The Kansas City Chiefs are once again preseason darlings, just as there were a season ago. Many experts are buying the Chiefs as legitimate contenders in the AFC West for many of the same reasons they did in 2012, with one notable exception: now they have a competent quarterback.
The biggest problem last year was clearly the team's quarterback play, but the Chiefs had other problems and also lacked quality depth as well. In a league that sees players get injured on a weekly basis, depth is vital.
While the addition of quarterback Alex Smith has been analyzed intensely since he was traded to the team in February, the Chief's depth issue wasn't brought to light until recently.
Demonstrating just how completely general manager John Dorsey tossed the roster, the Chiefs return just 23 players that were on the team last year. It has been a quick and deep rebuild year, but will it also get quick results?
The 2008 Detroit Lions went 0-16, returned just 22 players in 2009, and won just two games. Underscoring the Chiefs turnover were the seven players they claimed off waivers on Sunday. These are players not good enough to make other teams, but are perceived as upgrades for the Chiefs.
A Quick Rebuild
If only 23 returning players seems like a small number, it is. Compared to the rebuilds of their division rivals, the Chiefs have turned over a lot more players in Year 1 under their new leadership.
The Denver Broncos returned 34 players in 2011, the Oakland Raiders 31 players in 2012 and the San Diego Chargers 30 players this year. On average, the Chiefs have returned nine fewer players than their division rivals in the first year of their rebuilds.
Some players made teams only because of their contracts, which is a challenge the Chiefs didn't have in 2013. Both the Raiders and Broncos now have only 15 players brought in by previous regimes. The Raiders accomplished this in two years, and the Broncos did it in three years, so you could consider the Chiefs rebuild simply accelerated.
The Chiefs are far from being done in their rebuilding effort, but the fast start is nearly unprecedented. With so many new faces, the pressure will really be on head coach Andy Reid and his coaching staff to get all the new parts working together.
Blowing it Up or Building it Up?
With all the new faces, it's worth wondering if the new regime is blowing up a 2-14 roster or building upon the foundation that was already in place. Perhaps the answer is a little bit of both.
Smith was brought in to play along with running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, but the team brought in new starters at right tackle, tight end and wide receiver plus several role players and a ton of backups.
The foundation was there on offense, but there wasn't much else. The defense had a much stronger foundation of players, but also lacked a few key pieces. The Chiefs added a starting defensive end, inside linebacker, cornerback, nickel cornerback and a gaggle of safeties on defense to go with a handful of impact players already on the team.
It's as if the Chiefs realized they had several good players, but that the dead weight around them had to be cut off. The Chiefs decided they had the ability to cut off that dead weight and bring in fresh blood, even if they are only getting incremental improvements.
Improving a little bit in many areas could mean a big jump in overall production, as long as the team also has impact players, which they do. Better production should mean a lot more wins for the Chiefs in 2013.
Recent AFC West rebuilds have yielded different results, depending on if the team was building upon a foundation already in place or totally blowing up its roster. The Broncos went from 4-12 in 2010 to 8-8 in 2011 and making the playoffs, something many attributed to quarterback Tim Tebow.
In reality, Denver's defense with the addition of pass-rusher Von Miller to a core defensive unit made a big difference. The Broncos also had a strong foundation on offense as well, which is why it was an attractive destination for quarterback Peyton Manning. Last year, the Broncos went 13-3 with Manning under center.
The Chiefs made more changes than that Broncos team in 2011, so they can only hope for a bigger turnaround. After all, the Chiefs arguably had a better foundation than that Broncos' team. Going into Year 3 under head coach John Fox, just 15 players remain on the Broncos roster from the previous regime.
It's important to realize that the Chiefs will need a lot of players that were released or not re-signed by their former teams to play key roles. You are only as good as your weakest link, and the Chiefs didn't exactly bring in a bunch of elite talent. The Chiefs added good, solid players, for the most part.
That said, things could be a lot worse for the Chiefs. The Raiders rebuild was more of a blow it up and start from scratch rebuild than the Chiefs, even though they kept more players in Year 1.
The Raiders salary cap was a disaster and there weren't many good young players to build around. The Chiefs salary cap was in good shape headed into the offseason to go along with all the Pro Bowl talent.
The Chiefs couldn't be much worse than they were last year, and with all the talent they have—even if this roster was more blown up than built up—they should see significant improvement. No one is denying that significant change was needed.
General manager John Dorsey was able to accelerate the rebuild because of favorable conditions, which could have them pushing for a playoff spot in December if they stay healthy. While the Chiefs added to their foundation in free agency and via the draft, the seven waiver claims highlight a lack of depth and the need for the team to have some injury luck in 2013.