The Kansas City Chiefs have new leadership, but it will take time before the roster doesn’t have Scott Pioli’s fingerprints all over it. Although Pioli clearly made mistakes, not every move he made was a bad one. Perhaps one of the better moves Pioli made last offseason was letting Brandon Carr leave in free agency and saving the money for the future.
In return for Carr, the Chiefs received a compensatory draft pick in the third round, pick No. 96 from the NFL. That’s a top 100 pick in a deep draft just for letting Carr leave in free agency. If the Chiefs had signed Carr, they likely wouldn’t be able to trade him and his contract for a higher pick than they received by letting him walk.
It’s true that the Chiefs didn’t do a good job of replacing Carr because Stanford Routt was a total bust, but there were other options. Pioli simply made a poor move by signing Routt to replace Carr, but a good move in letting Carr sign a huge contract with the Dallas Cowboys. The failure to replace Carr may have contributed to a 2-14 record, but letting him go certainly didn’t.
Just how much a cornerback can impact a team’s record is subject to debate. Would the Chiefs have won three games with Carr at cornerback? Maybe the Chiefs win four games? It’s impossible to know how much better the Chiefs would have been with Carr, but it’s safe to say they wouldn’t have been that much better.
Pioli avoided overpaying Carr, which led to the Chiefs receiving a good draft pick and their corresponding ability to sign Sean Smith for less than half the cost. In the sense of a trade, it would be Carr for Smith, a top 100 draft pick and $5 million per year over the next three years. In hindsight, Pioli set the Chiefs up for future success simple by not giving into the pressure to re-sign Carr.
You could certainly make a case that Smith was actually better than Carr in 2012. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), Smith allowed only 54.9 percent of the passes thrown at him to be completed in 2012; Carr allowed 58.6 percent of the passes thrown at him to be completed. There are certainly some stats that favor Carr, but the two cornerbacks provided their teams with similar production last season.
Smith is going to make an average of $5.5 million per season according to Spotrac.com and can be released after two years, which would bump his average per year down even further. Carr’s contract required a restructuring just to get the Cowboys some cap relief, and he’ll make more than twice as much in guaranteed money alone. Carr will also be tied to the Cowboys for several more years regardless of production.
For all of Pioli’s faults, he set the Chiefs up for success. By letting Carr walk in free agency, the Chiefs were also able to rollover $14.0 million in cap space. Part of the reason the Chiefs have been able to be so active in free agency is that extra cap space. According to Spotrac.com, the Chiefs’ top 51 contracts currently total $120.5 million with another $13.3 million in dead money which would put the team way over the cap if not for the rollover.
Chiefs wouldn’t have been able to do all what they have done to re-shape the football team. According to Spotrac.com figures, the Chiefs have committed over $38 million in 2013 cap dollars this offseason with the trade for Alex Smith, re-signing of Dwayne Bowe, franchise tag for Branden Albert, re-signing Dustin Colquitt and the additions in free agency. The Chiefs wouldn’t have been able to half those things with a huge contract for Carr on the books and significantly less cap rollover.
Was it better to let Carr leave last year than re-sign him?
Chiefs fans should realize just how lucky they are that their new regime has the resources for a quick turnaround. The cap space when combined with an early draft pick in each round of the draft is ideal, even if having the No. 1 pick without a consensus top player isn’t ideal.
A quick look around the AFC West is all you need to do in order to appreciate the Chiefs’ situation. The Raiders are in year two and still don’t have much cap space or a full allotment of draft picks, and the Chargers are in year one of their rebuild with mid-round picks in each round and very little cap space.
Pioli may have been a total failure in Kansas City, but at least he left a parting gift instead of sabotaging the team for years to come by overspending on free agents and trading valuable draft picks for declining veterans. Pioli’s unwillingness to succumb to the pressure to win immediately resulted in his firing, but also in the team’s ability to quickly rebound without him.