Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pioli must find some humility

Almost three years into Scott Pioli's reign as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, not much has changed — and the GM himself is mostly to blame.

When Pioli arrived in January of 2009, the Chiefs were young, inexperienced, and under-talented. The head coach was in-over-his-head, the unlucky fellow named Tyler taking snaps under center was the league's favorite punch-line, and the team was steamrolling toward yet another losing season.

Today, some 34 months later, what about any of that can we say has changed?

It's much more complicated than that, of course, but from afar, the lack of progress this team has made since the King Carl era ended is kind of scary.

There are only a handful of positions where the Chiefs can confidently say they've made significant improvement — most of which were areas where players from the previous regime are simply playing better.

Dwayne Bowe, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and Jamaal Charles (before the injury) have all evolved into stars under this regime, but it's a far reach to credit the GM for what was more likely Head coach Todd Haley's doing.

And of his most impressive acquisitions, it's telling the trade for quarterback Matt Cassel was likely the best we've seen from Pioli to date.

This past offseason was supposed to be a time to shine for the former NFL Executive of the Year, but instead Pioli, whose roster currently sits $30MM-plus under the NFL salary cap, went for bargain deals and Baltimore Ravens-rejects.

With a shorter, more-frenzied free agency period to work with, Pioli was essentially caught with his pants down. Fan-favorite Shaun Smith, a key to the defensive-line's improvement in 2010, was allowed to walk to Tennessee. Former Raven Kelly Gregg, made expendable by Baltimore because of the drafting of Terrence Cody a year prior (whom Pioli passed on twice), was acquired on the cheap to replace him.

Former Raven left-tackle Jared Gaither, coming off a lost 2010 season because of injuries, was signed while more-proven tackles — like former Viking Pro Bowler Bryant McKinnie — remained on the market.

And naturally, McKinnnie replaced Gaither in Baltimore and is currently anchoring one of the NFL's best offensive-lines for the Ravens. Gaither was cut by the Chiefs Tuesday.

But the root of the team's problems today stem from well beyond this past offseason. It goes back to Pioli's days in New England.

Pioli brought a degree of confidence (not to be confused with arrogance) with him to Kansas City, and who could blame him? He helped form four different Super Bowl rosters with the Patriots as Bill Belichick's right-hand man.

'The Patriot Way' has defined him ever since. It's been his mantra since his arrival in Kansas City.

It simply hasn't worked, not yet at least, not according to plan. So the question must be asked: Was New England's reign as the class of the NFL the result of hard work and a commitment to the 'Way', or was it simply the benefit of being the luckiest franchise in the league in finding Tom Brady?

Judging by the results in KC so far, it's growing ever-so-evident that the answer is the latter — and Tom Brady ain't coming to save us.

For sustained success with the Chiefs, Pioli must find some humility.

The Gaither release and Kyle Orton pick-up are signs the GM may be seeing the error of his ways. We need to see more.

Pioli's ego hasn't allowed him to come to terms with the mistake of drafting Tyson Jackson with the third-overall selection in the 2009 draft. This was an attempt by Pioli to replicate the drafting of Richard Seymour in his early-days in New England. Seymour anchored the Patriots defensive-line for years.

For success in 2012, Pioli must understand The Patriot Way is not the only way, and Jackson must go.

Pioli's ego hasn't allowed him to realize the limits of the uber-mediocre Cassel. Pioli helped draft Cassel in New England, and was presumably chasing the second-coming of Brady by trading for him. Predictably, it hasn't and won't work.

For success in 2012, Pioli must invest in a quarterback whose talents match the Chiefs' strengths — not the Patriots' — and Cassel must go.

Pioli's ego played a part in the release of former Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters, who became expendable this past offseason when the team determined second-year guard Jon Asamoah was ready for a starting role. Waters was snagged by — you guessed it — New England, and is having a career year blocking for Brady. The Chiefs offensive-line has been lost ever since.

For success in 2012, Pioli must infuse real talent on the line of scrimmage instead of depending on patchwork acquisitions to make an impact.

Pioli's ego has disguised his torn relationship with Haley, whose days as a head coach in the NFL seem to be numbered. Pioli's clock will start ticking when a decision on Haley is made.

In the meantime, finding some humility should be the GM's number-one priority. The Chiefs' fate, at least in the foreseeable future, absolutely depends on it.

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