Point-Counterpoint: Chiefs Free Agency

note: This is the first in a recurring series between Lyle Graverson and myself, wherein we debate various aspects of this team we’re all obsessed with.  Lyle and I rarely have the same take on anything, but both like to consider ourselves reasonable men.  We’ll let you Addicts be the judge of that.  I think its safe to say TIDL just became a big Graverson supporter.   

We’ve heard this song, seen this film, and danced this dance before.  After scintillating us all with the early addition of Steve Breaston*, the Chiefs have lost two fan favorites (or at least AA favorites) along the d-line, passed on the Aubrayo Franklin sweepstakes, and released arguably their best offensive lineman.  Most, if not all of these moves were designed to save money.  This is how Clark Hunt’s Chiefs play the offseason game.

*Our giddiness over Breaston, a guy who has averaged 700 yards and 2 touchdowns the last two years, is its own kind of evidence as to just how free-agent starved Kansas City has been.  I mean, I literally jumped for joy when I read about that signing. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the way the Chiefs approached free agency would be very telling.  Here’s what I said about the over-the-hill intangible all-stars the Chiefs had signed the past few free agencies:

What I’m hoping is that those guys were brought in just to buy time.  We certainly don’t need players like that anymore (we probably never did).  But what Todd Haley has proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, is that he will start those guys every game and praise the job they’re doing no matter how badly they play.  We must depend on Pioli here.  He simply cannot give Haley any more old, broken toys to play with.

This is what bothers me about the Kelly Gregg signing.  It isn’t that I dislike Gregg.  There were times a few years ago when I thought to myself, “Man, it’d be nice to at least have a guy like Kelly Gregg.”  But Gregg will be 35 next season, and the team that has had a front-row seat for the past decade just cut him (despite having a young nose tackle that could seemingly use some mentoring).  If it looks like a Vrabel, and smells like a Vrabel, and leads like a Vrabel…

I’m not losing sight of the Breaston signing.  He’s this year’s Ryan Lilja, a solid player who will make our offense better.  The Chiefs got him at a reasonable price, also like Lilja.  But you’ve got to wonder why every player the Chiefs get these days is at a reasonable price.  Is it because Pioli is a genius, or because he isn’t allowed to go after anyone that could break the bank?  Is it a coincidence that every halfway pricey player isn’t part of the right 53?

more after le jump:

And before anyone can reference this, no, I’m not talking about spending like the Redskins.  Lets leave that tired old standard alone for now.  The Chiefs will never, ever spend like the Redskins, and literally no one has ever asked them to do that.  I realize “what, you want us to be the Redskins?” has become the go-to defense of the Chiefs’ spending habits, but they’re at the very top of the league and we’re at the very bottom.  The comp is meaningless.

What I’d like to see is some indication the Chiefs are capable of spending big if the right guy comes along.  Instead, like clockwork, we hear how the top free agents don’t fit our system.  Nothing to do with money, of course.  When the time comes to spend, we’re told, the Chiefs will spend.

We made the playoffs last year but were outclassed by a team with a higher talent level.  We were 10-6, but our schedule this year will be much harder.  One of the best free agents on the board fits our biggest need.  If there is a time to spend, it is most definitely now.  Instead, we signed a 35-year-old locker-room leader.  Nothing has changed.  And nothing will change, until the new salary cap rules mandate that it does.  The Chiefs will be below the floor as long as they’re allowed to be.

Does spending equal success?  Of course not.  Various teams prove that every year.  But the idea we’re continually sold by the Chiefs PR department (and their apologists) is that spending less is somehow a smarter or superior way to operate.  This is utter hogwash.  Having an owner that is willing to pursue top talent regardless of cost is an advantage, there is no way around that.  Payroll limitations, like the ones the Chiefs have clearly had in place since Hunt took over, are a disadvantage.

A good GM, like Pioli seems to be, can counteract that disadvantage by finding diamonds in the rough.  But the disadvantage remains.  And to continually overcome it, our GM needs to be smarter than the others.  Is Scott Pioli smarter than other GMs?  Possibly.  But we can’t expect him to outperform every one of them every year, and to improve our team consistently with this payroll, thats what he’ll have to do.

What people need to realize is that spending high* and spending smart are not mutually exclusive.  And even risky spending has its place when you’re as far below the eventual cap as we are.  Let’s say, worst case scenario, we sign Aubrayo Franklin, give him every penny he asks for, and the guy decides to phone it in.  What then?  We cut him and take the cap hit while still remaining far, far below the cap itself.  The only victim in that scenario is Clark Hunt’s wallet.  Is that something we should care about?  That our owner, while still making millions of dollars, makes slightly fewer millions than he would have?  That is an absolutely insane thing for any sports fan to think about.  Yet I constantly read references from Chiefs fans to X player being “too expensive.”  Given where we’re at currently, this simply does not make any sense.  Its like our billionaire owner has a city full of accountants pinching his pennies for him.

*Or, in our case, spending higher than we do, but still significantly below average.

This isn’t to say I don’t like the role player signings, because I very much do.  I definitely nodded my approval when I read about Brandon Siler, and I’m already crafting nicknames for our various UDFA in case any of them make the team.  I just think our refusal to play with the big boys hamstrings us.  For all the talk of The Patriot Way, this is most definitely not how Bill Belichick operates.

I’m not saying the Chiefs have to $pend more to be successful, I’m just saying it would give them a better chance.  After what we’ve endured, I don’t think an almost equal playing field is too much to ask.

Stay tuned for Lyle’s counter later this afternoon.  We all know he wanted Franklin, so it’ll be interesting to see how he works around that.  It’ll also be interesting to see us bicker in the comments, I’m sure.  F you Graverson!

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Tags: Aubrayo Franklin Clark Hunt Kelly Gregg Scott Pioli

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