Merlin’s Magic: Lilja Versus Brown Edition


Nostalgia is the idealized yearning for the past. It affects all of us to a degree. We tend to remember when we were right and tend to forget about when we were wrong, unless we were disastrously wrong.

I have been thinking about that when the comparison of Colin Brown and Ryan Lilja occurred to me. Every year, teams

try to place players that they feel have some potential on the practice squad. Occasionally, another team will swoop in and claim that player. Almost all of the time, the player never develops into a contributor and fans forget about it.

However, there are those examples of players that went on to be contributors (Wallace Gilberry), solid players (Ryan Lilja) or even Pro Bowlers (Brian Waters). It’s easy to remember the good players we got, or the ones that got away. For example, the September first, 2008 Chiefs practice squad consisted of S Dowayne Davis, LB Aden Durde, WR Marques Hagans, G Edwin Harrison, DT Derek Lokey, WR Kevin McMahan and DE Jason Parker. Lokey is the only one that registers at all. The fact is that if a certain player shows a lot of promise, teams keep them on the roster.

The case of Ryan Lilja is one I want to discuss. Current conventional wisdom is that the Chiefs made a mistake cutting Lilja with the idea of putting him on the practice squad. When you cut a player that goes on to have a decent career elsewhere, of course it was a mistake. However, to hear some rabid Chiefs fans, this was in the category of “I can’t believe you did this. It was so obvious that he should have been kept”. Pulling out a quote or two from Brian Waters reinforces the point. Is that a fair evaluation? Or are fans engaging in some Fox News style revision of history?

This brings me to Colin Brown. To refresh, Colin was drafted in 2009 as a Guard/Tackle and quickly stashed on IR for the year. What did we see from him in 2009? Nothing at all. However, that didn’t stop some fans from insisting that not only will he make the roster for 2010, but he would start. What was that assessment based on? His performance? No, there wasn’t any performance to base that on. My best thought is that it was based on two factors. 1] a yearning for success and 2] extreme faith in Pioli. Both thoughts are understandable, but misguided. It’s important to understand that even the best of talent evaluators make mistakes. It’s the overall trend and performance that is important.

As fans, we all have our reactions to personnel moves. One I remember was Steve Stenstrom. Steve was a QB from Stanford. In the 1995 draft, we spent a 4th round pick on him. I thought we got a steal. He showed some promise in training camp. The Chiefs were pretty set with Steve Bono starting and Rich Gannon in reserve. So, the Chiefs decided to try to stash Stenstrom on the practice squad. The move failed as the Bears snagged him. I felt strongly that we had made a mistake and would pay for it. Stenstrom did go on to play four years in the NFL, starting ten games in his career. However, he never did develop into the player I thought he could be. I still think we made a mistake, but we never paid for that mistake.

All NFL teams make moves that in hindsight look bad. Would Dallas like Brian Waters and/or Tony Richardson back? Would the Giants like Wallace Gilberry back? Just keep in mind some facts. For every Wallace Gilberry there are 50 Colin Browns. For every Waters, there are 500 Browns. Yes, we lost Lilja and we will lose another Lilja someday. But the Chiefs have a pretty good track record mining other teams practice squads for talent.