I've taken a break from the blog this summer so I could digest the Royals as a fan only. It's been great, but I think I've held my tongue long enough.
Scott Pioli's blowing it.
This free agency period was supposed to be the Chiefs' moment to shine. Clark Hunt preached about the new CBA and its small market-friendly terms. The team was $30 some-million under the cap, and there'd be a new salary-cap bottom implemented to disallow small-market teams to stay any more than 11% under the cap to begin the season.
Add that to the fact that Pioli was hired two years ago in-part because of King Carl's missteps in free agency, and you'd conclude the last two weeks have been a complete disaster.
Let's rewind. Entering the 2010 offseason, the outlook for the Chiefs was entirely different. The team was coming off a 4-12 season (a season in which Derrick Johnson and Jamaal Charles couldn't buy their way onto the field — Charles was actually deactivated for one game believe it or not), and had a former golf-pro head coach who seemed to be more interested in publicly embarrassing his players than improving their play on the field. Pioli was cautious in free agency (Thomas Jones to relieve Charles, Ryan Lilja to help on the offensive line) which made sense. The roster was young, fragile, and most importantly, hadn't yet learned how to win.
Now fast-forward. The AFC West Division Champion Chiefs came into free-agency with a few holes to fill: A real, NFL right-tackle would be nice. ... Let's not let any of our own gems get away. ... It's probably time to help out Romeo Crennel on the defensive side of the ball. Possibly upgrade at inside linebacker opposite DJ? ... We could cut our losses now and admit the Tyson Jackson mistake and improve our defensive line. ... If we're lucky... maybe, just maybe, we can snag Nnamdi Asomugha.
That was two weeks ago. In reality, the Chiefs spent the first couple days of free-agency filling need number-six (?) and signing former Cardinal WR (and Todd Haley protege) Steve Breaston to be the team's slot-receiver (this after also addressing the position by drafting WR Jonathan Baldwin with their first pick in this year's draft). Last year's slot-man, 2010 second-round pick Dexter McCluster had trouble staying on the field and has obviously created doubts of his ability in the coaches' minds. More on that in a minute.
Meanwhile, starting defensive tackle, Ron Edwards, and defensive end (and fan favorite) Shaun Smith signed contracts with other teams, unsure of their former employer's confidence in them. As a result, Pioli snagged 35-year old DT Kelly Gregg, formerly of the Ravens, on a modest, one-year deal, while the consensus amongst all NFL insiders was that San Francisco's Aubrayo Franklin was the most-talented and sought-after DT on the free-agent market.
And this came after an interview on Sports-Radio 810's Border Patrol early this week in which Pioli admitted the team would have preferred retaining both Edwards and Smith.
Oops. OOps. And OOOPS!
So Pioli has allowed the team's biggest weakness, the D-line, take a step back while not definitively upgrading anywhere else on the roster.
The topper is the Gregg signing, which directly ties into the Breaston signing. On the forefront, they're both great moves. Gregg, by all accounts, can still fill gaps in the interior and is likely a step-up from Edwards. Breaston had a breakout season three years ago in Arizona — when Haley was his offensive coordinator. He's absolutely helps the offense.
But a look deeper shows a real flaw in "the process" and Pioli's dedication to it. Gregg was only allowed to sign with the Chiefs because the Ravens selected newcomer DT Terrence Cody in the second-round of the 2010 draft — 7 picks after the Chiefs selected nickel-cornerback Javier Arenas and 21 picks after the Chiefs selected McCluster. The Breaston signing only amplifies Pioli's mistakes: Cody, an upgrade to Gregg, is a starter for the Ravens now, allowing Gregg to be expendable. McCluster, a starter-by-default in his rookie season, and one of two players the Chiefs took instead of Cody in last year's draft, has essentially been benched.
Pioli's pants: down.
And Arenas, who spent most of last year returning kicks with average ability and getting burnt by slot-receivers (when he was on the field) will be doing much of the same in 2011 because the team didn't even think about calling Asomugha's agent to see what the price would be (only $12M per, as we'd find out).
But make no mistake, as Pioli has and will inevitably tell you again and again this year, the team has no spending limit, and will sign whoever fits the mold as part of the "right-53".
"Right" for what, Scott?
Pioli was hired to excel in this very scenario but instead seems to have been left in the dust. Last year's schedule and a couple of fluke performances allowed the Chiefs to sneak into the playoffs. This year's outlook had a step-back written all over it, and that was before the team's refusal to be players in free-agency.
Single-game tickets for the 2011 season go on-sale Wednesday morning. Buy at your own risk.