Nearly the entire NFL galaxy has been stunned by the Chiefs’ sudden downfall. It is practically a consensus that no team that looked impressive and won their division one year looked so pathetic and ineffective the next. No one saw it coming.
Unfortunately, although I really don’t want to, I kinda gotta say, “I told ya so.”
It seems that I have played the role of the Debbie Downer of the offseason. So, let me trace for you where it all went wrong and how we can pull ourselves out of it, after the jump:
The Draft: Everyone hailed the 1st pick of Jonathan Baldwin as a brilliant, thinking-outside-of-the-box decision that would turn the Chiefs from a team on the bubble to a perennial contender. It drove me nuts. This is why: aside from the fact that wide receivers have the highest bust potential in the 1st round, WR was far from our weakest position. Sure, we had no real number two, but that was a problem that could have been easily solved with lots of solid WRs on the free agent market. Our biggest problem was ineptitude on both sides of the trenches. We went into the 2011 season with a mix of unproven young players and weathered veterans. To this point, none of the mid-round Pioli O-line picks have proven themselves worthy of being NFL starters. Much worse, none of the Chiefs’ (high!) D-line picks have shown that they are quality players.
That #1 pick should have gone to the trenches, plain and simple. Instead, we allowed the Browns to trade up and take the only real nose tackle in the draft in our spot, and grabbed a wide receiver everyone had with a 2nd-round grade and a backup DE with the 3rd-rounder we picked up in the transaction. Allen Bailey may indeed turn out to be a player. It wouldn’t be fair to judge him on his performance so far. But you need to pick a contributor with your first pick, and we did not do that. Perhaps Baldwin will turn into a star when he finally sees the field, but statistics show otherwise. I was pounding the table to pick up Gabe Carimi who would have covered one of our extremely exposed tackle positions and we likely wouldn’t have watched Matt Cassel take sacks and throw INTs on back-to-back plays.
In the end, we took only two trench players in the 2011 draft for what were our weakest positions going into the season. It showed. In two games, our opponents stuffed the run, swarmed our passer, and gutted our run defense. It looks like the only player in our defensive front seven that plays or even exists with a sense of purpose is Tamba Hali.
The Offseason: Every team had to deal with the lockout, this team apparently did so poorly. After feel-good stories about Baldwin and Cassel throwing the pigskin around and digging people out of rubble, the truth eventually came out. Baldwin was not mature enough not to be the star. He did not work well with others, and, while it remains very premature to state confidently, we can legitimately question whether he will ever be a team player.
What’s worse was Todd Haley’s approach to the abridged offseason. He was unique in his idea to ease the team into the regular season, not even going full contact before our first preseason game. While we were playing soft, other teams were fighting for relevance. The Chiefs became far too comfortable throughout the summer. Everyone assumed they would once again challenge the underachieving Chargers for the division crown. In reality, the Chargers were a real team and the Chiefs had responded to their lucky and remarkable season by becoming complacent. Attention was not paid to getting better, they felt like they had already gotten where they needed to go.
Free Agency: This is on Pioli. Totally. As much as it has become popular to fantasize about apt execution techniques to end the Haley-era, Todd was also Scott Pioli’s first hire, and many of Pioli’s following additions have proven to be questionable. If you don’t believe me, take it from ESPN’s Jeff Chadiha:
This offseason he made little attempt to improve a roster that had some glaring flaws, and his biggest acquisition in free agency was wide receiver Steve Breaston. Standing pat after a strong season works well when you’re as loaded as Green Bay or Pittsburgh. It’s a pretty big gamble when you’re a team that feasted on a weak schedule in 2010 and then wilted in a blowout playoff loss to Baltimore.
Pioli’s lack of aggressiveness is even more glaring because it comes at a time when the Chiefs are flush with cash. Kansas City had nearly $34 million in salary cap space when the lockout ended, a total that ranked it near the top of the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles weren’t in that kind of financial shape and they attacked free agency as if Warren Buffett were writing the checks. The New York Jets were just as willing to improve their team a year earlier, when they made enough savvy moves to aid their return to the AFC Championship Game.
Because Pioli isn’t taking that kind of approach to bolstering his own talent pool, it’s fair to wonder if team owner Clark Hunt is handcuffing him to a tight budget. If that isn’t the case, then Pioli — who rarely talks publicly — has some explaining to do. As much as Haley has taken heat for this ugly start, he deserves credit for last season, especially for helping develop players like Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and inside linebacker Derrick Johnson. Those players were there before Pioli came to town.
The Preseason: This is on Haley. Totally. By not properly preparing his team to compete, he doomed the Chiefs on their first two matches. If they again look like a deer in the headlights against the Chargers, then I won’t protest as his head rolls into the angry mob.
But, just for a second, think about what comes next. Who takes his place? Crennel? Crennel has coached what has become by far the worst defense in the NFL in 2011. True, they were good last year, but so was Haley’s offense. Crennel’s only experience as a head coach was a blighted stint as the HC of the Browns. And so who do you think the Chiefs will be able to snag in the offseason? Sorry folks, but Cowher isn’t coming to KC. For the last several years, everyone has been trying to drag him out of retirement with huge contract offers and arguably better squads to coach up. He won’t start coaching again until he is good and ready and thinks he’s walking into a friendly management situation. Why would he come to the team that spent the least amount of money on players in 2011?
The Blame?: Who else? The owner has to answer for the compounding troubles here on every level of the team. I’m willing to dish out blame on the GM, the coaching staff and the poor execution of the players, but, honestly, you’re only allowed to be the stingiest team in the league if you are at least halfway decent. If you’re the consensus worst team in the NFL and you’re spending the least, then the sh*t falls on the guy with the checkbook.
Where Do We Go Now?: This won’t satisfy the bloodthirsty Chiefs fanbase, but we need to trudge forward with what we got. Haley may not be a great coach, but he’s the best option for right now, and it is far too early to be thinking about 2012. We’ve got to give him a few more games to make the team into a competitive squad, and if it’s humiliating all the way through, fine. Can ‘im. But, for now, knee-jerk reactions are going to be cathartic but ineffective. We need to take this time to think about how we will proceed as a franchise. We haven’t won a playoff game since the early 1990’s. That’s no mistake. This team’s problems are systemic, not temporary. We have talent to build around, but we need a management structure that will do what is necessary to put them in a position to succeed. Judging by this offseason, they are currently unwilling to do this. Any billionaires reading this blog right now, please, please, please buy the team. If you are reading this, you are clearly a legit football fan. You want to see some real competitive Midwest football. Please buy the team and give it the greatness it deserves. I’m begging you.