean if you’re right and Clark Hunt isn’t willing to spend any money then either Pioli doesn’t care about building a team or he was duped into taking the job by Hunt and is probably ready to quit at this point. Does anybody get that vibe from Pioli in the limited interviews we get from him? Does he come across as someone who would be content to be Clark Hunt’s lap dog, willing to put winning behind earning Hunt a profit? Does he seem like someone who is fuming mad that he can’t run the team how he wants?
That’s not the vibe I get at all. I see a guy that thinks that he knows exactly what needs to be done and doesn’t give a rip if the media or fans understand it or approve of it. I don’t agree with former Star columnist Jason Whitlock on much. The guy usually drives me crazy. However, before he left town he nicknamed Pioli “Egoli” because of what he thought was Pioli’s out of control ego. Now I won’t go so far as to call it out of control but I think Scott Pioli does have a good-sized ego. The kind of ego that would cause him to turn down a player like Aubrayo Franklin if that player refused to come down to a salary that Pioli was willing to pay. I don’t think Scott Pioli is willing to deviate from his plan for any player and especially not for the approval of the media or the fans.
I know I have linked to this article before, but I think it is the most illuminating look into who Scott Pioli is and how he wants to build this team that is out there (plus it is written by Joe Posnanski who is about the best writer on the planet). If you haven’t read it yet, read it now. If you have already read it, read it again, it’s worth it. The overall message of the piece is basically that Scott Pioli doesn’t just want to win, he wants to win “his way”. I know that after two full years the term the “Right 53” has become a punch line to most KC fans, but I still think that it remains Pioli’s method of operation. The final quote from Pioli in the article is:
“You know, there are a lot of ways to win, but there’s only one way for me to win and be proud of winning.”
So here’s the deal KC fans, if you think that the Chiefs should throw all this character, leadership, hard work, and “fit” stuff out the window and just sign the biggest names and most talented players then you should start campaigning for Scott Pioli to be fired because as long as he is the GM, those things are going to play a major role. Pioli isn’t interested in throwing a ton of cash at every big name on the market in hopes that he can win one ring and then have to blow the thing up and start over. Let me ask you this, how many huge contracts have the Steelers given out this year to free agents? How about the Packers? Even the Patriots haven’t gone out and spent big dollars. Yes, they brought in some big names but only at bargain basement prices. Those are the teams that the Chiefs are trying to emulate. They are building for the long haul, not a one-time ring grab.
I don’t buy that Clark Hunt is holding Scott Pioli back. I don’t buy that Scott Pioli doesn’t want to win. I think Scott Pioli wants to win very, very badly to validate that he can win and that he can win on his terms.
Now I’m not saying we should all just repeat “In Pioli We Trust” over and over until we mindlessly except every move he makes as perfection without ever questioning if it was the right thing to do. I do think that for the time being the success of the Kansas City Chiefs is linked to the success of Pioli’s plan. So if you’re rooting for the Chiefs to be good this year, you are rooting for Pioli’s plan to work. The good news is that the two teams that the Chiefs seem to be trying to emulate, the Steelers and the Patriots, are probably the two most successful and stable teams of the modern NFL era.
I understand that its easy to get free agent envy when teams like the Eagles are lighting up the Sports Center ticker with big name signing after big name signing, but that is probably never going to be the Chiefs as long as Scott Pioli is the GM.
So take a second and stop checking for the latest Adam Schefter or Jay Glazer tweets in hopes that the next huge breaking story will involve KC and think about this. If after the loss to the Ravens in the playoffs someone would have told you that the Chiefs would have a solid to good draft, would resign most of their key free agents, and then would sign Steve Breaston and Kelly Gregg in free agency, would your response have been “I can’t believe those cheapskates would let us down like that!”? I don’t think so. When you look at it that way it starts to look like the Chiefs are doing exactly the same thing they’ve been doing since Pioli took over as GM. That is steadily building a quality team that just keeps getting better and better.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!