A Word With Your Friendly Neighborhood Ownership

“They have an excellent relationship. I understand there’s been a lot of focus on that subject. But in the time I’ve been around them, they work very well together. They have a shared vision for the kind of football team they’re trying to build.” -Clark Hunt

So I guess this case is officially closed?

For those who haven’t seen it, C. Montgomery Hunt dropped a few quotes via Teicher in the Star Friday.  The topic of conversation was the relationship between Todd Haley and Scott Pioli.

Hunt doesn’t say anything remotely interesting here, unless you like reading the word “build”*.  I greedily devoured every sentence of course, but the real question is, what does this interview tell us about the perceived Pioli/Haley rift?

*What is this, 2008?  The buzzword now is “fit”, Clark, try to keep up. 

Not much, I’m afraid.  I thought Pioli addressing the rumor was telling, but this is a very different situation.  Hunt has no policy of silence in place.  He’s free to talk to the media whenever he wants, and usually does so at some point during the season.

This interview was granted with PR motives, obviously, but the timing doesn’t indicate that it’s a response to any one specific allegation.  It felt less like damage control and more like the usual milquetoast praise we’ve become accustomed to from Hunt.  In short, there is nothing unusual about him discussing this situation.

I could make light of a few of the quotes, but I’d be nitpicking.  There is no real foot-in-mouth here.  I do want to discuss one portion though:

“Scott has done an excellent job,” Hunt said. “His primary responsibility as general manager is to identify and sign talented football players. I think we’ve done that really the three different ways you can do that. We’ve identified good players to draft. We’ve filled some very important holes on the roster through free-agency. We’ve also re-signed our talented young football players.

“That’s one of the most exciting things about the Chiefs, and being a fan of the Chiefs, is that we have a whole lot of very talented young players who are going to be around for many years, and we can continue to build the team around them.”

Quotes addressed after le jump:

The Chiefs have an excellent core of talent, there is no disputing that.  Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Derrick Johnson are all Pro-Bowl caliber players, and they’re all under 30.  But Johnson will be 29 in a month, Hali will be 28 in a week, and even Bowe is in his upper 20s at 27.  Not old, certainly, but no longer young by NFL standards.

The first part of Hunt’s quote is a matter of opinion.  Has Scott Pioli done an excellent job?  The answer to that question is ever-evolving.  Sometimes it seems like yes, others no.  The truth is that, as much as we all may hate to admit it, it’s still too early to tell.  I scoff at the “personnel genius” rep, and I don’t like the secrecy, but I’m still of the opinion we could do far worse for a GM.  There’s a lot to like about the last two draft classes, in particular.

What worries me about Pioli’s and Hunt’s method is that I don’t think time is necessarily on their side.  At least not as much as they think it is.  I’m going to underscore what I mean here with another quote from Hunt, via the Red Zone Blog:

”The only guidance I give Scott is to manage the cap prudently,” Hunt said. ”He did a great job of that when he was with New England and that’s the same responsibility he has here. There will be years when he ends up spending less and there will be years when he spends more.

”He has a lot of leeway in free agency to go get football players who can help us. I think he’s done a very good job. Look at the last couple of years. He’s brought in a number of players who were able to become starters or play key roles for us.”

The fact that he’s mentioning cap prudence and referencing Pioli’s spending in New England confirms my suspicion that frugality was at least part of the reason he was brought here.  But really, it’s the second part of this one that interests me, because it gives us some insight into what the Chiefs’ goals are in free agency.  Hunt is pointing to these last two years as a success. Ryan Lilja and Steve Breaston are good players, and Kelly Gregg looks to still have some gas left in the tank, but by all accounts, our gains through free agency are consistently modest.  A few solid starters, along with at least one player per year who actively hurts the team*.

*2009- Corey Mays, Mike Goff, Mike Brown  2010- Thom Jones  2011- Sabby Piscitelli

The Chiefs’ strategy, as further clarified by Hunt’s quotes, assumes that A) They will draft well every year, and B) Their current core of talent will be around for many years.  If these assumptions are correct, Pioli will eventually put together a great team.

We’ve seen Pioli pick good players.  The draft is inherently a crapshoot, but thinking you can draft well isn’t a flaw in planning.  Every team thinks that.

As I stated above, the timing is my main concern.  Hunt and Pioli are clearly comfortable taking things slow.  They believe (or in Hunt’s case want us to believe) a methodical pace is critical to staying on the right course.  A piece here, a piece there, and eventually the puzzle will be complete.

But what if the pieces change?  They’re bound to, right?  What will our team look like when Jon Baldwin and Rodney Hudson come of age*?  Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali will be in their 30s.  Jamaal Charles, who the Chiefs apparently think is brittle, will have a torn ACL and two more years of wear-and-tear on his record.  Either Matt Cassel or Todd Haley could be gone, if things go South**.

*I’m using the oft-repeated (and oft-inaccurate) definition of “come of age” here. Third year.

**Let me head you guys off at the pass here: I’m not saying I want them to be gone, or offering odds either way.   I’m just saying it is conceivable, by this time in 2013, that one or both will have lost their job if the Chiefs don’t achieve a high level of success before then. 

Of course, other players will have gotten better, too.  I don’t mean to say things will be worse, just that they’ll be different.  Much different.  Meticulous long-term planning of the kind Pioli and Hunt are attempting may not be possible in the NFL.  Things change quickly, fortunes rise and fall in a season, and you can’t always count on linear development (or regression).  Anticipating the future is next to impossible.

Talent acquisition in the NFL is a zero-sum game.  There is finite amount of talent out there, and most teams are trying to grab as much of it as they can.  By setting modest goals and taking things slow, I worry the Chiefs may be limiting their own ceiling.  Careful and smart is better than aggressive and dumb.  But what about aggressive and smart?  That combination exists, right?  If so, can our approach really ever top it?  Can we ever become the best?

Heady fare, I realize.  These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night.  These, and fantasies of importing past Chiefs players onto the current team.  I sure would like seeing Mike Mazlowski where Jovan Belcher is.  Thats a reasonable daydream, right?  It’s not like I’m trying to bring back Derrick Thomas here.

At this point, I think we can safely say that we know Pioli’s and Hunt’s long-term plan.  You can definitely see the improvement since Pioli came to town.  Is that next step impossible, or inevitable?  What do you think, Addicts, are the Chiefs limiting their own ceiling, or will slow and steady eventually win this race?

Note: tmrw I’ll be talking best and worst Chiefs personnel moves of the decade.  Start mentally compiling your lists, people.  Tons of directions to go here. 

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Tags: Clark Hunt Scott Pioli

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