The Biggest Offseason Priorities for Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs will plunge into the 2013 NFL offseason with a lengthy list of priorities. But if the AFC West's bottom-dwellers shrink the laundry list to five main concerns, Andy Reid's Chiefs will atone for last season's drought and reinvigorate the City of Fountains.
From free agents to freeing cap room, the new regime arrived in Kansas City with a full plate of responsibilities. (No, the predictable Andy Reid joke isn't going to follow.)
Although Chairman Clark Hunt uprooted the front office, the seeds of success have been planted throughout the roster; Kansas City isn't a team devoid of talent. The Indianapolis Colts boasted one Pro Bowler from a two-win 2012 squad and cracked the playoffs at 11-5 one season later. Despite an equally abysmal 2-14 record, the Chiefs sent six Pro Bowlers to Hawaii last season—only five of the remaining 31 NFL teams produced more.
As a coach, taking over a talented team with the No. 1 overall draft pick is rarer than Survivorman meat. But with some offseason fine-tuning, Reid can cover up last season's blemishes and wield the Chiefs to postseason contention. Who said the window of opportunity couldn't be made from stained glass?
Identify Early Favorites for No. 1 Draft Pick
Should Kansas City draft Geno Smith with the first overall pick or invest its aspirations in a veteran free agent? Does the potential talent gap between Luke Joeckel and Branden Albert warrant a left tackle being selected at No. 1 overall? With Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey likely finding work elsewhere, should the Chiefs beef up their defensive line with Star Lotulelei?
All are reasonable questions and feasible outcomes. Regardless of the eventual truth, the implications of the 2013 NFL draft stem well before April 25.
The quicker Kansas City narrows down its list of prospects and weeds out the long shots, the sooner Andy Reid and John Dorsey can assign value to free agents. For example, if the Chiefs fall head over heels for Joeckel, negotiations with Albert will hit a brick wall and free agents at other positions of need will see a popularity boost in Kansas City.
If the team teeter-totters between draft possibilities, the majority of marquee free agents will already be scouting another area code's real estate market.
As training camp approaches, players and coaches will break down the communication barriers and taste a sample of what to expect in 2013.
Oftentimes, the Chiefs looked emotionally blank in 2012: no spark after a first down; no obnoxious taunting after corralling a runner in the backfield; no motivational catalyst.
Instilling leadership—in coaches and players alike—is pivotal for this franchise going forward.
The offense hasn't embodied that quality since Trent Green's retirement. Reid would be wise to sign a quarterback who voices his opinion and confidently spearheads the offensive charge. Increasing the decibels on Eric Winston's megaphone wouldn't hurt, either.
Defensively, Derrick Johnson attempts to lead by example. But sometimes that doesn't fuel the fire in contact sports, and Johnson doesn't project a naturally outspoken personality.
The answer may lie in the third wave of defense. Immensely talented safety Eric Berry lights opponents up like the Las Vegas skyline on Independence Day. When the Baltimore Ravens were hyping themselves up before Arrowhead's 2010 playoff matchup, then-rookie Berry strutted over and stared down the group like he rocked spurs on his cleats and holsters on his hips. If Reid wants a motivator, look no further.
Retain Top Performers, Release Underachievers
Kansas City's list of free agents features three names that other franchises will drool over: wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, left tackle Branden Albert and punter Dustin Colquitt (okay, realistically, if a person has ever drooled over a punter, it was likely their special teams coach...and that was probably because they were lulled to sleep. But that's beside the point).
Bowe has remained the face of the Chiefs' passing game for four-consecutive seasons, and it has wilted without him in the recent past. No. 82 is a revered wideout who amounts to the only aerial threat that adversaries game-plan around. In the four seasons that Bowe participated in all 16 games, he racked up 4,338 receiving yards and tacked on 32 touchdowns. Given the host of Chiefs quarterbacks throughout that span, those numbers seem astronomical.
Albert's contract situation isn't as clear-cut. He only allowed one sack in 13 games last season (via WalterFootball.com) but was plagued by back spasms throughout the latter half of the year. However, he has lined up in 73-of-80 possible contests during his NFL career, and his stingy pocket protection is tailor-made for Andy Reid's pass-oriented mindset. The most sensible option for Kansas City is to apply the franchise tag to Albert and rent his services for a year.
Colquitt's 2012 performance earned the unsung hero a trip to the Pro Bowl. He posted a career-high 46.8 average on his punts, and over half (45-of-83) of them skyrocketed and landed inside of the opponent's 20-yard line.
As for underachievers, two names stand out from the crowd: quarterback Matt Cassel and defensive end Tyson Jackson. The starters' performances have deemed the remainder of their contracts as unreasonably expensive. By bidding farewell, the Chiefs would save $31.22 million (via Spotrac) over the next two seasons.
Successfully Implement Andy Reid's West Coast Offense
Implementing a new offense is a double-edged sword: athletes are forced to adopt a new language and philosophy, but they will all learn it at the same pace.
In 2012, then-offensive coordinator Brian Daboll introduced foreign concepts—such as zone blocking—to the Chiefs offense. But due to the lack of familiarity, Kansas City's linemen struggled with the transition at times.
Reid will attempt the same task and install a scheme that relies on a synchronized rapport between the quarterback and his receivers. Timing is the main cog that dictates how smoothly a West Coast offense operates.
If the conversion proves to be successful and Kansas City chews up the clock, the offense's loudest individual supporters will be standing on the sideline. Last year, the punt team seemed to jog out onto the field before defenders even had a chance to take a seat.
Address Vulnerabilities Through Draft and Free Agency
In the NFL, every year is the year of the quarterback. The same holds true in Kansas City, but the subject is always outlined in a negative light.
The Chiefs desperately need to sign a proven passer who improves the offense rather than hinders it. Reid and Dorsey will also need to draft a potential successor who can be groomed for the role.
Alex Smith and Michael Vick remain viable free-agent options who can solve the quarterback quandary. Commissioner Roger Goodell could also announce Geno Smith's name to kick the draft off. But if not, the franchise may wait until the second round to grab a quarterback such as Ryan Nassib or Matt Barkley—whose stock could be haunted by injury concerns and the repeated shortcomings of pro passers leaving USC's system.
But quarterback isn't the only glaring weakness embedded in the Chiefs roster. Even if the team retains Bowe and Albert, Kansas City will still be starving for upgrades at defensive end, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety. The depth chart could also benefit from more stability at wide receiver and a few extra layers of depth in the secondary.
Currently, Star Lotulelei is the only 3-4 defensive end worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. If the front office chooses to pass on the scenario, the staff could pounce on prospects such as Datone Jones or Kawann Short if either are available in the second round. However, game-changing 3-4 defensive ends are rarities, especially after the first round. Reid and Dorsey may decide to target veterans like Desmond Bryant or Mike DeVito instead.
The Chiefs could fill the void at inside linebacker (opposite of Derrick Johnson) with Kevin Minter or Manti Te'o with pick No. 34. Kansas City needs a run stuffer at the position and Brandon Siler isn't it.
This season's draft is also extremely rich with secondary talent. Given that, it's unlikely that the team spends the top selection on Dee Milliner—although his play could argue the case. But cornerbacks such as Jordan Poyer and Robert Alford may still be on the board in later rounds—and both would make an immediate impact on the Chiefs defense. Strong safety Jonathan Cyprien could also leak into the middle of the draft, and he possesses the closing speed to convert and challenge Kendrick Lewis at free safety.
When solving the roster's soft spots, the Kansas City Chiefs' options aren't limited.
However, one error in judgment can snowball into a disastrous, season-defining debacle. Or, in Kansas City's case, a decade decorated with lame-duck quarterbacking, four-letter words and echoed exclamation marks.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering