As we head into the bye week of a very surprising season thus far, I thought about the offseason coming in 2011, the Chiefs players that are all due for free agency, and the major impact this could have on our team. These thoughts are all barring any contract extensions or negotiations during the 2010 season, and I'm writing this in the hypothetical situation that no contracts are worked out during the season and, after we win the Super Bowl this season (just kidding), what the chances are of us resigning these players, taking into account Scott Pioli's tough negotiating history and how important I think these players are to the team. This is not a full list of potential free agents in 2011 on our team, just the ones that I believe matter most.
- Tamba Hali. As the season progresses, and the sack totals start to accumulate, the more expensive Tamba becomes. Pioli has never struck me as feeling like having an elite, 1st round talent pass rusher was all that important; he seemed to put more emphasis on the D-linemen being the more talented players, probably thinking that any player can rush the passer if the D-linemen are eating blockers like they are supposed to (see Andy Studebaker contract). However, when Pioli took over as the Player Personnel Manager in New England in 2001, they already had a 1st round elite pass rusher in place with Willie McGinest, who recorded 38.5 sacks from 2000 to 2005, so the need to draft that first round pass rusher wasn't glaring until the last couple of seasons of Pioli's tenure in New England. I hope that Pioli understands what Hali does for our defense, the pressure he creates on a consistent basis and the game planning I'm sure opposing defenses do to account for him and he gets a contract hammered out during the season, the earlier the better. Hali is a quiet professional who goes about his business and I don't believe a new contract will change his attitude, work ethic, and his success at all.
- Derrick Johnson. Through 3 games, DJ has been arguably our most improved player, as he's been a force in the middle and a major part of our top 10 run defense. He's playing with a aggression that has never been seen from him, shedding blockers, securing most of his tackles, playing very well sideline-to-sideline, and has been the leader of our defense in the huddle. With that said, who could possibly say why the sudden change to that this season from what most people (including myself) called a "maddening inconsistent bust who had all the talent but none of the heart" all of the prior seasons? Many speculate that it's the addition of Romeo Crennel who has finally tapped DJ's potential and unleashed it; many also speculate that DJ realizes that this is his final year of a secure paycheck and better start showing his talent consistently if he wants to continue to be under a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract. I'm not in any position to assume either one of these scenarios, but with DJ's past, especially under the Pioli/Haley regime starting last season, and the words quoted in the media from DJ ("I want to start, whether it's with the Chiefs or not"), I just can't see Pioli giving this guy a contract extension that would be acceptable to DJ. Again, I'm not assuming that DJ is greedy or anything, but I can't see anyway a former 1st round pick takes less money, or at least what many would consider less than what a former 1st round pick who played very well his last season under contract should make. DJ, nor Pioli/Haley, would seem to have any loyalty to each other after last season, but again, who could say if DJ understands what Haley was doing to him last season by keeping him on the bench until he was "the same guy everyday" and not the inconsistent, half-effort player he was described of being. I don't see a new contract being worked out with him in fear of him only playing hard to earn that contract, and if that's not the case, I don't see him wanting to resign here anyway because of either the contract being too low or the lack of loyalty to this regime.
- Ryan O'Callaghan. I am assuming that O'Cally continues to be our starting RT after he returns from injury, and being what looked like our weak link on the O-line through preseason, I can only see him being resigned at a minimal contract (less than his current contract) and to continue to compete for the starting spot with Barry Richardson or any other OT we bring in. O'Cally played well at the end of the season last year, showing good strength at the point of engagement, but continued to struggle a bit with more speed rushers and not using good technique against them. This trend continued in the preseason of this year, and while we haven't seen enough of O'Cally in the regular season yet to make a good evaluation of how he will do as the starter, I can see him taking a few games to get into the flow of his game, possibly becoming a solid run blocker/average pass blocker through the last part of the season, but in my opinion, not worth a long extension if he can't keep his starting job locked down.
- Brodie Croyle. Brodie, like DJ, is going into 2011 off of a RFA, one year contract and has been quoted in the media of "wanting the chance to start". Pioli/Haley have come in and clearly indicated that Croyle was not the answer at QB for our team, so his chances of starting for us are slim to none. However, those chances may extend further than just our team as well, as Croyle hasn't showcased much in the times he did get to start outside of losing every game he's started and displaying an unfortunate injury trend. Many speculate that Chan Gailey would be interested in signing him up in Buffalo from his past stint of offensive coordinator in KC (more so now with the recent release of Trent Edwards), but would any other team be interested in him to come in and compete as the starter? In my opinion, Croyle is one of the top backups in the league, as if you need to lean on him for a game or two, he has the smarts and the physical tools to know the playbook very well and execute it satisfactorily; however, needing Croyle for an extended period of time is a very risky gamble as dedicating that much coaching and effort to his development has led to disappointment as he graces the injury list time and time again. I don't see Croyle wanting to resign with the team, especially for what I'm sure would be a lower end, backup type of contract.
Let's also have a quick look at the RFAs next season and what may come of them (assuming the RFA requirements go back to what they were pre-CBA expiration):
-Dwayne Bowe: Bowe's on-field success will determine if he's worth an RFA tender from Pioli, which is the ONLY contract I can see Bowe signing for us next season, as I believe there is no player that screams "I make the big plays, I want the big contract!" more on this team. I can't see Pioli offering him a big contract this season or during the offseason no matter what Bowe does on the field, and barring a Randy Moss-type of season from Bowe this year or next, I expect Bowe to not be a part of our team come 2012.
- Jamaal Charles: Charles's short rookie contract means that an extension or RFA tender will need to be given to keep "Chris Johnson Light" on the roster. In my opinion, there is no bigger enigma in regards to attitude than JC, as much media speculation has been thrown around that he's "upset" about his playing time, but his actual quotes to the media have been anything but. Maybe he wants that "cake", maybe he's a humble, "anything for the team" kid that Pioli/Haley covet. Time will tell
- Brandon Carr. Another short rookie contract that will require tendering of some kind to keep him. I like Carr's attitude and work ethic, and his skills seem on par as an upper tier #2 type of CB, although it doesn't always translate on the field. Carr has played well through this season so far, and seems to be improving at a very good rate compared to his preseason play. Keeping the "Brandons" together as one of the top CB tandems in the league is a good idea in my opinion, as they compliment each other well, so here's to hoping for a long contract for Carr.
There's my list of the players that I think have impacted this team the most thus far and how I believe there contracts will shake out going into 2011. I specifically left 3 players off this list to spark some debate on how important they are to the team going into 2011: Mike Vrabel, Ron Edwards, and Shaun Smith.
As always, go Chiefs!!!!!!!!!!!!!