Now that the NFL Draft is complete, football fans across the country finally have a chance to take a step back and see what their favorite teams did and didn't do over the off-season. Not that the off-season is over, there's still about three full months until training camp starts, but any big improvements a team needed to make should have been made by now.*
*It's worth noting Jacksonville Jaguar DT John Henderson and New England Patriot LB Adalius Thomas, both former Pro Bowlers, were both released by their respective teams today. Expect one (probably Henderson) or both of these players to be in Chiefs' red by the end of the week.
And if you're like me and you're already ready for football because of the way the Royals have been playing, you'll eat up anything and everything NFL, especially with regards to the Chiefs. The problem is, I don't have a strong opinion about the Chiefs' draft. Well, maybe it'd be better put this way: I have an opinion about the draft, but it's probably no more relevant than my 11-year old niece's opinion about the draft. Any real fan knows the history. It's a crapshoot. Some players will end up being busts, few will be stars, and most will be average NFL players. That's all we really know. We don't know who will do what, and that's really the beauty of the whole thing.
So in looking at the Chiefs' off-season as a whole, it seems blatantly obvious to me as to what will determine the Chiefs fate this upcoming season: Matt Cassel. Sure, there are other factors and storylines. How much impact will first-round pick Eric Berry have on the defense? Can the defensive front seven improve, specifically Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey? Can Branden Albert prove himself to be a real NFL left tackle? Is cornerback Brandon Flowers ready to emerge as a superstar? And so on.
Really, to be fair, without most-to-all of those questions being answered positively for the Chiefs, Matt Cassel's play probably won't matter too much. It does, though, seem obvious that GM Scott Pioli is determined to find out wheter Cassel is the real deal by the end of this season. There were plenty of scapegoats last year, including the offensive line's struggles and Head Coach Todd Haley scrapping the playbook two weeks before the season started. It's also easy to forget WR Dwayne Bowe's four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, handicapping an already depleted receiving corps.
Cassel's time to shine starts now. He must show substancial improvement this season to justify the contract Pioli gave him after trading for him last off-season.
The excuses, most of them at least, are gone, and the improvements on the Chiefs' offense are everywhere. It started with the addition of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Weis was the Patriots' offensive coordinator for their three Super Bowl victories in the 2000s and some credit him for Tom Brady's emergence into superstardom.
In free agency, the Chiefs improved their offense with a flurry of moves. They re-signed two former Chiefs on the offensive line, guard Ryan Lilja and center Casey Weigmann. On top of that, they used one of their third-round draft choices on Illinois guard Jon Asamoah, who some think could be a starter as early as next season. Along with standout guard Brian Waters, the Chiefs, at least on the interior line, finally have some stability.
The Chiefs also added my personal favorite off-season addition, RB Thomas Jones. Jones ran for over 1,400 yards last season for the Jets, and should help keep the smaller, yet more explosive Jamaal Charles fresh. All of this equates to the Chiefs all the sudden having one of the better rushing attacks in the league, at least on paper.
If it seemed like Cassel couldn't develop any chemistry with his receiving options last year, he certainly will have the opportunity to this year. Along with Asamoah, the Chiefs also drafted potential slot receiver Dexter McCluster from Ole Miss, and TE Tony Moeaki from Iowa. Both are expected to come in and have an immediate impact. While McCluster grades out to be a Dante Hall-type who will create matchup problems for defenses, Moeaki should emerge as Cassel's best friend on third down. I really like this pick for the Chiefs, as long as he can stay healthy (he had injury problems every season he was at Iowa). He won't be Tony Gonzalez. I'm reminded more of a Chris Cooley-type.
With last year's surprise addition of WR Chris Chambers and a (hopefully) more mature Bowe, the receiving corps, and all of Cassel's receiving options as a whole seem to be more solidified. More importantly, though, they seem to be BETTER.
The Chiefs' confidence in Cassel may not have been anymore apparent than when they passed on QB Jimmy Clausen in the second round of the draft on Friday. Clausen was expected to go much earlier in the draft, and Weis recruited and coached Clausen during their time together at Notre Dame. That may have been the Chiefs' best chance at improving the quarterback position on their roster, at least in the next few years. Theoretically speaking, passing on Clausen means the Chiefs feel Cassel is and has the potential to be better than Clausen. This is a great sign for Chiefs fans.
I think the Chiefs can win with Matt Cassel. I don't know if it will be this season, but we should certainly expect an improved Cassel, and with that, an improved team. I like Cassel. I think I like him more than the average Chiefs fan. This season is a chance for Cassel to prove (most of) Kansas City wrong. It's a chance for him to prove Mel Kiper wrong.* It's really an exciting time for Chiefs fans, and I, as much as any of us, cannot wait for what's to come.
*Before the Chiefs passed on Clausen in round two, Kiper noted that he thought Clausen was a very competitive and fiery quarterback, and he didn't feel Cassel was fiery enough to be a winner in the NFL. I hate Mel Kiper.