Monday, January 30, 2012

Manning presents a golden opportunity for the Chiefs

Peyton Manning may not be healthy. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli may not be willing.

Past that, though, in-lies a golden opportunity for a team and quarterback who'd each be crazy not to at least entertain the possibility of a future together.

It's not rocket science (or anything close to it), which is why most football fans in Kansas City ultimately find themselves frustrated when dreaming of what the Chiefs might look like with a better quarterback. That's true, in part, because the window of opportunity has never been more open for the team to make a real playoff run than it is today.

Suddenly, given Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry return at something close to 100 percent, the Chiefs are set to enter the 2012 season with premier, in-their-prime players at running back, wide receiver, defensive end, inside and outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. Even those predicting another subtle free-agency period in Kansas City will still agree the team is likely the favorite to win the AFC West next season.

And in the parity-driven NFL, all that really means is the window will soon begin to close. Another season with Matt Cassel at the helm could mean, simply put, one less season for that group of core players to reach the Super Bowl in their prime.

* * *

Forget the health issues, because if Manning isn't able to play in 2012 and beyond, all of this becomes a moot point anyway.

Besides, the Chiefs have been down this road before — that is, scanning another organization's roster in hopes of finding that elusive franchise quarterback.

In fact, this isn't even the first time the team has had an injury-ridden, future Hall of Fame quarterback on their radar. In 1993, it was Joe Montana, who'd missed almost two full seasons because of an elbow injury.

After two years in Kansas City, Montana called it quits. The Chiefs haven't won a playoff game since. That was almost two full decades ago.

One could argue that had it not been for Montana's reoccurring concussions throughout the '93 season — which eventually knocked him out of the AFC Championship game, a 30-13 loss to the Bills — that things may have turned out different for those Chiefs.

The team wasn't all that different back then. It was 19 years ago. King Carl and Marty Schottenheimer were entering their fifth year together. They'd built an efficient rushing attack to compliment an unspectacular passing game. The defense was on the verge of becoming the league's best.

A bold move at quarterback was necessary to take the team to the next level.

Sound familiar?

* * *

Whichever team lands Manning — it seems a foregone conclusion by now that the Colts will release him — their chances of keeping him healthy are much greater today than that of the Chiefs with Montana two decades ago.

Former NFL quarterbacks love to talk about how the game has changed. How the rules have changed. Quarterbacks are protected now. Prior to his current neck injury, Manning hadn't missed a start in his entire 14-year career.

This is where common sense has to take over for Pioli. Maybe the clearest evidence of the issue at quarterback is Cassel's health. In four years as an NFL starting quarterback, he's never once played a full 16-game season, and has consistently been amongst the league's worst at avoiding sacks.

If the health of the quarterback and success of the team are one and the same, Pioli's only option should be to look elsewhere.

* * *

This seems obvious when stated, but here's something:  With Cassel, the Chiefs are considered a middle-of-the-pack team. With Manning, the team immediately becomes a real Super Bowl contender.

Here's something else:  When given the opportunity to upgrade the most important position in professional sports, wouldn't you be crazy not to at least consider the idea?

If fans can count on something, it's that for the first time, the GM's feet have been put to the fire. No more excuses. No more laying blame on disgruntled head coaches.

It's all on Pioli now, and after a season and beginning to an off-season filled with anger and controversy, going status-quo at this point would just feel like a waste of time.

A golden opportunity awaits. It's time to be bold and seize it.

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