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Chiefs' Team is Ready to Compete Today; Not Yet Sure About Tomorrow

Last week, I mentioned that the Chiefs' best chance at a Super Bowl run is to build around the defense. That means building the defense to be dominant and focusing on a terrific running game on offense. Again, while I've grown to like Matt Cassel, I also recognize that he's probably best suited to win a Super Bowl in Eli Manning fashion, not in Drew Brees fashion.

Naturally, the Chiefs can't have the negative offense they sometimes had last year in the passing game. Adding Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin will help big time. If the Chiefs' offense became dominant with the kinds of pieces they added this offseason, then they don't have to worry about building an elite defense. I just don't see that happening. 

And so, if the Chiefs are built to be strong but unspectacular on offense, then they need to build to be elite on defense. The Chiefs have made the moves to be a strong defense in the short-term, but it remains to be seen if they have the pieces to dominate in the long-term.

More after the jump.

The reason why it's hard to tell if the Chiefs are set for the long-term just yet is that they still have some uncertainty at a few very key areas. Matt Cassel can't play like he did against Baltimore and expect to lead his team to a championship. That obviously needs to change. Le'Ron McClain and Kelly Gregg were two phenomenal signings, but McClain only signed a one-year deal and Gregg not only signed a one-year deal, but is likely very close to the end of his career. Next year, it's pretty evident that both cornerback Brandons are going to be on the market.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs are relying on youth to come through at some pretty key positions. Kelly Gregg's stopgap presence is fine, as long as we see some significant development out of Anthony Toribio and Jerell Powe. If neither of them show they can be a long-term starter this season, will the Chiefs be ready or even able to bring Gregg back for another 1-year deal? Or will he even want to come back? That's a really tough question for a critical defensive position.

At Outside Linebacker, the Chiefs did the right thing by locking Tamba Hali up with a long-term contract. That was a huge victory for Scott Pioli. But last year, he definitely needed a presence opposite him to contain the QB in the pocket. Vrabel wasn't much help in the pass rush. Studebaker hasn't really showed that he can consistently be anything above a fringe starter at best, and Houston is an unknown commodity.

Most importantly, at Cornerback, the really big question that looms over the Chiefs is what they plan to do with both Brandons after this season. Brandon Carr wasn't extended long-term, so there's no guarantee that he'll be in the Chiefs' long-term plans. And Brandon Flowers is going to be up for contract next year, and he's almost certainly going to ask for a lot of money. Consider Scott Pioli's history. He was a very tough negotiator with Ty Law and wasn't afraid to cut Asante Samuel. There has to be some legitimate question as to whether Pioli will want to bring both Carr and Flowers back. I certainly hope he will.

These pieces are all important because while the Chiefs have some elite talent on defense, in order to be dominant, they can't have gaps at key skill positions. They absolutely have to have very good talent at the Nose Tackle position--that's uncompromisable. They have to start getting quality play at Left Outside Linebacker. And while the Chiefs don't necessarily have to have two shutdown corners, losing one is going to set the defense back. If the Chiefs don't nail down two of three of those things, while I think the Chiefs' defense will be tough, I don't know that they'll be elite.

So based on the moves the Chiefs made this season, they're going to be significantly better. And they should be a very legit playoff contender. But for the Chiefs to make the next step forward, they're going to have to see significant progress from both Powe and Houston. And they're going to have to bring at least one of the Brandons back, if not both. Those are three requirements that will ultimately tell us how long it will take for the Chiefs to have a ready-now team that's ready to compete for years on end. Or perhaps we see a big improvement in Matt Cassel's play, and he proves that he can beat teams consistently in Tom Brady fashion. Those things are all very possible, but again, all of those things are uncertain.

It should be an interesting season to watch. Watch Powe/Torribio and Justin Houston very carefully. Their performance could very well tell us if the Chiefs are fully ready to become a consistent playoff contender for years to come.

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