AFC West Offseason Questions: Kansas City Chiefs

As the offseason drags along the most obvious thing about it to Chargers fans is that we're the most uninteresting team in the AFC West.  Right?  That's not a bad thing.  It's a great thing in fact.  While our competition in the division was out searching for new coaches, new playmakers and building new schemes we focused more on getting healthy, getting focused and perfecting what we already had.

With that in mind, the Chargers lack of activity this preseason has led me to pay more attention to our AFC West counterparts.  If the media was to be believed, the moves they've made will lead the Chargers to six easy victories in 2009 but perhaps some legitimate competition down the line.  To find out if what the fans think I went to Chris and primetime 07 from Arrowhead Pride, the very popular SB Nation blog for Kansas City Chiefs fans, and asked them to give us some insight.  Here's what I got.

 

What's the general feelings on the new guys (Haley, Pioli, Pendergast, Cassel)?

Scott Pioli

January 13th will be a day Kansas City Chiefs fans remember for a long time.  On this day team owner Clark Hunt announced Scott Pioli as the new general manager.  Along with Pioli came an extensive history of success with one of the greatest football minds on the planet - Bill Belichick.  Pioli had been the hottest name on the general manager market for several years, even turning down multiple interview requests in years past.  The reaction to Pioli's hiring has been resounding YES!

Though with the positive vibes comes a hint of skepticism.  This is based in the secrecy Pioli brought with him.  As you know, the New England Patriots' reign has been doused in secrecy.  Similarly, word rarely gets out of One Arrowhead Drive these days, which has caused some folks to question Pioli's moves.  This is a natural reaction to the unknown.  But the best indicator of future performance is past performance and Pioli has quite the resume so the secrecy is something that comes with the territory.

Todd Haley

Late at night on February 5th, word broke that the Chiefs had hired former Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley as the new head coach.  The rumors had been swirling that Pioli and the Chiefs were waiting for the Cardinals' playoff run to be given permission to interview Haley.  Pioli and Haley previously worked together with the New York Jets and had forged a personal relationship.  Both of them also have a relationship with Bill Parcells, which we've found is a common theme among the Chiefs' recent coaching and personnel hires. 

The reaction to Haley has been positive, but not quite as emphatic as the commencement of the Pioli regime.  Haley has no experience as a head coach.  In fact, his background is on the personnel side along with several stints as a wide receiver coach.  One sect of Chiefs' fans look at his work with the Cardinals' 2008 offense as a sign of things to come.  Another sect of fans would rather focus on his lack of managerial experience as a sign of things to come.

Regardless of your view, we won't know Haley's full impact on the Chiefs until the 2009 season is under way.


Clancy Pendergast

Former Cardinals' defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast appears to be a "who you know, not what you know" type hiring by Todd Haley.  His defenses in Arizona vastly underperformed with the exception of their late season playoff run.  The Cardinals' employed a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense that the Chiefs will likely run in 2009.  Because of his track record as a mediocre (at best) coordinator, this is the move that has been questioned the most.

The Chiefs were leaked to former Patriots defensive coordinator and Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, but the word is he's going to take the season off and let himself heal following recent hip surgery. 

I think most Chiefs fans are willing to ride the Pendergast train in 2009 until he gives us a reason not to believe in him.  The 2008 Chiefs defense was historically bad with an NFL futility record of 10 (10!) sacks.  The pass rush MUST be improved in 2009 or I'm afraid a lot of fans might explode.


Matt Cassel

If you're from Kansas City, then you know the Chiefs troubles with quarterbacks.  Former GM Carl Peterson tried again and again to draft the quarterback of the future failling every at every turn.  The Chiefs had success with Joe Montana (1993-1994) and Trent Green (2001-2005) but both those players were on the wrong side of thirty entering their prime with the team.  Cassel is 27 years old coming off an outstanding season in New England.

The biggest question in the minds of Kansas Citians is whether this was Bill Belichick performing his magic or is Cassel that good?  We won't know until September but it's a good sign that Scott Pioli was the Patriots VP of Player Personnel when Cassel was drafted, Belichick trusted him to throw him into a starting role following Tom Brady's injury, and new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels was willing to rupture his relationship with Jay Cutler to make a run at him.



I've heard that Cassel is yet to sign an extension with the Chiefs.  Is that true?  Do you think it means anything?

This means nothing.  It was reported by Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network and of the National Football Post that he and the Chiefs had agreed to a deal in principle that would pay him $36 million guaranteed over six seasons.  Multiple media outlets disputed this report including Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star, Peter King of Sports Illustrated, Matt Cassel (via Tom Curran of NBC Sports) and our own GM Scott Pioli.

I spoke with Lombardi about the looming contract with the Chiefs and he said he fully expects the Chiefs to announce a long-term deal by June.

Even if the Chiefs didn't sign him to a long-term deal, we have the cap room (currently at about $31 million) to handle his $14.65 million salary.  My personal line of thinking on this is that the Chiefs shouldn't sign him prior to the 2009 season. I want him to play out this season so that we can make a more educated guesstimate on his future with the Chiefs.

Absent an extension to the current collective bargaining agreement, the requirement for restricted free agents will move from four to six years of service
(Editor's note: I had not idea that was happening. This certianly increases the Chargers chances of bringing back Merriman.).  Basically, this means that the Chiefs can sit on Cassel's contract this season and even place the highest tender on him next season without losing his rights.  To me, there's just no reason to rush an extension.



Tyler Thigpen looked great against the Chargers last year.  Is he relegated to backup duty only with Cassel being brought in?

The official line from the Chiefs' front office is that this is an open competition.  I believe that to an extent.  But looking at the broad picture, Cassel will be the starter.  We surrendered a second rounder for him plus he's due $14.65 million next season.  Barring injury, I would be shocked if Matt Cassel wasn't the Chiefs' starting quarterback in September of 2009.

That's not meant to knock Tyler Thigpen either.  When he entered the game, Chiefs fans had just about given up hope on the season.  I mean a 7th rounder who came from a school that has a football program that's just five years old?  We didn't think he had a chance.

But then in a rare move by Herm Edwards, we instituted a spread-like offense, which we've dubbed the ArrowSpread around AP, and Thigpen flourished.  He played very well considering the circumstances, but the best chance for the Chiefs success is to run a more pro-style offense which fits Cassel better.



Were you happy with the players KC drafted?  Which rookie are you most excited about?  Which rookie do you think will make the biggest impact in 2009?

Reactions to the Chiefs' draft were mixed.  It wasn't sexy by any means which rubbed a few folks the wrong way.  But we got back to basics.  The Chiefs are going to run the 3-4 defense this season so they spent their first two picks on defensive linemen.  Tyson Jackson should be penciled in as a starting defensive end and, depending on the future of Glenn Dorsey, Alex Magee should supplement the depth at defensive end. 

The popular theory before the draft was for the Chiefs to trade down in any way possible.  In fact, there were reports from the Kansas City Star that the Chiefs offered the Detroit Lions the third overall pick for their 20th and 33rd selections.  This trade would have blown the doors off the traditional draft trade value chart.  But the Lions rejected the trade (and for good reason Mr. $41.7 million guaranteed).

Scott Pioli has a history with drafting defensive linemen early.  DE Richard Seymour (6th overall), DE Ty Warren (13th overall) and NT Vince Wilfork (21st overall) made the pre-draft rumors of the Chiefs taking Jackson believable.  And those picks worked out pretty well for the Patriots so I'm going to defer to Pioli's history on this one.

As far as impact goes, none of the Chiefs' rookies will have a huge impact.  That's not to say they're not good players, but the nature of the Chiefs top two positions drafted doesn't necessitate a "big impact" to the untrained eye.  3-4 defensive ends aren't a sexy position but they should go a long way to solidifying one of the worst defensive lines (from a production standpoint) in NFL history.



What's the running back situation like?  Is there still talk of Larry Johnson being moved (or cut) before the season starts?

Regarding Larry Johnson, I speak for a lot of Chiefs fans when I take the Drew Rosenhaus approach: Next question.

 

Do you think there's any hope for Glenn Dorsey to turn it around?

Absolutely.  Dorsey gets a bad wrap because he isn't a traditional 3-4 player.  They say he's too small for the nose tackle yet not tall enough for the end.  But don't worry, the Chiefs will find a way to utilize Dorsey's talent.  Clancy Pendergast ran what's called a 4-3 under last season which would place Dorsey in a Darnell Dockett role.  You'll hear a lot of moaning about Dorsey's role in the Chiefs defense but I wouldn't put too much thought into it.

 

How does the loss of Tony Gonzalez affect the offense?

This is a difficult question to answer.  On the one hand, you're talking about replacing the greatest tight end ever (by far) with a second year tight end from Tennessee named Brad Cottam.  He was primarily a blocking tight end in college.  On the other hand, you look at Todd Haley's offense last season and the top receiving tight end only had nine grabs. 

So, the question becomes do we need a tight end?  I don't think it's a necessity but you can always use the help of a tight end that grabs 100 balls for 1,000 yards every season.  Gonzalez will ultimately be impossible to replace.  But to keep my sanity in this situation and find some good in it, I think of the idea of creative destruction.  Gonzalez has been such an integral part of the Chiefs offense for the last decade, his loss will force the team to find another avenue to success  (Creative destruction?  Lame excuse, but we gotta find some way to justify losing the face of the franchise).



From what we've heard from the Broncos owner, he's not expecting their team to compete in the upcoming season because of the switch in coaches as well as a switch in offensive and defensive schemes.  His goal is to turn around the team long-term.  Is this what the Chiefs are saying as well?  Are the Chargers the only AFC West team that is expecting to be good? 

Judging by the Chiefs offseason moves of acquiring a healthy dose of veterans, the Chiefs expect to compete in 2009.  I'm not saying we'll see a Dolphins-esque turn around but the Chiefs will be competitive.  Considering the two games between the Chiefs and Chargers last season, I don't think I have to tell San Diego fans that we'll be competitive within the division.



Do you have any predictions for the Chiefs 2009 season?

Predictions?  Come on obviousman, you're setting me up for failure!  Pre-training camp prediction for me would be 7 wins.



Is there anything you'd like to say to Chargers fans?

There are Chargers fans?  Hmph.  Guess you learn something new every day :)

 

So there you have it.  Some great answers, great info, decent trashtalking and terrific insight from the guys at Arrowhead Pride.  Thank you again to both Chris and primetime 07 for taking the time to answer my questions.  Feel free to throw some trash-talking their way in the comments section.

Do you have any thoughts about Bolts From The Blue?  Any tips you want to send our way?  Whenever you have something to say, don't hesitate to e-mail me directly.

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