Many of you won't agree with me on this statement, but for the first time this year the Chiefs face a bona fied QB controversy. If you listened to the ESPN game announcers, you would be led to believe that Tyler Palko is a rocket scientist. His understanding of the Chiefs offense, and the game of football in general, is so complete that he's a shoe in to become an NFL coach. (Take this next sentence with a grain of salt, as the guy's only had one start in the NFL) However, all that knowledge amounted to diddly-squat when it came time to translating it to the field. The Chiefs offense was abysmal versus a battered New England Patriots secondary that should have been susceptible to down-field passing game. The Chiefs defense started out very strong, and had a good game plan headed into the game, but the inability to finish even one offensive drive during the course of the game was disheartening to say the least.
Tyler Palko deserves more than one NFL start to show what he can do on the field. The Chiefs have him penciled in as their No. 2 for a reason (I'm not sure what that reason might be). He was the best QB that Kansas City put on the field in pre-season; if that counts for anything at all. He did seem to have a working knowledge of the entire playbook. I didn't see the Chiefs removing pre-snap motions or limiting 'the playbook' (or whatever Bill Muir calls that tri-fold pamphlet that he chooses plays from) in any way. Palko did a very nice job of handling the no-huddle offense. In fact, he was quicker and more organized at it than I've seen from Matt Cassel all season. But for all the lip service Palko's mobility received in the week leading up to the game, I thought he scrambled like a wounded duck and threw ugly passes any time he was in motion while throwing. I do believe that if Palko has a couple more games with the team that he will improve. The questions are: Do the Chiefs have a few more game to give? And, do we think they can have it turned around enough to give KC at least a cursory chance to win Sunday vs. the Steelers?
Ricki Stanzi, no matter how much you loved him in college, is a fifth round NFL draft pick. No team in the NFL believed in him enough to take him anywhere in the top half of the draft. He's played exactly zero NFL snaps, and he wasn't even active for a single NFL game until last night. That should tell you that Stanzi is not ready to start. With no off-season to speak of and no active games under his belt, Stanzi is a complete enigma as an NFL player. Will the team play for the guy, or will putting him in the game amount to destroying the moral of the team? Can he read even the most basic of defenses? Will he ever face a 'basic' NFL defense or will the remaining opponents just fill the box and rush the rookie on every snap?
(Before everyone points out the obvious:) Yes, the Chiefs need to know what they have in Stanzi. But is it time to give up on starting the players that give the Chiefs the best chance to win? Are the Chiefs ready to throw in the towel on their season, just two games out of the division lead with six games to go? Are the fans? Sending Stanzi out on the field as the starter when it's obvious he hasn't had enough active games to be ready to lead a team in even the best of situations could have major consequences on his confidence and ability to progress. Fiftth round quarterbacks should sit behind the starters for at least a year, if not two, before taking the field as the starter. They may be asked to take a few snaps in an emergency, but starting a game when there are other options available is a lot to ask from the rookie. And starting a game that the Chiefs need to win (every week from here on out) in order to keep playoff hopes alive is a hell of a lot of pressure to pile on Ricky's shoulders.
The Denver Broncos have released Kyle Orton. He's on the waver wire for any team to pick up. The Chiefs have another game against Denver still to go on their schedule, and Orton is in the final year of his contract. Kyle Orton is better than any quarterback the Chiefs currently have on their active roster. Cassel's out for the year, and Palko and Stanzi are unquantifiable non-starters. If the Chiefs aren't ready to give up on 2011, they need a quarterback that has starting experience in the NFL. They need someone that gives them a good chance to win the next six games. Disparage Orton all you want, but he's battle tested; which is more than we can say for any quarterback on the Chiefs team. Orton has completed 1,225 passes for over 13,700 yards, and sports a career completion percentage of 58.1. Orton has thrown 79 touchdowns to 55 interceptions in the NFL. In short, he's better than Cassel at throwing the ball deep and relatively equal to Cassel in completion percentage.
Orton is the best available quarterback on the market this week, and he would give the Chiefs a fighting chance to win some games. Plus, he's in the final year of a contract that would be pro-rated for a team that picks him up. Orton would cost the Chiefs roughly $1.58 million for the remainder of 2011, with no long term contract or roster bonus hickey's due in March. (Unlike Cassel, who has a $3.5 million roster bonus due in March if the Chiefs keep him). Orton is a proven starter, available right now, can give the Chiefs a chance to win games, and is relatively cheap.
But, Orton is not the future of the Chiefs, and adding him to the roster will only serve to muddy the waters of the quarterback position, especially if he wins games. It could be $1.58 million straight down the toilet if the Chiefs lose their next two games and decide to give Stanzi a look. It's a big risk, and it comes at a multi-million dollar cost.
I may see things differently than others, but in my view the answer to what the Chiefs should do at quarterback comes down to deciding what we want to do with the quarterback position going into 2012. If we've decided that Cassel is not the future, then looking at Stanzi (even at the cost of losing the rest of our games) may be the best option. Maybe he's a fifth round miracle that proves enough in the last six games to usurp Cassel as the starter for 2012. And if he doesn't, maybe the Chiefs lose enough games to move into the top 4-6 draft spots, and a better chance to trade into RG3 or that guy with the 4-letter name.
If we haven't decided to throw in the towel on 2011 (and in the AFC West, I have not) then getting a quarterback that gives the Chiefs the best chance to win now makes the most sense. After all, it's not my money we'll be wasting. I'm sure the Hunt family can afford the $1.58 million, and if the Chiefs make the playoffs, they would probably make that money back in ticket sales, jersey sales, and Chiefs related Christmas presents. Getting to the tournament is the first step. Once there, anything can happen. I've watched too many teams limp into the playoffs and amazingly ending up making it to the conference championship or even the Super Bowl when all the experts chose them for one and done. (Seattle won a playoff game in 2010, and Green Bay was the sixth seed in the NFC, Arizona limped in at 9-7 in their Super Bowl year.... just to name three in recent memory).
If the Chiefs still haven't made a decision on Cassel as the 2012 quarterback, then complicating things with Orton might not make sense. Therefore, the best option is the guy that knows the system. Neither of the remaining quarterbacks have any real game experience, but at least Palko knows the playbook and seems to be able to line up the team and take snaps with a minimum of havoc. Palko may surprise us all and improve greatly with a few more game snaps. I'd hate to judge the guy as hopeless without even giving him a chance. And if the Chiefs do lose a few more games, then Stanzi can still play out the rest of the season so that the team gets the chance to evaluate him before 2011 is over.
In my pea brain, the magic number is nine losses. The AFC West is a crap division, and I won't hand it to anyone on a silver platter without a fight. It's never over until the fat lady sings, but I can only remember one 7-9 team ever making it to the playoffs (in a horribly weak division). Granted, that team won a playoff game against the Saints, but it's still too long of a shot (even for me) to remain hopeful after nine losses. I think nine losses = Ricky Stanzi, no matter what else the Chiefs do with the quarterback position. If the Chiefs lose their ninth game, it's time for Stanzi to get his starts for the rest of the season. It doesn't matter what the Chiefs have or have not decided about Cassel or the prospects of drafting a quarterback in the first round 2012. Nine losses all but eliminates any chance the team has to make the tournament. So, that's the point of no return in my football world. Even paying Orton his $1.58 million blood money doesn't override the nine loss rule for me. If he joins the Chiefs and loses the first three games, I still put in Stanzi. (Making Orton the second most expensive starter in the league this year behind Peyton Manning). Given the choice, I'd grab Orton and give it our all to go 9-7 or 8-8 in a shock the world kind of playoff berth, but that's me. It doesn't really matter what I'd do, it only matters what the Chiefs choose to do. Even so, what would you do?
*** Note: After the time of posting a more reliable source came to my attention stating the cost of Orton at $1.58million as opposed to $2.5. I have edited the poll and the story to reflect.