So the Chiefs signed a 37-year old Center in Casey Wiegmann. Blah blah... Stopgap... Blah blah... Short-term fix... Blah blah. Homers will be doing cartwheels and realists may be wondering why the Chiefs are trying to plug in holes with old, over-the-hill guys. In the end, the Chiefs just signed a guy that's "just a guy." Oh, and the Chiefs are looking at Ryan Lilja as well? I guess the Chiefs are just going to settle for an okay offensive line.
Not so fast. I think the Wiegmann signing says a lot about some of the strategic things Pioli is probably thinking about going into the draft and the 2010 season. If the Chiefs bring in Lilja, it will speak volumes. And yes, leave it to me to overthink things, but I also think this changes the game on how we think about Russell Okung and Matt Cassel.
More after the jump.The Chiefs No Longer Desperately Need Okung
I don't understand why almost every draft expert I have seen lists Okung, Brian Baluga, or some Offensive Tackle as a consensus pick for the Chiefs. Okay, so based on evaluations I've seen of Okung, he looks like he could be the real deal. I'm not a huge fan of the pick, but I don't think it would be a disastrous pick. What really bothers me is that so-called draft experts are advocating that the Chiefs draft an offensive lineman no matter what. Even if that means taking second-rate Left Tackle prospects. That's a horrible decision. With a #5 pick, you do not draft out of desperation; you draft Best Player Available. In many cases, you consider even taking BPA when you have a very good player already playing that position.
First, I still believe that Branden Albert can continue to progress into a very good Left Tackle. Second, I thought the offensive line played considerably better as the season progressed. I also believe most of the problems on the Chiefs' offensive line exist at Center, Right Guard, and Right Tackle, three positions that can be easily filled in the 2nd to 4th rounds. Finally, as I'll mention later, I'm still convinced that a lot of offensive line problems can be solved with better Quarterback play. So I don't understand why the so-called experts continue to suggest that the Chiefs' offensive line situation is in such disrepair that you pigeonhole yourself into a Left Tackle pick no matter what.
So now that I'm off of my soapbox, let me tell you why Wiegmann and potentially Lilja change the draft game. It has been widely speculated that the Chiefs would draft Okung and move Albert to his college position at Left Guard, and then shift Waters over to Center. With Wiegmann in the mix, that move no longer makes any sense. So your Plan B is to move Albert either to Right Guard or Right Tackle, two positions he has never played before (and yes, Right Guard is a different position than Left Guard).
Now, granted, if you bring Lilja in, then you encounter similar problems. You assume that either Lilja can make the move to RG or that Waters would be willing to. Here's the catch. If the Chiefs bring in Lilja, that to me would decrease the chances that the Chiefs draft a Left Tackle in the draft. First, it would require you to move Albert to Right Tackle, meaning you'd have two linemen on the right side playing out of position. Second, wouldn't most people agree that upgrading at two offensive line positions with Wiegmann and Lilja is a pretty big step forward? Frankly, an offensive line with Albert-Waters-Wiegmann-Lilja-O'Callaghan isn't standout, but it's more than adequate. And for good measure, you can bring in a Center or a Guard or both in the draft.
No doubt this offensive line needs to get younger, but this hopefully puts to rest the idea that the Chiefs must pick up offensive linemen in a panic move. To me, the Chiefs' strong interest in Wiegmann, Fraley, and Lilja indicates to me that the Chiefs see their biggest problems as being on the interior line and that moving Albert to one of those Guard positions is not a move they're heavily pursuing. If they see a tremendous value at a certain pick for a Left Tackle, then they'll take him. If not, they'll pass. And by no means does reaching for a pick like Baluga make any kind of sense.
Matt Cassel's Clock Begins to Tick.... Now
On the one hand, you could argue that Pioli is trying to surround Cassel with weapons to make him successful. However, there's another way you could spin this story. Given that Cassel's contract basically has an "out clause" after this season, maybe Pioli is telling Cassel that this is a make-it/break-it season for him.
After all, if Cassel doesn't begin to show clear signs that he has franchise Quarterback potential, he can't blame it on anything or anyone else. His offensive line will be better, he has some decent receiving targets to throw to, he's surrounded by an excellent running game, and he has a terrific Offensive Coordinator calling the shots. We can't settle for just a good enough performance. We need to know that he's a Quarterback who can help carry this franchise.
After all, great Quarterbacks improve the players around them. Watching Brees and Manning in the Super Bowl, I noticed how good receivers looked great because the ball was continuously put in the right spot. Watching Brady only take 16 sacks behind the same offensive line that surrendered 47 sacks in front of Cassel led me to realize that great Quarterbacks make their offensive line better by getting rid of the ball quickly and recognizing the blitz. These are arguments I made a few weeks ago and they're especially relevant to this post. If Cassel doesn't learn to read the hot routes better, get rid of the ball faster, and develop some form of pocket presence, the offensive line will continue to be hindered by its Quarterback. Maybe Cassel becomes Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, two Quarterbacks who have thrived in spite of holding onto the ball too long, but that's a tough risk to take.
I already got grilled for suggesting that Jimmy Clausen could be in play. If you don't believe that, I wonder if you would buy that there's a very good chance the Chiefs will bring in a competitive Quarterback option earlier in the draft. I just can't imagine that Pioli would have built his contract in the way that he did if he was thoroughly, unflinchingly convinced that Matt Cassel was his franchise Quarterback.
What Pioli has slyly done is he's brought in just enough 1-2 year stopgaps to help everyone make a clean decision on Matt Cassel. Good enough for a Super Bowl? No. Great supporting cast? No. Good enough to give Cassel plenty of opportunity to shine? Absolutely. Quietly, some of the moves the Chiefs have made have made this a make it / break it season for Cassel.
And that is why signing a 37-year old Center, a 31-year old Running Back, and a 31-year old Wide Receiver are more than just stopgap moves. It allows the Chiefs to walk into the draft without panicking with need-based picks, and it allows the Chiefs to properly evaluate Cassel's true potential as a Quarterback.