Who's In and Who's Out for the Kansas City Chiefs?
When shopping for produce people want their food to be fresh. If shopping for wine age is desired. When building a football team it is wise to invest in both the fresh and young, and the old and wise.
As both a team and an organization the Chiefs are on a divergent path this season compared to last. With no pun intended let’s examine both the old and new.
OUT: General Manager Carl Peterson.
In 20 years at the helm of personnel for the Chiefs football organization King Carl built teams that claimed the AFC West title four times. The 1993 team reached the AFC championship game, but otherwise the Chiefs went winless in the playoffs.
IN: Scott Pioli.
Pioli was hired as a pro personnel assistant by eventual two-time AP NFL coach of the year Bill Belichick while Belichick was coaching for the Cleveland Browns. Pioli would follow Belichick to the New York Jets where as Director of Pro Personnel he would carve an identity as a man who built a team identity with veteran free-agent signings as the cornerstones.
He aided the Jets in earning their first division title since 1968. However, it is with the success of the New England Patriots for which Pioli is most acclaimed. Still in tandem with Belichick, the two won three Super Bowls in four years.
OUT: Head Coach Herm Edwards.
One of Pioli’s first actions was to fire Herm Edwards. Edwards’ approach of flooding a starting lineup with an influx of youth is in direct conflict with Pioli’s team-building philosophy.
Edwards twice inherited moderately successful teams, once from Bill Parcells when Herm coached the Jets, and in Kansas City where he took the reins from Dick Vermeil. Both times Edwards squeaked into the playoffs in his early seasons as head coach before the records of each franchise took a nosedive.
The charisma of a Herm Edwards press conference will be missed by fans of Kansas City, but hopefully the woeful records will not be.
IN: Todd Haley
The trade of Tony Gonzalez is a statement that the Chiefs will move the focus of their passing game to the wide receiver position. The hiring of Todd Haley is directly related to this team transition.
Haley had stops with the Jets, Chicago Bears, and Dallas Cowboys as a wide receiver coach prior to becoming the offensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals.
While Haley was only the offensive coordinator of the Cardinals from 2007-2008 and has less than a year of actual play-calling experience the flash of brilliance that the Cardinals had in their Super Bowl run is directly tied to the innovation of Haley.
Common logic will spark fans to assume that the Chiefs offense may resemble the spread offense with which they had success last year. However, with the addition of Matt Cassel at quarterback the team will not be limited to the spread offense and Haley has already stated that the key to offensive success is working with the pieces available.
Using Haley’s mindset it is safe to assume that a number of three-wide receiver formations are likely as the team will call on the continued growth of star receiver Dwayne Bowe to be complimented by last-year’s acquisition, the late-blossoming Mark Bradley, and recent free-agent signing Bobby Engram.
This receiving trio is a combination of old and young that fits the past Pioli mold of success. Engram is a wily veteran who can produce, but whose career is winding down. Bradley is the nomadic veteran who never reached his potential because he never found a true home. Bowe is the talented youngster of the group who while confident doesn’t yet recognize his own potential.
OUT: Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham
“Gun” was the defensive coordinator for some very successful Chiefs’ squads in the nineties and later served two seasons as Chiefs head coach where in both seasons he finished at .500 before he was replaced by Dick Vermeil.
Cunningham boasted such gaudy stats as a +30 turnover ratio in his first stint as defensive coordinator with the Chiefs, but his return was not so glorious. The “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy led to all-time, NFL-worst 10 sacks over the course of a whole season.
IN: Clancy Pendergast.
Many NFL teams are moving toward the 3-4 defense and with the hiring of Clancy Pendergast as the Chiefs defensive coordinator it became clear the Chiefs are undergoing a similar transformation.
As the Cardinal’s defensive coordinator from 2004-2008 Pendergast was often in the shadow of the high-flying air-attack of the Cardinal’s offense. Yet, with great ingenuity in his play-calling it was the schemes of Pendergast that played a vital role in Arizona reaching Super Bowl XLIII.
The fundamental challenge of incorporating the 3-4 defense is the need for uncommon physical specimens who have both the size to rush the quarterback as a defensive end and the speed and agility to drop into coverage as a linebacker.
This challenge has led to recent gambles on high draft picks by organizations such as the Jets who in 2008 drafted DE/OLB Vernon Gholston with the 6th overall pick. In 2008 Gholston ate up a huge chunk of salary cap space while amassing 16 tackles with 0 sacks.
Now the Washington Redskins face a similar risk in selecting DE/OLB Brian Orakpo. Both Gholston and Orakpo stand roughly 6’3 and weigh in the 260s. Current Chiefs DE Tamba Hali is 6’3 and weighs 275. With his measurements he is the likely candidate for conversion to the two-point stance, which he actually ran out of to great success at Penn State.
Hali will be complimented by a true 3-4 defensive end in this year’s No. 3 overall pick Tyson Jackson. At 6’4 and 296 pounds Jackson is built like a small defensive tackle and has drawn physical comparisons to Richard Seymour, the star defensive end of the New England Patriots acquired under Scott Pioli’s time with the Pats.
So, what to choose; young and fresh or old and wise?
A balance of savvy veterans who have learned to compete in the NFL despite being past their prime and youngsters who are ripe for career years is the key to a successful team.
Veterans feed off of a youthful energy and young players excel from the insight of their older peers.
The most memorable teams are high on character. This does not mean the flashy hairstyles, flamboyant clothes, or the popular choice of becoming a preacher after one’s playing years, but rather possessing the traits of a quality individual who believes in the team concept.
Chief fans are witnessing a great deal of change these days. Only time will tell if it’s change we can believe in.
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