Defense. The biggest glaring need for the Kansas City Chiefs at the moment. Before free agency started, I pondered several different players that the Chiefs and their new management should try to sign: Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Jonathon Vilma, Antonio Smith, Albert Haynesworth, and Cato June all came up at the top of my list for defensive free agents.
The Chiefs have the money—they were the second-richest team in the league after all. So it came as a bit of a surprise when our new management announced that they weren’t going to be very active in free agency this season.
It was an even bigger surprise to wake up on Saturday morning to find out that Matt Cassell was Kansas City’s new starting quarterback.
Throughout training camp, the draft and all through preseason, we had Brodie Croyle shoved down our throats as KC’s future franchise QB. I was a fan of Croyle at Alabama- he had a rocket arm and had potential. His biggest fault? He was made out of glass.
So when opening day came and the Chiefs were going up against the New England Patriots, it didn’t surprise me that Croyle had to leave the game early. It also didn’t surprise me when he left again during the Tennessee game, and was placed on injured reserve by that night.
So it was Damon Huard’s turn to take the team. Huard is a solid backup with the veteran leadership every team looks for. It came as a surprise to me when Huard broke his hand to pieces and was also placed on injured reserve.
The team was then left to Tyler Thigpen. A 6’1”, 233 lbs. quarterback out of a small school known as Coastal Carolina. Thigpen was drafted in the seventh round to the Vikings, who eventually tried to place on him on the practice squad.
Thigpen fell through waivers however, and Kansas City scooped him up. Thigpen’s first game ever starting the NFL was a disaster- he went 14/36 for 128 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
As the season went on, Thigpen lost his starting running back in Larry Johnson for a few games, and the offense changed dynamically. Chan Gailey converted the Chiefs to a spread style offense in which Thigpen ran at Coastal Carolina.
The spread in the NFL is very gimmicky and doesn’t succeed too often. Thigpen and the Chief’s offense however, flourished under this new system. The running game wasn’t as involved; it was mainly hurry up offense with Thigpen in the pistol (quarterback shotgun, running back behind him).
By the end of the season, the Chiefs were 2-14, but were much better than the record indicated.
Seven games were decided by a touchdown or less. Had the Chiefs prevailed in those seven games (translation: had the Chiefs defense actually game prepared to play), the Chiefs would be sitting atop the AFC West, and would’ve been in the playoffs.
Under Gailey’s new system, Thigpen threw for 2,608 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and a completion rating of 54.8%. Thigpen also ran the ball 62 times for 386 yards and three touchdowns.
Thigpen was essentially a rookie quarterback. He locked onto Tony Gonzalez way too much, made some bad decisions when forcing the ball into coverage, and should have been aware of the other receivers on the field. Without Tyler Thigpen, however, the Chiefs wouldn’t have been competitive.
Thigpen wasn’t drafted in the first round. He wasn’t a highly touted free agent. He was seventh round pick that came in and worked wonders with hardly anything. He earned his starting position in Kansas City.
So why draft Matt Cassell? Cassell was also a seventh round pick, except out of one of the most consistent college football teams ever-The University of Southern California. Though he was a highly rated quarterback coming out of high school, Cassell didn’t start a single game.
I still find it amazing that this kid was drafted into the NFL, let alone by the Patriots. Cassell sat on the bench for four seasons before a devastating injury to Tom Brady (I’m sure we all remember that game) called him into duty.
Cassell emerged as a solid quarterback, one that a team could rally around. He led the Patriots to an 11-5 record, while throwing for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Cassell almost led the Patriots to the playoffs, but the Dolphins escaped with the AFC East championship.
The Patriots used their franchise tag on him, and Bill Belichick eventually sent him to the Chiefs for only a second rounder (still in awe about this). Matt Cassell has tremendous potential if used correctly.
Here are some interesting statistical comparisons between the two:
Matt Cassell played in two more games than Thigpen, threw the ball almost 100 times more, but only had three more for touchdowns. Add onto the fact that Randy Moss, one of the best receivers ever to play game, was catching 11 of those touchdowns for Cassell and those numbers aren’t all that impressive anymore.
Frankly, I don’t agree with this trade. I believe in Tyler Thigpen. Without him, Kansas City wouldn’t have come close in any of our games. We’d be just as good as the Lions (seriously).
However, I’m a Chiefs fan before a Thigpen fan, and I will support my team no matter what. If management believes that Cassell can lead our team to a super bowl, then I’m all for it. If Cassell cannot take control of this team however, I believe that Thigpen should have his shot at starting.
Todd Haley and Scott Pioli have made quite a gutsy move.