Like every other team in the NFL, the Kansas City Chiefs are just about finished building their 2012 roster. This year's draft is in the books and most of the top free agents have already put pen to paper for one team or another.
After this year's acquisitions, Kansas City fans should feel good about the players who should take the field this year. Playmakers like Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry return from injury, free agent Eric Winston seals the gaping hole on the right side of the line and Dontari Poe could be their most talented interior lineman since Dan Saleaumua.
So what's going to hold the Chiefs back this season? Most of the fingers point at the quarterback position, where Matt Cassel should start his fourth consecutive season under center in Kansas City.
Whether it was part of the early "Suck for Luck" campaign, the rebuffed flirtation with Peyton Manning or any number of other draft-pick/free-agent scenarios, fans and front office personnel alike looked for an upgrade over the former USC and New England bench warmer.
But Kansas City's quarterback situation solidified long before the NFL draft kicked off. In fact, once Manning decided not to make Arrowhead Stadium his new home, Cassel's job became all but guaranteed for 2012.
While probably not the popular choice, there's plenty of logic behind staying the course at quarterback this year. To prove it, here's seven reasons for keeping No. 7 as the Chiefs' starter in 2012.
Kansas City spent plenty of money and a second-round pick to make Cassel their starter in 2009.
Coming off a solid year in New England, Cassel looked ready to take the next step in his career. He came with intimate playbook knowledge and was a known commodity for Scott Pioli, who didn't have much time to bring in his own scouting department and evaluate the up-and-coming college quarterbacks.
Cassel underwhelmed in 2009 but came on strong the following year. Complemented with the league's top rushing offense, Cassel paired with Dwayne Bowe for 15 touchdowns while partnering with Tony Moeaki to make fans forget another tight end of the same first name. The passing game didn't really come on until midway through the season, but it earned both Bowe and Cassel Pro Bowl appearances.
Then came 2011. Cassel threw two more interceptions in nine games than he did in 15 the previous year. He only produced 10 touchdowns, fumbled five times and averaged more than two sacks per game.
The Chiefs need to know if Cassel is the player who helped secure a 2010 AFC West title, or the one who couldn't score a touchdown in a third of his games in 2011.
The Chiefs just spent a fair amount of money keeping Dwayne Bowe on the roster. The franchise tag didn't just cost $9 million in hard currency; it also lost them a key defender in Brandon Carr.
Sure, the Chiefs should get a high compensatory pick in exchange next year, but that doesn't necessarily replace Carr's production.
So, is Bowe worth all that? His stats show a good but not great player. Bowe regularly breaks the 1,000-receiving-yards mark, but he has yet to demonstrate consistency in his catches or take that next step from solid performer to top-flight wideout.
The 2012 season is a final exam for Bowe as much as it is for Cassel. The Chiefs need to evaluate if Bowe is worth more as a long-term investment or as a third-round compensatory pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
That decision shouldn't be made based on a new signal-caller. Bowe will command Vincent Jackson money (Jackson signed for five years, $55.5 million) on the open market, so the Chiefs need to give Bowe every opportunity this year to prove he deserves that in Kansas City.
Like it or not, that means giving Bowe a familiar, veteran quarterback to get the ball to him. A new player not named Peyton Manning just won't cut it.
The Chiefs missed out on Peyton Manning almost before they had a shot at him, and to be honest that worked out best for them.
While the prospect of Manning in a red uniform sparked memories of Joe Montana's last hurrah, bringing in a 36-year-old quarterback with a fused upper spine doesn't necessarily give a warm fuzzy feeling.
But Manning was the best of the bunch in free agency this year, and the drop in talent made finding serious competition for Cassel laughable.
After Orton, the next-best options were Chad Henne and Brady Quinn. The Chiefs decided to go with Quinn; considering Brian Daboll worked with both players, it stands to reason Quinn had the edge between the two.
Quinn won't likely challenge too much for playing time, but he's a vast upgrade over Tyler Palko. Plus, he gives the Chiefs a veteran option while Ricky Stanzi continues to adjust to the pro game.
Cassel might not be the best quarterback in the NFL, but this year he's certainly the best available.
...and the Chiefs weren't in position for either of them.
Kansas City's two winning surges put them out of contention for Andrew Luck, and the Redskins pushed way too hard for a trade with the St. Louis Rams for Robert Griffin III. Any speculation of the Chiefs competing for the No. 2 overall pick died when Washington surrendered three first-round picks to grab RG3.
That didn't leave Kansas City many options in the draft for a new quarterback.
The Chiefs would have had to trade up for Ryan Tannehill, but with his limited playing time in college it would have been a gamble. Tannehill shouldn't be expected to start from day one, anyway.
That left a number of quality quarterbacks, but none who could definitively enter the season leading the Chiefs. While some of them could develop into far more proficient passers than Cassel, that won't likely happen by September.
So, if the Chiefs want to compete now, going with a draft pick just didn't make sense.
Drafting a Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles or Kirk Cousins would have only created a logjam behind Matt Cassel rather than build genuine competition.
Any of those three could have competed with Brady Quinn or Ricky Stanzi for a roster spot. Whichever of those three Kansas City would have drafted would likely have made the team.
But who do you get rid of? Do you jettison Quinn, your only veteran backup? Or perhaps you cut ties with Stanzi, your project player.
There aren't enough slots for four quarterbacks on a roster; some teams make due with only two. Their third quarterback on game day is usually a receiver who converted after college, with another passer working on the practice squad.
But all of these guys came into the league to play quarterback. And none of them would last on waivers long enough to hit the practice squad. Neither Quinn nor Stanzi are eligible for the practice squad.
The best bet would be to wait until next year and replace whichever of the three seems least likely to perform. But for 2011, the roster spot just isn't there.
The Denver Broncos committed to paying Peyton Manning $18 million for the 2012 season, even if he never takes a snap at Mile High. If he remains on the roster past March 2013, he's guaranteed another $40 million for the next two years.
That's a lot of scratch to put up for any player, let alone one who'll be 39 by the time he's played through those three years.
The Chiefs paid handsomely for Matt Cassel the last couple years, but now they can reap the rewards of a front-loaded contract.
Cassel stands to earn just under $6 million in salary this year, and only $17 million more in the final two years that follow. Over those three years, the Broncos will spend $35 million more for a much older, though more accomplished, player.
Kansas City can capitalize on that extra money. It provides funds to lock up quality performers like Branden Albert, who enters a contract year in 2012. It allows the Chiefs to be aggressive in free agency, like their moves this offseason to land Stanford Routt, Eric Winston and Kevin Boss.
And it gives the Chiefs latitude to draft a quarterback at the top of next year's draft should Cassel falter without dumping their current starter to save money.
In 2009, Cassel stepped into a losing situation with a raw roster, new coach and a losing team.
In 2010, he started to perform well but lost big in the playoffs after his offensive coordinator announced his departure from the team.
Last year, Cassel lost his run support and starting tight end. His pass protection collapsed, his coach went toxic and he ended the season on injured reserve. He also had an offensive coordinator who went from rookie shot-caller to retired.
Cassel couldn't ask for a better scenario in 2012, though.
Jamaal Charles sounds fired up to prove he's fully recovered from his ACL tear, and Peyton Hillis comes to Kansas City on a one-year contract to save his career. The Chiefs signed one of the best right tackles in the league, and last year's first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin will have a full offseason to work with the team.
The defense has almost all its pieces together, too. The weakest link is inside linebacker Jovan Belcher, who is solid in run support but lacks against the pass. Six first-round picks start on defense. The Chiefs should easily field a top-10 defense this year.
Plus, Cassel knows his head coach. Romeo Crennel knocked off the Super Bowl champions days after taking over the team after the Chiefs fired Todd Haley. He enters his second year working with Jim Zorn.
The only changes to Cassel's coaching support are positive ones. Brian Daboll replaces Bill Muir at offensive coordinator, and Crennel's cool demeanor stands a polar opposite to Haley's volatile sideline antics.
This is where Cassel proves himself, one way or another. He has absolutely everything in place to be successful and take the Chiefs deep into the playoffs.
If he can't do that, Kansas City fans will know where to look for who's responsible.
For Cassel, it'll be easier; he'll just need to look in the mirror.