It's hard not to let my frustrations get the best of me when writing about this year's lowly Chiefs. Rather than vent and curse and scream, I'm going to instead focus my frustrations on a few specific players who I believe are bringing the team down. Some have played their way off the roster and probably out of the NFL; others have played their way out of a starting job; still others have been monumental disappointments.
Let's look at this position by position, starting with the offense.
Quarterback: I've been very patient with Matt Cassel. I understand the situation he's in--his supporting cast isn't great, his receivers are dropping easy passes, and his offensive line has been shaky and inconsistent in pass protection. I get all those things.
That being said, there are a few things that scare me about Cassel. Despite improved protection over the past few games, he is still inconsistent with his downfield throws. In many cases, he's not hitting his receivers in stride and he's making far too many goofy mistakes for a player of his experience level. The excuses are over. His pass protection has gotten better and he is now surrounded by a decent running game. Yet, we're not seeing much improvement from him. All that Cassel has done this season is prove that he's a lousy quarterback for three quarters, but a pretty decent one in the fourth quarter (assuming the Chiefs are still in the game).
I'm not saying Cassel has played his way out of the job, but he certainly hasn't done anything to justify keeping it or securing his place as the QB of the Future. It would be reckless for the Chiefs to enter this offseason without bringing in another strong option at QB. Worst case, Cassel ends up playing really well and the Chiefs can trade their backup away. If the Chiefs don't bring in a strong young option now, it could set the franchise back two or more years.
Because if there is any QB who can push Cassel for a starting job, he's not currently on the roster--Brodie Croyle is too injury prone and Matt Gutierrez is as big of a longshot as you'll find in the NFL. Cassel's poor performance this season has led me to question whether Pioli's loyalties might be clouding his judgment. I like Cassel. I like his work ethic and I want him to succeed, but if he becomes the indisputable starter going into 2010 with no competition, it will really compromise Pioli's no-nonsense, high accountability environment he's building toward. If Pioli is gung-ho about sticking with Cassel next season without bringing in a competitive option, he better be right, or else it could be a decision that haunts him for the rest of his career.
- Stays: Matt Cassel (#1 QB), Brodie Croyle (#3 QB)
- Bring in: Strong competing #2 QB Option
- Dump: Matt Gutierrez
Running back: The good news is that Jamaal Charles is a legit primary back. He's done an incredible job of doing a lot with very little help up front. The play that sticks out in my mind was the toss sweep against the Broncos where he almost made it out to the edge, but couldn't make it there. From what I recall, the guy that got in his way was weakly blocked by Mike Cox. I remember thinking to myself: "Man, if that was Tony Richardson a few years ago, that guy would have been leveled!"
With better blocking up front, Charles has the potential to be a very good "lightning back" who can take on about 15-20 carries a game. He needs to be more careful with the football, but hopefully he can do that with some better awareness and maybe a little bit of strength training. The problem is, Charles is not a primary back in the way LJ was. He shouldn't be a workhorse back nor should he be an all-purpose back. We saw that on Sunday. The Chiefs seemed scared to pound the rock on the goal line. It's because they don't have a "thunder" back to bulldoze forward on short yardage situations. The Chiefs need one of those backs--a big bowling ball that wears out defenses and can muscle a few tough yards on short yardage situations. It would provide more balance to their running game and create a great change of pace for Charles' shifty running style.
Kolby Smith has had a nice little career for the Chiefs, but I wonder if he'll ever play a full season ever again. Outside of Charles and Smith, the options at halfback are not good. Almost everyone in this spot is expendable. However, it's possible the Chiefs keep one of them on the roster, simply because they just have too many needs to fill. At fullback, Mike Cox has effectively played himself off the roster. He doesn't block well, he doesn't run well, and he's been invisible in the passing game. What is it you'd say... he does here? There isn't a shred of a doubt that he will be out of a job in 2010. The Chiefs must bring in a legit Fullback. Must, must, must. And it's not like it's that hard. You can get a top-notch Fullback in the late rounds of the draft.
- Keep: Jamaal Charles (#1 HB)
- Dump: Mike Cox, Kolby Smith, Tim Castille, Javarris Williams
- Possibly retain: Dantrell Savage
- Bring in: "Thunder" back. Fullback. Both can be found late in the draft. A "thunder" back might be found on another team's scrap pile
Boy oh boy. You would think that a team coached by a Wide Receivers coach would have receivers that were better at catching the football. You would think that players like Mark Bradley and Bobby Wade, who are hanging on to their roster spot by a very thin thread, would be trying just a little bit harder to compete for their jobs.
Dwayne Bowe is a given, though based on the way he's played this season, I'm not convinced he's a legitimate #1 receiver. Chris Chambers has probably earned his spot on the 2010 roster, although we should prepare for a potential sophomore slump as he had in San Diego. If the Chiefs can find a younger receiver with #1 playmaking capability, they need to break the bank and bring him in (which might mean cutting ties with Chambers). I don't think that will happen, so for now, Chambers is a solid stopgap option. Apart from that, no receiver has played well enough to justify keeping their job.
Bobby Wade, on the whole, has not been terrible. He played like he didn't care to be there against the Broncos, but in most games, he's been a relatively solid slot option. I can't see a situation where Mark Bradley is on this team next season. He has dropped way too many passes in key situations. Lance Long, as it turns out, is not Wes Welker. He's not Ricky Proehl. He's just a guy---pretty good at getting open, but wildly inconsistent at making the catch.
- Keep: Dwayne Bowe
- Likely keep: Chris Chambers
- Bring in: Either a #1 receiver to replace Chambers, or a strong rookie prospect to be groomed to replace Chambers
- Very on the bubble: Bobby Wade, Lance Long
- Dump: Mark Bradley
Based on the way Haley likes to use Tight Ends, I tend to think he wants a multi-dimensional tight end moreso than a one-dimensional one. He may not want a Tight End who is only stellar at receiving. I don't think he'd mind having a Tight End who was primarily a blocker. Ideally, though, I think he would like a Tight End who was equally good at both.
Leonard Pope has been the sole bright spot at the position and that's not even saying much. Pope's role should really be more situational--a great backup, but not someone I'd like to see as an every-down starter. Sean Ryan does not belong on this roster. I have no idea why he's been here this long in the first place. He can't catch. He's a horrendous blocker. What exactly is his value to the offense? Brad Cottam isn't much better. You can't tell me there aren't better options on the street than these guys.
- Keep: Leonard Pope (#2 TE)
- Dump: Sean Ryan and Brad Cottam
- Bring in: Anyone who isn't named Sean Ryan or Brad Cottam.