Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel find themselves in an uncommon predicament in Kansas City. The Chiefs have more depth than they’ve had in years, and it’s time to start pruning back the roster. While Pioli has more notable experience at this task due to his time in New England, RAC’s experience as HC in Cleveland was probably less “which player is better” and more “which player sucks less”.
Further, the CBA explicitly leaves it to each team to determine its own cutdown schedule, which for Pioli, at least, tasks him with determining what moves are best for the team that’ll play the regular season and what moves are best for the ledger. You see, while the Chiefs could hold, in theory, hold all players until the end of the preseason, making all cuts and practice squad assignments in one fell swoop, they also have to pay each player each week they remain on roster (plus housing, meals and other costs). For players that have not yet accrued one NFL season the rate is $850 per week. For the remaining players, who are considered veterans with at least one season under belt, the sum is $1,600 per week.
Being in a position not so concerned about the business aspect of the NFL, Crennel will obviously be interested in getting the best players for his team on the 53-man roster.
A few position groups look a little tighter than others and will warrant longer looks. The Chiefs’ RB/FB group, DL & OL look particularly tight. Their LB corps also looks tight outside of DJ, Hali, Houston & Belcher/Siler, but the talent dropoff is a little bit more noticeable for the remainders (which is bound to happen when compared to DJ, Hali and the emerging Houston). The WRs and DBs are overcrowded, but a few names are clearly improving and impressing over others so it might not be as tight as it looks on paper. QBs look pretty straightforward (Cassel, Quinn & Stanzi on roster and Tanney on the practice squad), as does TE (Boss, Moeaki & Maneri on roster for sure; maybe Biere or O’Connell if they decide to keep a fourth).
A couple important things to note is that, while it is a 53-man roster, the practice squad is allowed up to 8 players (9 if the team puts an international player on the squad as the 9th person, which doesn’t look to be pertinent to the Chiefs this year). So realistically, of the 90 men on roster, only 29 must be cut from the team completely. Also an interesting point to note is that, while any team can sign a player from another team’s practice squad, they may only do so in the interest of adding the player to the second team’s own 53-man roster; the CBA prohibits teams from taking a player off another team’s practice squad just to turn around and put the player on their own practice squad.
Following Preseason Week 1, here are a few observations and predictions concerning how Pioli & Co. may handle the cuts this season:
1. Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray both look like they could be solid contributors in the regular season. Putting one of these players on the practice squad could be synonymous with cutting them, as I think another team would be likely to clear a spot on their 53-man roster to take a chance on them. Inversely, I don’t see the Chiefs carrying more than 4 players in the backfield, which means they might have to do without a fulltime FB. Hillis can provide these services, if needed, and the team’s decision to crosstrain a few TEs in the role may make Shane Bannon expendable. Notice I said “expendable” rather than “relegated to the practice squad for another year”. The Steelers starting FB went down to an ACL tear during the Steelers preseason opener against the Eagles, and is likely to be out for the entire season.* The Steelers have a way of making good use of their FB on roster and may be looking to replace him for the season. Todd Haley might look no further than KC in recommending a replacement to HC Mike Tomlin, and Haley’s eyes may be on the waiver wire or KC’s practice squad (as the case may be). Now the Steelers have shown a tendency to prefer FBs that are more in the FB/TE hybrid vein, so maybe this circumstance won’t arise, but it bears keeping an eye on.
* Been there, right? Hey, maybe the injury bug followed Haley to Pittsburgh. Wouldn’t that be nice?
2. In limited punting opportunities, K/P Matt Szymanski put up numbers comparable to Colquitt’s. Additionally, Szymanski did consistently great during his opportunities on placekicking duties. While it’s likely that Colquitt will remain the Chiefs’ punter this season, and that the Chiefs won’t carry more than one kicker and one punter on the 53-man roster (other position groups are too crowded and the additional spot could be better used elsewhere), more importance has been placed on STs this year, and the future prospect of only needing to use one roster slot for a K and P is enticing (and we all know Pioli loves versatility). I expect Szymanski to get a practice squad slot and to receive a lot of focus on punting this season. If it looks like he could suitably replace Colquitt, Pioli may just let Dustin’s contract expire at the end of the season and move forward with the player that may potentially develop into a suitable K as well a few years down the line.
3. The DL looks thicker. Just a few months ago a lot of fans were taking it for granted that players like Powe and Amon Gordon would make the roster, myself included; now, I’m not too sure. Toribio has progressed more than any of us probably anticipated and will likely remain in the Top 2 in the depth chart at NT. Gordon does have an edge on Powe, as he can handle either DE or NT duties, but even there depth at DE looks just as thick and may not accommodate Gordon. Besides Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, the Chiefs have Allen Bailey who looks to provide the team with a better pass rush from the DL, the solidly built veteran Ropati Pitoitua, and Brandon Bair has started to make a little bit of noise on the field. Eight players for the DL seems like a little much, especially if Poe can prove his stamina before the preseason is over and be a three-down player. Powe may have a shot of making the roster, if RAC determines that Dontari can provide DE services consistently enough to go with the anticipated NT services (thereby rendering Gordon as aged and obsolete a’la Kelly Gregg). But as of right now, I expect 7 men to carry over to the 53-man roster with the last spot going to either Bair or Gordon.
4. My fourth and final prediction following Week 1 concerns the WR situation. I can reasonably see 7 WRs making it to the 53-man roster. Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston, McCluster & Wylie are almost sure to be locks with the remaining WRs duking it out for the last two slots. I think Terrence Copper’s proven effectiveness on special teams and his veteran presence might give him an edge for the sixth slot. The real battle will be over the final slot, and I think the top contenders will be Josh Bellamy, Zeke Markhausen and Junior Hemingway. Markhausen has more experience (though ever so slightly) over the other two, Bellamy has been turning heads in practice (though his play was a little lackluster against the Cards), and Pioli and the KC scouts obviously saw something they liked in Hemingway (though injuries have plagued his training thus far). Hemingway’s injuries haven’t just deterred the Chiefs from getting a good read on him, but the other NFL teams likely won’t risk a roster slot on him, plus his upside looks better than Markhausen, so Junior might be a prime candidate for the practice squad. This leaves Bellamy and Markhausen vying for the last slot. Zeke having enough experience to be a little more used to the speed of the game at the NFL level is reassuring; however, Bellamy has created buzz and may not stay around long if relegated to the practice squad. Additionally, Bellamy has a certain kind of experience that no other KC WR has: Bellamy played double duty, as needed, in college as both a WR and a CB. While ultimately going undrafted and getting signed by the Chiefs as a WR, Bellamy may have future stock in being crosstrained for defense. But for the here and now, Bellamy could earn a roster spot for his ST ability as his time playing D in college likely means that his tackling technique is noticeably more refined than his competitions’ at WR in KC. I expect Bellamy to continue to work hard in practice and to earn a spot on this year’s roster.
So there’s my take following Preseason Week 1. What’s your take, Addicts? Sound off…