For starters, I’m no Chicken Little.
The reactionary title is a response to the dark cloud currently hovering above the Kansas City Chiefs’ fan base. I think a large swath of Chiefs fans are disappointed with the first seven days of the new league year. Last week was a rough one for the Kingdom. Free agency began last Tuesday and all was quiet at One Arrowhead Drive. News poured in from all around the NFL about players defecting. There were almost immediate announcements of monster contract signings, but the football team nestled in America’s heartland seemed to be unaware that such an important part of the NFL offseason was underway.
In the first 90 minutes of free agency, Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, Dexter McCluster, Jon Asamoah, and Tyson Jackson all bid the City of Fountains adieu. I’m sure that was hardly the way most fans envisioned the official start to the Chiefs’ offseason campaign. The backlash was swift and nearly instantaneous. This couldn’t be the way to follow up an 11-5 season that ended in an epic postseason collapse, could it? What on earth was the front office thinking? How could allowing three starters to hit the open market be the answer?
Players were promptly exiting stage left. If that weren’t enough, there were no new players bound for Kansas City. The Twittersphere moaned, NFL analysts criticized, and fans questioned their allegiance to the franchise. Husain Abdullah and Frank Zombo re-signed with the team, but those transactions were mostly overlooked. They’re roleplayers after all. The tandem pales in comparison to the acquisitions made by the Denver Broncos (T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib).
Later came the signings of former Houston Texans ILB Joe Mays and Jeff Linkenbach (a versatile offensive lineman who most recently played for the Indianapolis Colts). Unfortunately, neither of those moves inspired much confidence either. The only available narrative was how these players weren’t going to help the Chiefs compete with Denver in the AFC West. The Broncos were winning the arms race in the division, in the conference, and perhaps in the NFL.
Just 72 hours in, hope was dwindling among the Chiefs’ constituency. Sure, there were glimmers of hope. Kansas City signed former Oakland Raider Vance Walker as a candidate to replace departed defensive end Tyson Jackson. He’s hardly a household name, but he is a player who’s been positively rated by Pro Football Focus in the recent past. He’s more adept at providing the pass rush the Chiefs so desperately need from the defensive line than Jackson was. Still, he wasn’t quite as comforting as some fans were hoping for.
The real excitement didn’t descend upon the Kingdom until Friday morning. The day prior, it was announced that free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was headed to town for a visit with the team. Fans finally had someone they could sink their teeth into. If you recall, Sanders was on the short list of players I thought could help improve Kansas City’s roster. Hope was momentarily restored to the Chiefs’ faithful. When negotiations stretched into the next day, it appeared the Chiefs were on the verge of signing Sanders. That was until, in a bizarre turn of events, one of the team’s most hated rivals swooped in and snatched him away (after Sanders had agreed in principle with the Chiefs). I’ll spare you a rant about the ethics of such a seedy transaction. Karma will repay the Denver Broncos, Emmanuel Sanders, and Steve Weinberg.
Suddenly, all faith in the front office had vanished. Optimism was vanquished with the loss of Emmanuel Sanders. He’s a quality football player, but not the kind of singular acquisition that would help get Kansas City over the hump. This loss was more symbolic. The situation served as a microcosm for being mired in mediocrity for the past two decades. The ne’er-do-well Chiefs had again left their adoring fans with little to believe in. At least, such is the case for some.
That is unless you’re willing to suffer the administration the opportunity to build the team their own way. Far be it from me to tell anyone how to be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs. Fans can be loyal and critical of an organization. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. The Chiefs aren’t above reproach. Nor should they be. They’re beholden to a fan base that has mostly stuck by them despite a 20-year playoff drought.
Be that as it may, I think they’ve been consistent to their stated philosophies on how to build a winning culture. Free agency is a necessary part of the equation, but both Andy Reid and John Dorsey have said they’re looking to establish a contender through the NFL Draft. As discomforting as that might seem, Dorsey’s playing the long game. Kansas City’s core talent, acquired over the past two regimes, has almost exclusively come from the draft. That truth alone, should offer solace to fans who are disappointed with the way free agency’s unfolded to this point. Dorsey didn’t acquire those players, but he’s a long-time scout with a keen eye for evaluating NFL talent. That’s proof that it can happen in May.
Denver has had an impressive free agency haul, but that team is dealing with a very different set of circumstances. The Broncos had $28 million in available cap space. They also have a soon-to-be 38-year old quarterback. The window in the Mile High City is closing. John Elway’s looking to cash in before Peyton Manning retires. It makes perfect sense for them to go all in. Their handling of free agency says little about how Kansas City’s front office is executing its offseason plan. The Chiefs were never in position to have that kind of spending spree.
The good news is, there are a number of quality players still on the open market. Players like Chris Clemons, Lance Moore, Devin Hester, Jason Avant, Kenny Britt, and Rafael Bush are all still ripe for the picking. With each passing day, their contract expectations will fall. For all intents and purposes, the first wave of free agency is over. The likelihood of them being overpaid at this stage is slim. Bargain shopping in March isn’t sexy, but it’s largely how Dorsey’s already acquired some of the team’s best new talent.
Chiefs brass needs time to work their plan. There are a few reasons to be optimistic about players like Joe Mays, Vance Walker, and Husain Abdullah. For my money, the three of them all provide significant upgrades at their respective positions. Additionally, none of their contracts will impose any real restrictions on the Chiefs’ cap situation moving forward. There’s currently room enough for the team to make a few more inexpensive signings to help bolster the roster. Barring any restructures or contract extensions, it’s reasonable to think Kansas City could still snare a pair of impact players for 2014 and get all of their draftees signed with the cap space they have available.
Whatever side of the fence you currently stand on, I would encourage you to be patient. The Dorsey-Reid administration is just two months removed from the end of its first full season. This may not be the best time to evaluate the direction of the organization or even of the offseason campaign. The lead up to training camp may provide a better vantage point for assessing what the Chiefs have done to prepare for year two.
What say you, Addicts? Have the Chiefs fallen so far behind their AFC West foes that they’re incapable of contending for the division next season? Are the Chiefs in the early stages of yet another rebuild? Have they squandered their first real chance at improving this roster or is there time still to redeem the offseason? Use the comment section below to weigh in. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.
Until next time, Addicts!