Dec 24, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli reacts during the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Raiders defeated the Chiefs 16-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Offseason Emotional Barometer

It’s pronounced “thermometer.”

-Cosmo Kramer

There is no such thing as an unimportant Chiefs offseason. Every year since Pioli got here, we’ve all talked about how key the current offseason is. And it’s always been true, right? This early in a GM’s career, every year represents such a large percent of his body of work. What are we talking about, when we talk about Pioli? 2009, 2010, 2011. Nothing that came before matters. Not really.

The problem is, those three offseasons don’t paint a clear picture yet. 2009 was god awful, we all know that. Some want to assign Pioli a mulligan, obviously I don’t, but regardless, it was bad.

2010 and 2011 brought interesting drafts and uninteresting free agency. Results we can live with. His gains through free agency have remained modest, as have his goals. You can’t hit a home run while laying down a sac bunt. Although, to be fair, you can move that runner over.

I’m not looking to evaluate the man in toto (unless you guys are into it?). Lord knows we spend enough time doing that. But it does seem like this offseason will be the one that tips the scales. Our team is at a crossroads right now. We definitely don’t stink any more, but neither are we good yet.  Public opinion of Scott Pioli and Clark Hunt is low, and they seem to know it. Another 2009 offseason, and they should rightfully fear a full-on fan mutiny. Even another 2010 or 2011 “build through the draft” offseason will likely be looked on as more of the same by their detractors (of whom there are now very many).

To silence their critics, and take that next step, Pioli and Hunt need to make some noise, and sign some players. Again, this is something they seem to realize. Hence the sudden, uncharacteristic gum-flapping about Manning, and free agency in general.

It doesn’t appear we were ever really a player in the Peyton Manning game. Obviously it isn’t over yet, but if he doesn’t so much as visit, we can safely deduce he had no interest in playing in KC. Personally, I think its a mistake for him to overlook us. But mistake or not, it will reflect poorly on the Chiefs, and Pioli in particular, if the best free agent in the game doesn’t consider us a worthy suitor.

Some have suggested that the Chiefs’ interest in Manning was a ruse of one kind or another. A nudge to Matt Cassel, a bone for the fan base, etc. I think there is probably some truth in this. As Sam Mellinger said, claiming interest in Manning was the easiest decision in the world for Clark Hunt. If he wants to play here, awesome! If not, hey, we just tried to sign Payton F%#king Manning, baby! This ain’t your grandma’s Chiefs!

That’s a cynical attitude, granted. I’m sure they would’ve been happy to sign Manning had he been interested. You’d have to be crazy not to. And I really don’t think money is going to be such a crippling disadvantage for us any more. Little Clarkie had a nice five-year run there spending less than everyone else, but the jig is up for those tactics. The league will soon mandate that we increase spending, and in the here-and-now, the Chiefs need to sell tickets despite a horrendous public image. This is one situation where I’m sure Clark would be happy to spend, and Pioli would be happy to sign.

Are they throwing the kitchen sink at Peyton? If not, bummer. If so, and he still doesn’t visit, it will make me wonder if our front office’s bad rep has extended outside of KC.

I never really expected us to land Manning, so I’m not gonna roast Pioli if/when we don’t. But I think now, before the storm, is a good time to discuss our expectations for our GM this offseason. What will make us happy? What will make us angry?

I wanted him to sign Bowe, Carr and Gilberry to long-term deals. He franchised Bowe,* and found a replacement for Carr. Not what I had in mind in either case, but acceptable in both circumstances. I’ve heard nothing whatsoever about Wally Gilby, which, while predictable, is still a cryin’ shame. Unless you guys like seeing Dorsey and Tin Man rush the passer, we need Gilberry. Allen Bailey can only be counted on for so much.

*I’ll confess, I was totally fixated on D-Bowe, and was ready to really freak out if we let him go. It was only after he was tagged that I started looking at draft prospects and potential free agents.

So far, Pioli has only re-signed one of my guys, and it was via franchise tag. That’s disappointing. So was Brian Daboll, although how much Pioli had to do with that is, I guess, up for debate. A complete whiff at Peyton would be disappointing too. We’re not off to a great start here.

We’ve normally kept our expectations for Pioli in March pretty low. But we’ve got all this cap room, they’ve made this uncharacteristic noise about free agency, and they seem to finally be acknowledging the”draft only” approach simply isn’t viable. Money, need, urgency. This all points to a full-court press of signing players other teams actually want. The only question is whether Pioli has it in him. When training camp rolls around, will we be talking about the players he signed or the players he tried to sign?

I have no doubt the draft will be fun. The last two were crazy-fun. But every team makes draft picks, and every fan base finds players to like. Bob Griffin and Andrew Luck are gone. If Pioli really wants to make a splash and show us he’s adjusting, free agency is his only chance to do it.

I’m excited. But if the smoke clears and we’re looking at more New England castoffs and locker-room leaders, that will draw a massive facepalm. This is really a pretty awesome test for Pioli, I think.  I’m looking forward to seeing if he’s up to the challenge.

Follow me on twitter. If you want. Whatever.

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Tags: Peyton Manning Scott Pioli

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