Okay, this is a situation that really has me torn. On the one hand, I have never believed in the idea of building a team through free agency. On the other hand, I think this year is a slightly different circumstance.
First, the Chiefs have a ton of cap room to toy around with and given that they likely won't sign a blue-chip free agent, it's hard to imagine that they'll put much of a dent into their $41M payroll, which is the lowest in the NFL. Second, the fan base is starting to drift. It's kind of hard to make money when fans feeling the hit of the recession aren't willing to dole out their hard-earned cash for expensive tickets and merchandise. Third, I think you're beginning to see that losers have a hard time attracting good talent to play for them. Especially in a smaller market. On the one hand, perhaps Pioli did everything he could to bring in elite free agents but couldn't convince those players to play for a losing team. On the other hand, I feel that most free agents can be coaxed at the right price. Until the Chiefs start winning, it's going to continue to become difficult to bring in top-flight free agents. Finally, it's an uncapped year, so if there was ever a time to commit to moves that were non-cap threatening, this would be the time.
Because the pool of Unrestricted Free Agents has been pretty poor this season, I'm not exactly crying in my Cheerios that the Chiefs haven't made a bunch of big moves. However, I do feel like they could have made a bigger play for several players. More after the jump.
No Anquan Boldin? That's okay
This is where my logic gets confusing, so you'll just have to bear with me. I commented on a widely-read thread a few days ago about the possibility of bringing Anquan Boldin into Kansas City. I wasn't overly excited about Boldin and here's why. Boldin will turn 30 in October, which is usually a pretty critical turning point for any player, particularly one playing a speed position. But he's also a very old 30--he's missed a few games per year almost every season he's been a pro due to injury and he plays a very physical game. If he can't stay healthy in his early 20's, it's hard to imagine he can stay consistently healthy north of his 30's.
I believe he can give about 2-3 very productive years and then a few semi-productive years after that. He is a tremendous pickup for a team like the Ravens that are a few pieces away from making a Super Bowl run. For a rebuilding team like the Chiefs, almost all of his value would have been had in years where the Chiefs were far from a Super Bowl calibre team. When his career peaks and he starts to hit his eventual downhill slide, I believe that's the point where the Chiefs will start to become the team we expect them to be.
So in my opinion, the only reason the Chiefs would have made this move was to put butts in seats and to build confidence for the team. Boldin is a guy who could have helped the Chiefs win a few more games in the next season, but wouldn't have taken them to the promised land. Is that really worth two draft picks? In my opinion, no. So yeah, I'm a big proponent of building through the draft. I know I'm alone on this, but I just don't think trading two pretty high draft picks for an older veteran is a move you want to make for a rebuilding organization looking to build a long-term foundation. I'm not crushed about losing out on Boldin.
No Julius Peppers? That's Okay
This move would have been wrong for so many reasons. First, he'd be transitioning to a 3-4 defense which will take some time for him to learn. Unlike Boldin, he wouldn't be a huge contributor right away. Second, by the time he figures it out, he'll probably have peaked and he won't be the elite playmaker we need several years from now.
So yeah, Peppers would have come without draft pick baggage attached to him, but he wasn't a guy the Chiefs should have targeted anyway.
Wrong Moves: Kevin Walter and Chris Chambers
These are two decisions that really confuse me and maybe with the Chiefs passing up on Boldin, that increases the urgency of getting a deal done with Chambers. I just don't think there's any excuse to not bring in a productive stopgap veteran receiver, even if that means overpaying him. I like Walters better not because he's better than Chambers, but because he probably has a little bit more gas in the tank.
Obviously, both of these options are worse than Boldin and I'm not suggesting that they are difference-makers who are going to completely change this franchise. But you don't have to sacrifice valuable draft picks to bring them in as stopgaps, they play a position the Chiefs badly need, and it's not like they'd take playing time away from some bright young options. Even if you draft a young player, you can keep him in the slot for a year or two, then move him to an x- or y-option when Chambers or Walters starts to decline. There is simply no excuse to lose out on both of these guys. If you overpay for either of those guys, you can probably land them. And at this point, yes, I believe it is of critical importance to at least have a stopgap who can play the position very well if only for 1-2 more years. If the Chiefs don't make a big move for a solid receiver (including retaining Chambers), that will be a huge mistake, in my opinion.
Wrong moves: Chester Taylor, Antrel Rolle, and Karlos Dansby
Now, granted, I have no idea how big of a play the Chiefs made for Taylor, Rolle, or Dansby. Maybe they made a huge play, threw a big contract at them, and they still didn't budge. Maybe these guys didn't even remotely consider playing for the Chiefs because they are a losing team. I don't know. But at the same time, I also believe that most players can be had at the right price. And when you're a losing team, you have to realize that you have to pay just a little bit more to convince good players to come in. This goes back to my point that if you have to overpay for them, who cares? In an uncapped year for a team that is so far below the maximum cap, why are we worried about cap value?
Taylor's slightly different because he's a little older and would only serve the role as a change-of-pace back, but he's still perfect for what the Chiefs need. Rolle and Dansby are two young players with a lot of mileage left in their body playing positions the Chiefs critically need. With Rolle, he allows you to fill in one of two Safety spots they need to improve. Here's what confuses me about not aggressively pursuing Dansby: it's not like your in-house guy, DJ, is a guy you've shown a lot of confidence in (and frankly, I like Dansby much more than I like DJ). If you bring in a more productive ILB, you can probably trade DJ away for picks. You get a more productive LB, some picks on the side, and you probably pay just a little bit more than you would have paid to keep DJ in 2011 anyway.
Again, it's tough to judge based on not knowing how active the Chiefs actually were in trying to bring these guys in, so I'm not saying the Chiefs screwed up. I think most fans would agree, however, that based on the information we have, it seems like there wasn't a whole lot of urgency. I'm sure that was just a little weird and confusing to most.
This is going to take longer than we thought
As Joel mentioned, this is a tough pill to swallow, especially now knowing that the Bears' total offseason is going to be more expensive than the Chiefs' entire 2010 payroll. I still trust that Pioli can straighten things out and get it right, but it is very tough news for Chiefs' fans to know that the 2010 Chiefs are expecting to improve through one draft, improvements from players currently on the roster, and probably a few B-list free agent pickups. We knew the Chiefs probably would be borderline playoff contenders in 2010 in even the most optimistic of scenarios, so it's not like we feel that these moves were franchise-altering misses.
The tough part is that Pioli will have to pitch to an increasingly disengaged fan base that the Chiefs are still taking baby steps for a team that needs to take a huge leap to become a legit contender.
Maybe the Chiefs are just getting their ducks in a row for the 2011 offseason where hopefully a new CBA passes, more unrestricted free agents will hit the market, and free agents can be had at a more reasonable price. I'm willing to be patient during the process, but if I'm Pioli, I'd be a little concerned that the fans will continue to become disengaged and good players will continue to shy away from this team until the Chiefs start to show marked leaps in the right direction.
Again, I'm not saying the Chiefs screwed up by not making any big moves so far. I'm just a little surprised by the decision.