KANSAS CITY MO - JANUARY 09: A fan of the Kansas City Chiefs sits in the stands after the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Chiefs 30-7 in the 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 9 2011 in Kansas City Missouri. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
For the record, I cannot and will not ever root against the Kansas City Chiefs. I don't care if we're talking about the 16th game of the season with the No. 1 pick on the line. I never want to see the Chiefs lose. Now, if a loss leads to a top five pick, that makes the loss more palatable, but to me, it never makes it acceptable.
Yet, at the same time, I can understand the rationale behind the "Suck 4 Luck" phenomena. That leaves me a little off-balanced. I am a huge Andrew Luck fan and believe he has the potential to be the next Peyton Manning. Plus, I think Matt Cassel is a long way from being the quarterback necessary to win the team a Super Bowl. So short-term pain would be worth the long-term gain, right?
I don't know the answer to that. Instead, I'll build the case for both sides of the argument and let you decide.
Point: Andrew Luck isn't the only quarterback in this draft
First, I don't want to hear that the Chiefs should pocket their first round pick and wait for a quarterback like Kellen Moore. The Chiefs need to be aggressive about bringing a first round pick, even if that means trading up. Even if that means Cassel puts together a decent season in 2011. The quarterback position is way too important to gamble with. But, all hope is not lost if the Chiefs don't "win" the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. While I'm not a draft guru, there are definitely some interesting names being thrown around in the top 10 or 20, most notably Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, and Nick Foles. So even if the Chiefs don't "luck out," they can still draft a franchise quarterback.
Counterpoint: Chiefs' fans need assurance that the front office will make an aggressive move at Quarterback
Chiefs' fans are scared and understandably so. The Chiefs put all their eggs into the Matt Cassel basket, even though Cassel has had more than his share of rough patches. Fair or not, to some fans, that feels like the front office is doing everything in their power to defend their decision. If Cassel has a "good enough" season, will they say that's good enough? Well, if you have a chance at Andrew Luck, there's no way the Chiefs pass on that. If they have to decide between Cassel and, say, Barkley? That's where fans are a little anxious.
Scott Pioli has built a reputation for finding diamonds in the rough. He really made a name for himself by finding a Hall of Fame quarterback in Tom Brady buried in the back half of the draft. The question is, if Matt Cassel isn't the answer, then what is Pioli's next move? Will he admit that he made a mistake and attempt to replace him? If so, will he commit to more of the sure thing instead of finding a diamond in the rough? Or is he going to go the Brady route and hope that Ricky Stanzi or some late round 2012 sleeper comes out of the woodwork? The historic statistics don't lie -- the Chiefs' best chance at landing a franchise quarterback will be by drafting a quarterback very early. Let's just hope the Chiefs are on the same page.
Point: The Chiefs need a franchise quarterback. They can't settle for "good enough."
Here's a point I stressed last week. The Chiefs need to have a quarterback who can carry the team on his back at any given time. For one half of football against the Vikings, Matt Cassel looked like a very good quarterback, much as some critics may try to discredit him. In most games, Cassel seems to play scared. Against Minnesota, we saw him attack. We saw him again start to use his mobility. He made a few second half mistakes, but they were pretty forgivable. More importantly, it's obvious that when Cassel plays to a high level, the Chiefs are a really good team. We saw that a few times last year in Arizona, Seattle, and San Francisco. That tells you that this team will go as far as the quarterback will take them. It also tells you that with consistently good quarterback play, this team might actually be a deep playoff contender.
Maybe part of Cassel's improved performance can be credited to him playing with some attitude after getting grilled by his coach. Maybe part of it was due to his finally developing a rhythm with Steve Breaston, the deep threat option the Chiefs have so direly needed. Maybe this is a turning point for Cassel, but one half does not a career make. He needs to do this consistently throughout the 2011 season against even better defenses. Even still, is this performance good enough? Would that performance be good enough to go toe-to-toe with Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl? I question whether even his better performances are good enough to do that.
Counterpoint: At the same time, a losing season dooms Todd Haley
I'm a Todd Haley fan. I know he can be a little too risky at times and maybe there's truth to the claim that he can't get along with his coaches. But I still believe he's a very good football coach. The players seem to respond well to Haley. Many teams would have thrown in the towel by now, but not the Chiefs. Against Minnesota, they played hard for Haley. The Chiefs have also had no problem re-signing their own guys. Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, etc.... Any player who hated his coach would think twice before re-signing with a potential nutcase.
Frankly, I still believe that, if the Chiefs end up with a less than optimal record, it's not because of coaching; it will be because of some really bad luck and because the front office hasn't yet built Super Bowl level talent (and that starts with the quarterback position). Haley's made some mistakes, but none that should cost him his job. If the Chiefs get Andrew Luck, Haley will probably be fired, and I think that's a pretty big loss.
Point: Nothing good comes from a culture built around losers
While the quarterback is a critical driver for the team, the Chiefs also need the other 21 starters to play effectively. Winning builds confidence and swagger. Losing deflates morale and creates tension in the locker room.
Further, you have to think about this from players' perspective. Kansas City doesn't have the payroll or bright lights to compete with Jerry Jones. What they do have is the mystique of Arrowhead Stadium. It doesn't send a good message to the players that fans are rooting for their team to lose. That's not just the current players, but also future free agents. That their bandwagon hoppers. While I'm not promoting homerism, I think it's a different story entirely when fans actually get ticked off when their team wins.
Counterpoint: Unfortunately, sometimes fans can only communicate to the front office through strong messages
Chiefs' fans are angry at the front office. I think a bit of that rage is misguided, but can you blame us? The fans had to deal with a prior general manager who was never held accountable for his mistakes. Fair or not, the new regime has to deal with some of that pent-up frustration. Most fans believe that a franchise quarterback fixes a lot of the problems in Kansas City. It reduces the dependence on the running game. It makes average receivers look all-world; it makes average blockers look like Pro Bowlers; it allows the defense to defend games instead of being asked to win them. The strong message the Chiefs are sending to the organization is that getting the quarterback right will go a long way toward appeasing the fans. Maybe Cassel can still be that guy, but if the Chiefs stand behind him, he better bring this team to a Super Bowl.
So there are great points on both sides. Me? I'll be rooting every weekend for the Chiefs, but the thought of Andrew Luck in a Chiefs' uniform definitely makes a loss easier to bear.