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The Chiefs: Winning The Offseason

1 Feature From The Bleachers

The offseason is a favorite time of year for me: the planning, the market moves, the wheeling and dealing, the releasing, letting players go and signing new players plus, the nfl rumor mill out grinds Kim Kardashian on a sultry summer Saturday night.

For me, an appealing aspect of the offseason is the extra time that can be spent digging into the background and history of the team’s general manager and head coach. To some extent I assume that where a GM or head coach has come from… is in part where this franchise is headed. Since new Chiefs GM John Dorsey was named Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writer’s Association, this process of understanding who he is seems mandatory. We know what he did last year and how far he brought the Chiefs. However, since he came from Green Bay, it might be a good idea to track some of his beliefs and habits which can tell the whys behind the hows.

I was reading an article this week by Michael David Smith for ProFootballTalk about the Packers General Manager Ted Thompson called, “Packers Prefer Compensatory Picks Over Unrestricted Free Agents” and in the article it states that Ted,

“Thompson believes in building through the draft, not free agency….”

Sound familiar? While we’ve heard the same mantra from John Dorsey, this piece goes on to say that,

“…and that includes acquiring more draft picks by declining to sign unrestricted free agents.”

That may sound like a strange thing to say at first but, if you consider that every team is going to lose some free agents, if you choose not to sign your own or any from another team, then you’re going to be awarded compensatory picks.

A piece by greenbaypressgazette.com indicates that the Packers are the lone remaining team to not sign an unrestricted free agent this offseason (as of April 2nd). Their signing of Julius Peppers came only after Peppers was released by the Bears which technically keeps him from being a free agent.

Wow. If that was the Chiefs, we’d be thinking about tar-n-feathers. However, PPT’s post reveals that the whole idea is to create more draft picks.

And yet there’s more to be inferred, not only is it the purpose of Ted Thompson (Dorsey’s mentor) to build the team by concentrating on the draft but by,

1) not signing unrestricted free agents and,

2) allowing their own older players whose contracts have expired and who won’t sign for a a team friendly price… to walk away with the purpose of receiving compensatory picks.

Last offseason the Packer lost Greg Jennings and Erik Walden so, this coming draft they’ve been awarded a 3rd round compensatory pick and a 5th round compensatory pick. Consequently, their draft now includes 9 picks in what Mike Mayock is calling the deepest draft in 10-15 years. The Packers draft will look like this:

Round 1, #21 overall

Round 2, #53

Round 3, #85

Round 3, #98 (compensatory selection)

Round 4, #121

Round 5, #161

Round 5, #176 (compensatory selection)

Round 6, #197

Round 7, #236

Correspondingly, it’s now much easier to predict that the Packers will be in contention for the next 5 years to come… largely built on the back of this philosophy… and the good fortune of landing nine picks in the best draft since Clinton was in the White House.

While compensatory picks are not tradeable, the other pick a team might have in the 3rd or the 5th rounds is up to shop, swap and barter. That gives a team with extra picks… an extra level of pliability… when it comes to trading out and or moving up and down the draft board as needed. Traditionally, teams with extra picks have been able to get exactly the players they want in the spot they want them.

In recent years, and especially before the new CBA the New England Patriots were excellent at getting this done, accumulating picks that allow them to freely move up and down the draft board on draft day to… get their man.

The more we’re immersed in the second Chiefs offseason, the more “The Plan” becomes revealed. Here are some other observations:

1) No one is safe. Every position is open to competition (except perhaps the QB).

2) The function of having a true depth chart with players ready to go when the first teamer goes down is that it allows the team to take the best player on their board and that player will increasingly be selected (at least that’s their ideal).

3) The first half of the draft is meant to target players who can start immediately, if needed, if they can break into the starting line-up.

4) Later round players (as with all players) are viewed as developmental. IOW… everyone must progress and in the case of lower round players (or undrafted players and players picked up on waivers) they must have some upside that can be developed.

While I’m certain Reid & Dorsey (R&D) are disappointed in the outcomes, for the most part, with last years draft, the curtain has no where near closed on that class. Sixth round FB Braden Wilson was a wasted pick. Seventh rounder DL Mike Catapano was one of the few positive surprises but played very little. Back up Center and 6th round pick Eric Kush rode the bench all year (except the San Diego game). 5th round pick Sanders Commings was out and injured virtually all year as was the case for 3rd round TE Travis Kelce. 4th round pick ILB Nico Johnson couldn’t beat out Akeem Jordan (who the Chiefs chose not to bring back) and break into the starting lineup at all (except in the San Diego game). Compensatory 3rd round pick RB Knile Davis showed promise as the year progressed and had good performances in both the San Diego and Indianapolis (playoff) games. 1st round pick OT Eric Fisher showed progress throughout the year and is being asked to jump from right to left tackle this coming year.

Reid and Dorsey’s belief in, “players who can be developed” can’t be emphasized enough. Think about who these players are, from two points of view:

1) They are the “next man up” once they’ve developed, and

2) Lesser expensive players on the roster with upside.

So, what does “upside” mean? Many may have the tendency to think of “upside” as physical growth potential. While that’s a big part of it, youth, fewer years of experience at a position and lack of coaching previously play the biggest part in determining a prospects capacity to improve.

Chiefs fans should feel bolstered in the knowledge that both Andy Reid and John Dorsey not only run a program based upon this “capacity to improve” but have a history of such. Think back to the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl XLV victory and remember how many players who helped them win that championship were back-ups. The Packers had a load of starters go down that year. You may also be aware of Andy Reid’s reputation as a QB-whisperer. Apparently he knows how to get the most out of his QBs.

Give recognition to the Chiefs brass for sticking with their plan. If the Chiefs had stretched themselves too thin by trying and sign DeSean Jackson, they would have had to go off-script to do it. Yes, the Chiefs have needs at wide receiver but it’s not only not necessary to put themselves in a bind financially for Jackson but that would have not been behavior in line with the grand design that Ted Thompson taught Dorsey while he was in Green Bay.

For proof of this approach in progress read Stacy D. Smith’s on point piece called, “2014: The Year Of The Young, Developing Chiefs.

One aspect of this approach that most fans may be missing is that when a franchise like the Packers takes this approach… while other teams are loading up their rosters with fat cow free agents and also using a deep, deep draft to draft new players who will ultimately displace players who are currently on their rosters… it’s going to cause their rosters to burst at the seams and for the levy to overflow sometime in August.  Then, the teams who haven’t used up all their cap space will have another opportunity to sign waived players for a fraction of what they would have in the first few weeks of free agency.

This time of year is high tide for fan emotions and free agent spending. Feelings always run so high in the first month of free agency and fans especially equate signing players, at this time of the year, with winning the whole offseason, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Considering what the Chiefs did in free agency last year… and the lesser interested approach they have had this off season… plus the clear statements both John Dorsey and Andy Reid made at the beginning of this offseason about not being involved in free agency… it looks like they’re gearing up for year three already, when the Chiefs team building philosophy will be a closer mirror to that of the Packers approach.

I think Chiefs fans need to get ready for that. Ready for stillness. Ready to sit in the eye of the free agency storm that will be happening all around them while John Dorsey sits and meditates peacefully.

Michael David Smith of PFT said,

“Building through the draft and declining to overspend in free agency would be a smart strategy even if the NFL didn’t have a compensatory pick system to reward frugal teams. But when compensatory picks are added to the equation, it’s easy to see why Thompson declines to go after free agents.”

Now that John Dorsey is out from underneath Ted Thompson’s wing, I get the sense that John’s plan includes signing a free agent now and then… one’s that can instantly help the team… without breaking the bank.

Ultimately, what is means to win in the offseason is being redefined in Kansas City. The fact that the Chiefs are in a transition year means, they are winning this offseason too.

~ ~ ~

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a mock draft addict. So, as an extra feature here today, I’ve included my most recent mock filling many needs while also sticking to the philosophy of taking the best player available.

1 Winning the off season mock

Ever since I started watching DT Aaron Donald play I’ve thought he was special. I can see the Chiefs subbing him for Mike DeVito on passing downs and keeping both Dontari Poe and Vance Walker on the field. The pressure these three could create along with Houston and Hali would be immense. If Donald is there at #23 like he has been frequently in these mocks I perform daily, I’m hoping the Chiefs make him their man.

Ed Reynolds could be the man that everyone forget about the 2013 would that was Kendrick Lewis. Smart and rangey he should make his Safety mate better. Imagine that.

I like E.J. Gaines ability to read the QBs eyes and come off his man when necessary to make a tackle. He can play off his man or skin tight coverage but often gives up too much space at the line of scrimmage. However, his well rounded skill make him at #124… and the Chiefs get better with him on the roster.

I written about RB/KR De’Anthony Thomas, known as the Black Mamba, before and his incredible speed and quickness make him the perfect replacement for Dexter McCluster not only in the slot and a change of pace back but as a return man on punts. Chiefs fans would fall in love with watching this man play each week.

WR Cody Latimer could be the surprise of this whole draft. At 6-3 and 215, Latimer has the hands that fans always wished Jon Baldwin had. Latime knows how to find the seams and is also great at creating yards after the catch. He could be the poor mans Donte Moncrief… and if you haven’t heard yet, I think Moncrief should be a first rounder. But… that’s just how deep this draft is at WR.

G Trai Turner is the rugged kind of interior presence Andy Reid loves to mold. Having only finished his sophomore year, Turner has a lot of room to grow, which is exactly the kind of player Dorsey and Reid cherish. Groom and bloom.

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