My fellow Chiefians. Chiefanese? Chieftonites?
This is a very turbulent time for our favorite team. Things have taken a very chaotic turn this season, beginning with the early blowouts, subsequent turnaround and most recent collapse. These goings on have left a bevy of questions, many of those without any clear-cut answers. There are, however, more issues created by this turbulence that aren’t so easily seen at first glance.
At a time when our organization has done well to finally start attracting free agents and re-signing top talent, the uncertainty that comes with a potential losing season, questions about whether or not the head coach will return, a shaky offensive coordinator track record, and a tenuous at best quarterback situation – we may be seeing seeds sown that will have long term negative effects for our Chiefs.
The first concern under these circumstances is our biggest non-injured offensive weapon: Dwayne Bowe. We all know that D-Bowe is in the final year of his contract, and most of us have taken it on good faith that the front office will have him signed to a new contract before the year’s end. But now with a huge unknown at quarterback, not knowing if his head coach will be back, and a team that has consistently underutilized the passing game the last few seasons – a premiere talent like Bowe may very well prefer to simply hit the market and go where he can be a bigger piece of an offense.
True, Bowe has received far more targets and yards receiving than any other Chief over the last few years – but if he and his agent are presented with a nice big contract offer and a chance to go catch passes from someone like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady (remember, the Pats are taking a flier on Ochocinco that isn’t working out too well, they’ll likely be looking for WR talent next season) – the temptation may be far greater than a desire to simply remain loyal to the Chiefs, especially when we may have Tyler Palko, Ricky Stanzi or an even younger rookie try to cut his teeth at the QB position next season. And who could blame him?
This ripple effect can spread outward to re-signing the guys we’ve had on board on short contracts like Le’Ron McClain, Kelly Gregg and Jared Gaither. These guys all signed on for one year deals possibly seeing the potential for something growing into a perennial contender in KC. With the cracking foundations being revealed, these guys may have little reason to try to tough it out through a stretch like the one that is no doubt coming up in our very near future. The same goes for the Brandon Carr, who has yet to be re-signed.
I personally like Todd Haley. But his decision to bring in Bill Muir as offensive coordinator is likely a stopgap, with the intention to bring in a new coordinator starting next season. This decision will make effectively five offensive coordinators (counting Haley himself when he held play calling duties) in four years. This kind of track record – whether or not you think it’s reasonable given the various circumstances surrounding each hiring / dismissal – can work against a team trying to bring in an experienced coordinator for a long term answer. The position doesn’t exactly scream "job stability" to potential candidates.
The enigma that is the KC quarterback situation just got a lot stickier with the injury to Matt Cassel, as well. While in a three way tie one game out of the AFC West lead, we now pin our hopes on Tyler Palko to be a serviceable starting QB in the NFL. There are also many who want to see what we have in Ricky Ameri-Stanzi. But chances are that it’s a bit too early for Stanzi, and setbacks at this point could sully his development. On the other hand, we may have little choice if Palko tanks horribly. Bringing back Cassel for next season just about guarantees more inconsistency, with occasional dashes of brilliance followed by streaks of subpar play from the most important position on the field. Any way you slice it, the role of starting quarterback is contributing nothing but uncertainty to an already complicated situation.
This all puts Scott Pioli in a particularly difficult position. Todd Haley has gotten wildly mixed results in his tenure as Head Coach of Kansas City. His development of underachieving players has been a huge boon. But the team’s offense has continually struggled. And I needn’t go into detail about the home field blowouts. With Haley’s lame duck year approaching, it will be decided one way or another to keep him or move on. Keeping Haley will provide some continuity and may swing a few of those players mentioned above to extend their stay in KC. However, it may also continue to result in a pedestrian offense and struggling vs top tier teams.
But if Pioli decides to go with a new head coach, there will inevitably be a changing of the guard at one or more coordinator positions as well as several position coach changes. Along with these sorts of sweeping moves come changes to offensive and defensive schemes. Players that were beginning to flourish in their roles may stall, plateau or regress under a new scheme. That will be accompanied by more roster turnover. Occasionally these kinds of things can bring an instant injection of life (See: 2010 49’ers to 2011 49’ers). But more often than not they turn three year plans into five year plans.
Due to some very tough twists of fate, our Kansas City Chiefs are now walking a razor’s edge between building for success and taking several steps backward into the realm of mediocrity and irrelevance. Scott Pioli was widely considered one of the best possible GM’s a team could hope to land when he signed on in KC. Let’s hope that he is, because these are circumstances that see the cream rise to the top. It’s exciting in a way, and monumentally frustrating at the same time. Love him or hate him, you have to hope Scott Pioli can be steadfast enough to guide the team between Scylla and Charybdis, and not let the ripple effect tip us to either side into disaster.