December 12, 2011; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli speaks during the press conference where Romeo Crennel (not pictured) was named as interim head coach at the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

The Chiefs Quarterback: Lack Of Opportunity Or Total Pioli Failure?

I’d like to start this piece by making two statements. First, I believe Scott Pioli deserves to be fired. Second, I don’t believe Scott Pioli will be fired this season. Without going into a big debate about why I believe these two things, I’ll just say this: Pioli should be fired because the overall product he has put on the field four years into his tenure as GM of the Kansas City Chiefs is not good enough. However, I think because of his relationship with Clark Hunt and how much money he saved Clark over the past four years, he will be given a chance to finish out his contract and will go into the 2013 season as the Chiefs GM once again. I’m not happy about this, but if I had to guess, that’s my prediction. If I’m wrong, and Pioli is fired before the season is over, I will be a\one happy fan/blogger.

But that is not what I want to debate today.

IF I am correct that Pioli will be back for another season as the KC general manager, how worried should Chiefs fans be about Pioli calling the shots this offseason? The absolute #1 objective for this offseason is to find a franchise QB, so what should KC fans think about Pioli being the guy to make that decision?

Obviously, since 99 percent of us want the guy run out of town, the answer is probably that we want Pioli to have no part of that decision. I agree, I do. However, let’s set aside the Pioli torches and pitchforks and the “every decision that Pioli has ever made SUCKS!!” mentality and see if, when it comes to drafting QBs, Pioli has earned that reputation.

Now, again let me say that I’m not trying to be a Pioli apologist. The Chiefs QB situation is indefensible. I think it’s impossible to argue that Pioli has done enough at that position during his time in KC. Would it have helped if he had brought in some better QBs via free agency? Sure, but I don’t think that’s what most of us that want Pioli gone are really wanting. We don’t want another FA stop gap, we want the Chiefs to draft and develop their own franchise QB. So I’m not going to waste any time looking at what free agents Pioli could have brought in to challenge Matt Cassel. I will focus on the Draft.

During the four seasons that Pioli has been drafting for the Kansas City Chiefs, 14 current starting QBs have been selected in the Draft. That’s about 44 percent of teams in the NFL that have found a starting QB via the Draft since Pioli came to KC. When you hear that number by itself, it seems ridiculous that Pioli couldn’t have selected one of those players or the Chiefs. However, in his interview with sports radio 810 last week, Pioli implied that the Chiefs haven’t been in great position to draft a first round QB. Does he have a point? It sure seems like the Chiefs have had enough early first-round picks to make it happen. However, when I went back and looked, nine of those 14 current starting QBs that have been selected since Pioli came to KC were taken before KC had their first pick. Those players are:

2009: Matthew Stafford
2010: Sam Bradford
2011: Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder
2012: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill

Now, I think it’s reasonable to take Stafford, Bradford, Newton, Luck, and RG3 off the table and say that KC had little to no shot at landing any of those QBs regardless of what Pioli may have wanted. The only one of those that would have even been up for discussion was the RG3 pick and with Washington forking over three #1 picks and a second to move up just a couple spots, it’s hard to imagine what KC would have had to give up to beat them out while moving up nine spots. So the question is, should Pioli have moved up to take Locker, Gabbert, Ponder, or Tannehill?

Looking at the situation in 2011, KC was coming off a 10-6 division championship where Cassel made the Pro Bowl with 27 TDs and only 7 INTs. Yes, he was horrible against the Ravens in the playoffs and many fans had their doubts about him long term, but with their other holes, was anyone clamoring for Pioli to move up and take Locker, Gabbert, or Ponder? If so, I don’t remember that.

In hindsight, would KC have been better off if they had? Sure, but I don’t know that Pioli should be ripped for not moving up to take one of those guys considering where they were at, what they would have had to give up, and what kind of season the team and Matt Cassel were coming off. So that leaves us with Ryan Tannehill. The overwhelming majority of KC fans seemed nervous about the Chiefs taking Tannehill at #11 if he was still there. Tannehill was a prospect that scouts said had NFL “tools” but didn’t win a lot of games or put up huge numbers while at Texas A&M.

The Chiefs did have Tannehill in for a private workout, so Pioli did at least look into it. Tannehill has looked like a good pick thus far, so it appears that the Chiefs may have been well-served to move up and get him. Maybe they looked into it, maybe not. Who knows what the Dolphins (or one of the teams in front of them) would have been asking for. I think there is more room to criticize Pioli on this one than the 2011 draft, but if not trading multiple picks to move up for Ryan Tannehill is Pioli’s biggest mistake in terms of moving UP for a QB, I don’t know if that is all that bad.

So now let’s look at the QBs that KC could have drafted since Pioli took over as GM. Here is a list of Pioli picks over the past four years and the QBs that they could have had with those picks in the first three rounds. The QBs in BOLD are current NFL starters.

2009:
#3 – Tyson Jackson – Mark Sanchez (#5), Josh Freeman (#17)
#34 – (Traded for Cassel) – Pat White (#44)
#67 – Alex Magee – Stephen McGee (#101)

2010:
#5 – Eric Berry – Tim Tebow (#25)
#36 – Dexter McCluster – Jimmy Clausen (#48)
#68 – Jon Asamoah – Colt McCoy (#85)

2011:
#21/26 – Jonathon Baldwin – Andy Dalton (#35), Colin Kaepernick (#36)
#70 – Justin Houston – Ryan Mallet (#74)

2012:
#11 – Dontari Poe – Brandon Weeden (#22)
#44 – Jeff Allen – Brock Osweiler (#57)
#74 – Donald Stephenson – Russell Wilson (#75), Nick Foles (#88), Kirk Cousins (#102)

So let’s look at these one year at a time. In Pioli’s first year in KC he traded our second round pick for Matt Cassel (and Mike Vrabel) who was coming off a pretty solid season filling in for Tom Brady. In hindsight, would Josh Freeman have been a better pick than Tyson Jackson? Yes, but Freeman was seen as a bit of a risk at #17 that season, let alone at #3. The only QB even considered in the top 10 after Stafford was Sanchez and he has struggled as much as Cassel has. I don’t think Pioli deserves a bad rap for not drafting our QB in his first year here. You can criticize him for signing Cassel to his long term deal, but I think the draft (QB wise) was justifiable.

Next up is the 2010 draft. Does anybody want Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, or Colt McCoy to be the future of the QB position in KC? I don’t, so I don’t think we can hold it against Pioli for not drafting our franchise QB in the 2010 draft.

The 2011 draft is interesting to debate. In hindsight, Andy Dalton looks like he would have been a MUCH better pick for the Chiefs than Jon Baldwin. I don’t think anybody can argue that KC is better off for having Baldwin over Dalton. However, as I mentioned before, the Chiefs were coming off a division win and Cassel going to the Pro Bowl. Plus, the WR position was so bad that the Chiefs started Kevin Curtis who they had just signed off the street at WR in the playoffs. As much as we as fans can now look back at this draft pick and go “What was he thinking?” it’s hard to argue that Pioli was wrong to take a WR given the previous season. You can make an argument for Dalton, but much like the Tannehill discussion above, I’m not sure that it shows Pioli to be incompetent when it comes to drafting QBs because of this choice. Kaepernick and Mallet may prove to be great QBs, but its hard to judge that until they start multiple regular season games in the NFL. I’m pretty happy with the Justin Houston pick anyway.

That leaves us with the 2012 draft. This one (in my opinion) contains Pioli’s biggest mistake. I’m not upset that the Chiefs didn’t take Weeden. His age made taking him at #11 too big of a risk (in my opinion). I’m still not sold on him as a long-term franchise QB. He may end up being a solid starting QB, but I’m not upset that Pioli didn’t reach for him at #11 (or trade back, etc). Osweiler is still an unknown. He’s supposedly very raw and I don’t think any scouts thought he was ready to walk in and start as a rookie. So again, I’m not upset that we didn’t take him in the second round.

However, the third-round selection of backup tackle Donald Stephenson instead of either Russell Wilson, Nick Foles or Kirk Cousins looks like a huge mistake by Pioli. Foles and Cousins are both unknowns both showed some real upside in training camp and preseason action.

Russell Wilson has walked in as a 5’11″ rookie and already looks better than Matt Cassel in his fifth season as a NFL starter. Pioli could have picked Wilson in the third, signed another OT in free agency, and been MUCH better off than the team is now. Plus, drafting Wilson in the third would have allowed Cassel to still enter camp as the starter, there wouldn’t have been expectations to play a third-rounder right out of the gate, plus if Wilson never materialized, no big deal, it was just a third-rounder. It was a no-lose situation and Pioli blew it. I think if you look at his KC draft history, that was his biggest miss when it comes to drafting QBs.

So if I’m ranking Pioli’s biggest QB draft mistakes in KC, I would go:

1. Not drafting a QB in the third round this year instead of a backup OT.

2. Not trading up for Ryan Tannehill.

3. Not being able to admit that Cassel’s Pro Bowl was probably a fluke and drafting Andy Dalton instead of filling the hole at WR with Jon Baldwin.

Other than that, I don’t know that you can complain about much else in terms of Pioli and drafting QBs. I suppose you could add passing on Brandon Weeden, not reaching for Josh Freeman, or not trading every draft pick for the rest of time for RG3, but that seems like reaching for the sake of bashing someone we all want gone. Are those three mistakes listed above enough to make you objectively say that Pioli could not draft a franchise QB? It’s not like he has let Pro Bowler after Pro Bowler slip through his fingers. On the other hand, if he’s so good at evaluating talent, why didn’t he recognize sooner that Cassel wasn’t good enough? I think that is actually the biggest strike against him, as opposed to anything specific he has done or not done in the draft when it comes to QBs.

There will be no doubt about it this time around. The Chiefs will go into the 2013 offseason needing to find their new QB. Even if Scott Pioli is still around, he won’t be able to put it off anymore. There will be no sticking with Matt Cassel this time. So if the Chiefs stay on their current course and end up with a top 5 pick, Scott Pioli will be in uncharted waters. He’ll be in the market for a new QB while sitting in position to draft one of the elite prospects. If that happens, does his track record leave you with no confidence for him to choose correctly? Has the overall failure of Pioli to build a consistent winner unfairly branded him as unable to find a good QB in the draft or is that reputation deserved?

For once, I’m not sure what I think.

I still think Pioli should be fired.

I still think Hunt will probably keep him around for at least one more year.

I’m just not sure what Pioli will do with a high draft pick and QB at the top of his wish list. As much as I don’t want Pioli to be around to answer this question, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t feel as bad about Pioli’s track record of drafting QBs now that I’ve looked at the actual picks and the situation he was in at the time. I’m not excusing the state of this franchise overall, it’s pitiful. I’m sure some will choose to label me a Pioli apologist just for suggesting this is up for discussion. I’m just trying to be objective. I’d love to hear what you all think about this in the comments. Has Pioli proven he can’t find a QB in the Draft or has he simply not been in a good position to land one? Sound off, Addicts!

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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