2012: A Roster Odyssey

We’ve written numerous times around here that Kansas City Chiefs GM Scott Pioli is good at football, in that he remains a step ahead of football schedule at seemingly every step.

I bring this up because he’s going to need to exercise that expert foresight with regards to the 2012 offseason.  For years, the Chiefs have undergone a youth movement, and as a result they have been able to bring in oodles of talent without much worry to expiring contracts of old timers.  But the Chiefs will be entering the stage in 2012 that is often a fatal stumbling block for teams that are trying to rebuild: retaining the young talent they’ve brought in/groomed/developed.  This is often a perilous step in rebuilding franchises, as established franchises are usually more willing than Chiefs-type rebuilding squads to throw bloated contracts at players looking for a second-contract. Teams on the up and up that can’t afford to frequently overpay, like the Chiefs will be, are often on the losing ends of these deals. 

The Chiefs have navigated these waters deftly in 2010 and 2011, but they only had to worry about one or two key contributors (DJ, Charles, Hali) at a time.

But the 2012 offseason is looking downright brutal, and Pioli better be up to the task.  As many as ten starters on the 2011 roster are coming off their Kansas City contract, and will be looking for a new deal.

That’s right, Addicts: ten starters.  And that doesn’t even include the non-starting-but-still-key contributors who will also be free agents.  The opportunity to get worse is much greater than the opportunity to improve.  It could get really, really messy.  Pioli will have faced no more difficult time in Kansas City.

More on this incoming hurricane of an offseason, including the breakdown of players destined for free agency, after the jump.  Your job is to give us your offseason blueprint for the Chiefs in comments.

Here are the key players to this team who will be hitting free agency in 2012 (all players are unrestricted free agents unless I’ve labeled them otherwise):

QB: none
RB: Thomas Jones
FB: Le’Ron McClain

WR: Dwayne Bowe, Jerheme Urban
TE: Leonard Pope

OT: Jared Gaither, Barry Richardson
OG: none
C: Casey Wiegmann

NT: Kelly Gregg, Anthony Toribio
DE: Wallace Gilberry

ILB: Jovan Belcher (RFA), Brandon Siler
OLB: none

CB: Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, Travis Daniels
S: Jon McGraw

ST: Ryan Succop (RFA)

That’s a staggering amount of talent the Chiefs have to resign or replace.  What if the Chiefs think Gaither can be the LT of the future?  What if McClain turns out to be incredibly important to our offense?

Some tough decisions to be made, and perhaps a key player here or there will be lost.

Now, before you start trying to break down what to do with each player, here are options for the Chiefs to use regarding each of these players:

Franchise Tag
This can be used on one player per offseason, and guarantees the player getting tagged that he will spend the season getting paid on average of the top five highest paid players at his position.  This usually upsets the player, but Pioli has a good track record of getting franchised players signed before the season.  (See: Tamba Hali.)

Tendering Restricted Free Agents
Each time you sign a rookie or similarly-acquired young player, you typically assign a “restricted” limit on their last year with the team, which essentially gives the team an opportunity to waive the player or force the player to come back for one more year.  Each tendered player is given a draft value (for instance, we tendered Brandon Carr for a 2nd round pick), which another team can acquire him for by forking over to us that draft pick, assuming the Chiefs don’t want to match the deal this team is making.  “RFAs,” as they are often called, are almost always safe to stay with your team.

Resign Players In-Season
Scott Pioli has turned out to be quite talented at getting players signed in-season, but this is a difficult trick to pull off.  The people in charge of resigning new players are often incredibly busy during the season, and the player typically wants to use the rest of the NFL teams as leverage for a better contract, which can’t happen during the season.  But this is a great way to keep your players off the market, but I wouldn’t plan on being able to do this with any more than two players, max.

Resign Players in Free Agency
This is a tricky manuver because you have to resign the player versus thirty-one other NFL teams who may want him, including those aforementioned “established” teams who only need a couple more elements for a Super Bowl run, and thus are far more willing than rebuilding teams like the Chiefs to overpay.  This is how most players are resigned, but it’s perilous to assume a key player will just return to his original team once the entire market is involved.  But this is typically perfectly reliable for some players like Leonard Pope or Jon McGraw, who are menial role-players who have far more value in Kansas City than they do anywhere else.

Let the Players Go
Of course, you can always let the player go.  This is the cheapest of the options, and will definitely be necessary for some of the above mentioned names, either because they are too old, not effective enough, or too expensive.

*******

So, Addicts, you tell me.

What do you do with each player on the above list? 

Who gets the franchise tag? 

Try to limit yourself to one deal during the season to stay realistic. 

What kinds of deals do you offer returning players (for instance, do you give $30 million in guaranteed money to Brandon Flowers?). 

Which players do you let walk? 

If you’re going to put a tender on Belcher/Succop, what level of a tender do you put them on (the higher the level of a tender — 1st rounder, 2nd rounder — the more you have to pay, and the lower the tender — 5th rounder, 7th rounder — the less likely you are to retain the player)?

What positions do you target in the 2012 draft?

Be a GM.  Make difficult decisions.  Lord knows Pioli will have to.

Looking forward to brainstorming with you in comments.

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