5 Smiles: 2011 Chiefs Offseason

I think its safe to say the football juices are officially flowing again. I’ve spent most of the past six months writing about either our owner or the owners at large (with some occasional draft coverage, a Big Matt Monday and a Paddy Piece in the mix). I wouldn’t say it was fun, exactly, but I really felt this was an important opportunity to raise awareness in Kansas City. So I beat that drum as loud as I could, maybe a little too loud sometimes. I felt it needed to be done, and didn’t think it would happen anywhere other than AA. I certainly didn’t expect our boy Gretz to get in on the act. That was surreal.

Still, I’m glad its over. When I sat down at my computer today I was overcome by a sense of freedom. I can write about anything now.  So without further ado, 2,500 words on the various similarities between Chiefs players and the crew of the Battlestar Galactica……

Just kidding.  That article isn’t scheduled to drop until the next lockout.  I’ve got it saved for a rainy day.  In case of emergency, break glass.  I thought I’d use this space to list the five reasons this offseason made me smile.  I’m considering doing a “smiles” and “frowns” article after each game this season, but probably won’t.  Twice the work.  Plus Ladner already had the good/evil day*.

*I voted for Evil Ladner.  Liked the cut of that guy’s jib.  Could we maybe bring him back the third Tuesday of every month, or something like that?  I think he could develop a following.

The point is that this offseason, while hard to endure, did have its silver linings.  Even a semi-jaded east coast nerd like your boy Big Matt can see that.  My top five offseason smiles after the jump:

#5 Some recent laughs- Even when things are at their worst for the Chiefs, there are always laughs to be had.  This offseason’s best was provided by an unlikely candidate.  Matt Cassel has his fans in ChiefsNation, and he definitely earned some respect last season.  But he didn’t seem like a guy that was ever going to capture that Joe Namath swagger.  “Boring” was a word I heard tossed around.  I probably used it a time or two myself.  As silly as it sounds, his spot in the Kenny Powers K-Swiss commercial changed how I thought of him.

The guy was legitimately good in a commercial with the funniest character out there right now.  I didn’t know Cassel had that in him.  Just hearing Kenny say “Matt Cassel” was awesome.  And then he signed AA camp correspondent Josh Michaels’s jersey with the “come at me, bro” line.  Something like this has to have boosted his confidence.  How could it not?  All of the sudden I’ve got this feeling that Matt Cassel could explode this year.  I did not feel that way last year.

More recent laughs came via friend of the site The Centaur’s blogging return over at FJH (warning: graphic language).  The Centaur is somewhat of a recluse on the Chiefs interwebs, blogging for a small niche audience.  But hey, I was once the same.  And look at me now, 8th best writer on the 2nd biggest site of the 27th most-popular team in the NFL!  It says “senior staff” next to my name.  Top of the food chain, people.  If Paddy were to ever have a boating accident, and then Merlin, Randy and DD went on a camping trip and never returned, and Jeremy fell into a wormhole to another dimension, I could very well be in charge of AA some day.  Do you have any idea what kind of pressure that is?

But anyway, the Centaur’s Chiefbrain is rich and fertile.  Rumors tell of a legendary boneyard of half-completed posts.  One day his blog will take off.  You’ll want to be there when it does.

#4 The cards are on the table- I’m not going to drag you guys into another debate here.  The lockout is over; both sides are happy.  But I mentioned owner awareness earlier, and I really do think thats been raised.  No longer will these billionaires be viewed as the friendly old patriarchs the NFL PR department has been cramming down our throats for years.  We know what they’re about now.

Mind you, I’m not trying to say everyone dislikes the owners or thinks they’re wrong, because I realize that isn’t the case.  But these past six months have given us a wealth of hard-hitting press coverage, whereas before all we got were announcers gushing.  I would imagine there will be less of that now.  At least I hope there will be.   And when the cameras inevitably pan to the owners box, Kansas City’s memory will be jogged a bit.  Matty likey.

3) Paddy, Lyle and Ehud were right- For the past year, whenever I referenced the Chiefs’ bargain-basement spending, I’d get indignant comments from people who couldn’t spell.  But I’d also get a different kind of comment.  Paddy, Lyle and Ehud (among others) have always said that although the team’s spending was crazy low, it was their belief the Chiefs would start to spend more when their best players needed locked up.  This process started last year with Derrick Johnson and Jamaal Charles, but appeared to have stalled with Tamba Hali.  Getting him signed to a long-term deal was huge.

Was it final proof Clark Hunt isn’t cheap, like so many are claiming?  Not in my estimation.  Signing Hali was an absolute no-brainer, and the circumstances were such that the Chiefs really had no choice.  I would guess they’ll end up around the 20th-25th range in payroll this year*.

*I realize Scott Pioli “leaked” that the Chiefs actually spent more cash than their cap # last year, but that is true of literally every team every year.  Its just how the system works, its not like the Chiefs were secretly spending more than other teams.  And if you really think Pioli “let that slip”, you need to pay closer attention.  Has this guy ever let anything slip? 

I have no issue with that rank, but neither will I pat Clark Hunt on the back for a modest payroll after five years of intense frugality.  Moving forward, I expect the Chiefs to straddle the cap floor every year, loudly proclaim themselves a small-market team, and collect a large-market share of the television revenue.  Things will be better.  But lets not pretend these last five years didn’t happen.

Still, for now, its time to acknowledge that more reasonable men than me had this one pegged from the start.  The Chiefs will never be big players in free agency, but they will retain their own.  If Scott Pioli continues to draft well, that formula should eventually bring us closer to league average in spending.  Whatever I may think of Clark hunt, that makes me smile.

2) Intangible reduction- If you’d asked me to name our team’s most glaring weaknesses last season, my answer would’ve been “#1 Mike Vrabel, #2 Thom Jones.”  When I watched the games, those guys felt like anchors weighing our team down.

Vrabel retired, and that is absolutely awesome (and respectable).  For all the talk of “team speed” after last season’s draft*, Vrabel’s departure is the move that will actually make the Chiefs faster.  Whatever Studebaker brings, it will be an upgrade to this defense.  I can’t wait to watch him out there.

*Boy, McCluster and Arenas really jacked our team speed through the roof last season, huh? 

Jones is still around, unfortunately.  But could the Le’Ron McClain signing be an indicator his role will be reduced?  One can hope.  Not that I expect much from McClain when he has the ball.  His career 3.8 YPC is Jonesesque, and there apparently weren’t many teams interested in giving him the rock this season.  As a ball carrier, McClain does not make me smile.

Signing him, on the other hand, most definitely did.  Even if he only gets the ball five times per game, those carries have to come from somewhere.  God knows Haley loves him some Jones (“quicker in ’11!”) and thinks Charles is a “developing player”, but I gotta believe when it comes down to it he wouldn’t be crazy enough to take more carries away from the best player in the league.  And anyway, the “big back” stuff, ostensibly Jones’ role last year although he was terrible at it, is McClain’s cup of tea.  Even if all this signing does is lead to less carries for Jones inside the 5, it will have made our team significantly better.  And thats without even factoring in blocking.

McClain’s signing and Vrabel’s retirement alone make us a MUCH better team this year.

1) The Draft of 1,000 Storylines- Hyperbole!  I know I haven’t talked about this in a while, but I still think Pioli’s draft this year was a real treat (it helps I haven’t been following the Justin Houston debacle closely).  Some of these guys will likely bust, and a few might bust hard.  Draft picks always do.  But I think this group is going to be legit.

Never has a draft left me so satisfied.  A second-round pick on a center?  I’ve wanted them to do that for years!  A fullback from Yale?  Nice!  A pass rusher who fell because he smoked pot?  Right in my wheelhouse!  Baldwin was the one pick I didn’t love, and even that one is just so interesting.  Bravo Pioli, bravo.

Also, aside from the actual players, this draft gave us some valuable insight into our GM.  Namely, that we should never think we have him pegged.  I thought his first draft told us he valued his 3-4 front seven above all else, and the next year he drafted a bunch of little guys.  I thought 2010 told us he was all about intangibles, and this year he spent high picks on guys with character concerns and upside for days.  Pioli will do what seems right in the moment, rather than adhere to some rigid, self-created football dogma like so many GMs revert to.  That put some major concerns to rest for me and made me feel like I could finally get behind him.

All told, thats a pretty great list for one offseason.  Its been a wild ride.  How about you, Addicts?  What were your top smiles from the 2011 offseason?

Tags: Andy Studebaker Clark Hunt Le'Ron McClain Mike Vrabel Scott Pioli Thomas Jones

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