Sometimes I'll receive a mailbag question that intrigues me enough to devote an entire column to it. When that happens, I'm faced with a choice: do I simply write the column as if the idea occurred to me out of thin air, or do I give credit to the person who actually did the thinking for me?
As usual, my pesky morals get in the way (one day, when I eradicate those things, I'll rule the world. You wait and see) and I end up giving props. As such, Arrowhead Pride commenter stagdsp tweeted me a particularly interesting question in three separate tweets. They follow:
Whoa. It just got real up in here.
And really, I get where he's coming from. My first reaction was to say, "They're definitely confident in the depth players and looking to build on last year's playoff performance." Then the more I really looked at things, the more I realized that a strong argument could be made for either side. There are plenty of moves (and non-moves) this offseason that one could say point to the fact that GM John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid were surprised by how well the team did last year and were really planning on a rebuild that would take a few years.
Let's try and work this out, one piece of information at a time. But first, let me deal with the most common argument I imagine someone would put forth against the idea that Reid / Dorsey are thinking down the road rather than for 2014.
"The Chiefs traded two second round picks for Alex Smith. That's not the act of a rebuilding team. That's the act of a team that wanted to compete right away."
I really don't see Alex Smith's presence as a complete refutation of the idea that Reid and Dorsey think this roster is a year or two from competing. There are two reasons for this.
First, one could certainly say that Smith was the choice made under a directive from Clark Hunt to get fans interested in the Chiefs again. Like now. Reid and Dorsey were faced with a quarterback class that was pretty underwhelming, and the most surefire way to go from 2-14 to 11-5 is to go out and get a guy you know will be solid enough to run Reid's system and help the team win (or at least not lose).
And really, some of the other moves made last offseason seem to back this theory up. The huge contract for Dwayne Bowe. The signings of Anthony Fasano, Dunta Robinson, and Donnie Avery (pretty drastically overpaying for the first two in many peoples' opinion, especially Robinson). A lot of that screamed "Our fans are angry, and we need to be drastically better." Two second round picks are worth a ton of goodwill from the fans.
Another thing about Alex Smith is that he's not really that old. Sure, he's been in the league for what seems like forever, but he's six years younger than Tom Brady and something like a thousand years younger than Peyton Manning. No, I'm not comparing them as quarterbacks, just pointing out that 30 is nothing for a QB. Reid and Dorsey could EASILY see Smith as the QB of the future and still think they're a year or two away. Easily.
So that takes that argument out of the equation. But look at some of the other moves that could be viewed one of two ways.
The cutting of Brandon Flowers
I'm not looking to get into a debate about Flowers as a player. He was one of my favorite Chiefs, and I hated to see him go. On the flip side, he had his worst season as a pro since his rookie year in 2013. On the flip side of THAT, he was asked to play both starting CB and slot CB, and incredibly tall order. So whatever, I could go either way on that issue.
What's interesting, though, is what Flowers being cut means. One one hand, you've got a proven veteran being let go after a season where the secondary was ... concerning at times (to be diplomatic). If that doesn't scream "I don't think we're going to compete this year anyway" to people, I'm not sure what does. Clearing a guy off the books when you're not in line to contend anyway is a pretty easy call to make.
The counters to that are Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper and Chris Owens. Cooper has been talked about a ton, and it's not like Owens is a world-beater, so I'll keep this quick. Cooper flashed a TON of talent last year, and that was with a whole year of playing the position of corner before the season began (and being chucked into a new system). That's really, really impressive.
On the other side of the field you have Sean Smith, who has been getting something of a bad rap as of late on AP. While he wasn't all world, he was far and away the most consistent corner week in and week out last year. He only allowed half the passes thrown his way to be completed (eighth in the league), and his coverages-per-catch allowed was ninth in the league last year (both stats per PFF). He had a solid year.
So it's pretty easy to imagine Dorsey and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton being comfortable with a starting combo of Cooper / Smith. Now all of a sudden it's looking like a pretty bum deal to pay Flowers a top-end contract. The final reason to do so would be the fact that last year, when Dunta didn't pan out, there was no one on the team who could play slot CB. The signing of Owens (definitely not a star, but not necessarily a bum) eases that concern, and we're left with a guy who isn't necessary enough to pay $10 million a year.
So basically, either Dorsey likes the guys we've got in house (making Flowers expendable), or he saw no reason to retain an expensive player that might remove flexibility down the road (since they're not competing anyway). Could go either way.
Another place such thinking (in both directions) seems easy to see is offensive line.
The re-tooling of the offensive line
Last year the Chiefs offensive line (depending on the time of year) was Albert/Allen/Hudson/Schwartz/Fisher. Things have changed. Kind of a lot.
Branden Albert is gone, off to South Beach. Geoff Schwartz is gone as well, lured to the bright lights of NYC. Eric Fisher, has been moved from RT to LT. Donald Stephenson is going to be holding it down at RT. And no one knows who the RG is going to be (though my money is on Rishaw Johnson).
Those who are easily startled and believe in the importance of offensive line may want to take a moment and lie down after reading that. It's a LOT of change. And the end result is a really, really young offensive line.
Why would John Dorsey let multiple veteran offensive linemen (Albert, Schwartz, and Jon Asamoah) walk? Sure, Albert was expensive and we drafted the guy meant to replace him. I get that one. But Schwartz and Asamoah both signed very reasonable contracts. If you're looking to compete for a Super Bowl, offensive line isn't a place where you want to be weak.
One explanation, of course, is the aforementioned idea that Dorsey and Reid were never planning on seriously contending this year. As such (in the same vein as Brandon Flowers), why pay more expensive contracts for veterans when you can throw your young guys out there and see what you've got for the future? The offensive line might be the strongest argument I see for the idea that Dorsey and Reid aren't worried about 2014. Because on the surface, it was a step backward at a crucial position group.
Of course, there's another potential theory. Dorsey and Reid really like Stephenson, Fisher, and Rishaw (or perhaps rookie Zach Fulton, who was called pro-ready by a Chiefs scout). And really, that's not that hard to imagine. Eric Fisher has a ton of talent and did not play as badly as advertised last year, despite battling injuries (shoutout to the great work Matt V has been doing lately. Those are two separate links, both exceptional stuff). Donald Stephenson is a solid tackle, and anyone who watches even a few dozen of his snaps can see his ceiling is considerably above that. And Rishaw / Fulton... well, we'll see.
And for all the hype surrounding the "new" offensive line, it's not THAT new. Let's say Rishaw wins the starting job. That would mean every single starter on the OL was on the team last year, and every single starter on the OL started at least one game last year. It's not as though it's a completely new group of faces learning a new system (unless Fulton starts, which would give the Chiefs one. Or Linkenwhatshisname).
There doesn't seem to be any middle ground here whatsoever. Either Dorsey / Reid LOVE their youngsters or they think this year is a throwaway. Because if neither is true, they're REALLY playing it fast and loose with one of the most important position groups in football.
There's one more group where the same thing is happening. A group that is probably the numero uno concern in the minds of most Chiefs fans. Wide receiver.
The (lack of) activity at receiver
Everyone was CERTAIN the Chiefs were going to draft a wide receiver in the first round last May. Well, not everyone, but pretty close. When it didn't happen, then everyone was CERTAIN it would get addressed in the third round. It didn't. Finally, in the fourth round a kinda / sorta receiver got taken in De'Anthony Thomas. But we're not even sure where he's going to line up in the offense. And that, as they say, was that.
The entirety of the Chiefs offseason moves at receiver consisted of UDFA, a guy from Canada, and having a really weird night with Emmanuel Sanders. For those of us who aren't crazy about Donnie Avery and company as the secondary receivers, that's concerning. Crap, Dexter McCluster was widely controversial and people were sorry to see him go. That's how iffy the situation is right now.
Here's the thing though ... if you're not intending to compete for a Super Bowl (same situation as the first two areas), why spend a bunch of money right now? Why not wait until next offseason, when some pretty solid names are coming available? A really, really solid argument can be made that Dorsey and Reid see the roster as flawed and have decided against any major moves at receiver (a secondary position) until they've fixed the more important areas.
And here, like everywhere else, there's a counterargument. What if Reid likes Donnie Avery better than we do? What if Junior Hemingway, who seemed to take advantage of the shots he got last year (I really need to take a look at his film), is ready to step in at slot WR? Wouldn't THAT explain the lack hot pursuit of a WR (though the Sanders thing was still weird)?
This is yet another one I don't have the answer to. Maybe Reid thinks that Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano returning to full health will help boost the passing game, or that he's a good enough play caller to get it done regardless, OR that Bowe is ready to step up to his contract this year. I just don't know.
So, what were we talking about again?
Right, which theory is more likely. Do Reid and Dorsey see the roster as flawed enough that they're not too worried about 2014, or do they like the young guys they have enough to not sweat the departure of veterans (at CB and on the OL, and even the DL if you want to get into it about Tyson Jackson)?
If I were a betting man, I'd say it's the latter. Now, part of that is my relentless optimism. I'm a glass half full kinda guy. But I'm also just thinking about Dorsey and Reid's backgrounds. Dorsey is a scout at heart. Pretty much everyone I've seen talk about him has said something resembling that. Well, a scout is going to believe in the guys he's picked out for the team. And Reid? I genuinely believe that he's confident in his system to produce yards and points every year (and he's almost always been right).
I also look at the roster up and down and I just can't fathom the idea that it's so weak that they see the need for a true throwaway year. The Chiefs have certifiable studs at every level on the defense. Jamaal Charles is arguably the best running back in the NFL. Bowe might be under fire, but the man can play. Alex Smith is a solid quarterback.
As a Chiefs fan, I've seen some really, really, really un-talented rosters. For example, look at the 2009 roster in hindsight. It's a freaking bloodbath, man. 2008, same thing. GAPING holes all over the roster. I compare the roster currently on the Chiefs to those and it's not even close, particularly on defense. Even the 2010 playoff team (an upstart that didn't belong in the playoffs, as Baltimore showed) would get pounded by the current team 8 out of 10 times.
No, I've seen rosters devoid enough of talent to warrant a rebuild. This isn't one of them. I think Dorsey and Reid really believe in the youngsters who are getting their shot this year. Hopefully that's what's happening, and hopefully they're right.