Remember when Madden was a great game?
I do. The last time I played Madden was years ago (I believe it was Madden '06, but don't quote me. I'm getting old and stuff), but I still remember how much fun it was.
The funny thing (at least I thought so at the time) was that the main reason Madden was so much fun wasn't the actual game play. I mean, sure, that part was a great time. But the main appeal of the Madden games for this guy was a little thing we call franchise mode.
You know what I'm talking about. The ability to control the entire football operation of your favorite team. The ability to sign, draft, cut, start, and bench whoever you wanted. I mean, create-a-player was great too, but franchise mode was the key to Madden's success (if you're not an online gamer, at least).
The longer I write about football and the more interaction I have with other fans, the more I realize how franchise mode in Madden brings to life (well, "life" is a better way of putting it) our innermost desire and sheds light as to what our favorite part of football is: speculation and "paper" games.
We all love football. But at the end of the day, some (or even most) people love to play "NFL general manager" a whole lot more than they love the actual sport. That's why articles on mock drafts and potential trades get more clicks than in-depth film analysis. It's why we love ranking teams and players in general. And, of course, it's why we love franchise mode. It's genuinely reached a point to where the offseason is the happiest time of the year for many fans.
The NFL seems to at least kind of understand this phenomenon, which would explain why they drag out every offseason event and turn it into an EVENT. And this author (well, "author" is a better way of putting it) is no exception to that rule. Which is why the "What if..." series was born earlier this year, where we examined what it would look like if the Chiefs signed all the wide receivers (whoops on the Josh Gordon thing).
Today, I'm taking a different approach.
What if the Chiefs signed DT Terrance Knighton?
Look, we all know the arguments against it. The Chiefs need help at other positions. The defensive line looks pretty strong already (Allen Bailey played very well last year, and Jaye Howard took a MASSIVE step forward. And there's that Mike DeVito guy). There isn't exactly a plethora of cash to go around (there is no way I used that word correctly. None).
Yeah, yeah, I get it. I do. But still ... what if the Chiefs signed Terrance Knighton?
Full disclosure; I have an enormous football crush on Knighton. He's huge. He's strong. He moves well for a big man. Individual blockers can't handle him. He destroys the run game at the line and in the backfield. He can get after the passer more than most run stuffers. And his nickname is "Pot Roast." If that last one doesn't make you at least CONSIDER the guy, I can't help you.
The biggest thing convincing me that Knighton is a player? Every time the Chiefs played the Broncos, it seemed like Knighton was the best player on their defense. He doesn't get the hype of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, but Knighton is a huge reason why the Broncos are consistently able to stymie the Chiefs offense. He's a genuine monster against the run.
I understand there are some cap restraints, and I also understand the Chiefs like DeVito (at least, they seem to from all appearances, never mind the fact that Andy Reid praises every single player on his team). But Knighton is the kind of player who can single-handedly give opposing teams problems when trying to run the football. Seriously, take a look at some of Charles's runs against the Broncos; Knighton was often a major factor into why he had nowhere to go, even if he didn't make the tackle.
The Chiefs pass defense was extremely good last season, and plenty of the pieces should be returning (though it depends on whether Ron Parker is actually asking for $6 million a year, because... um... yeah). The Chiefs struggled last season when teams just ran the ball down their throat. It contributed directly to losses against the 49ers, Broncos, Cardinals, and Raiders.
With every passing day I'm becoming more convinced that Derrick Johnson will be back and be himself next year (I have no reason to think this. I just do). Combine that with an addition like Knighton on the line and suddenly the Chiefs have a claim on not just the best linebacker group in the NFL, but the best front seven overall. I'd put Houston-Mays-DJ-Hali-Knighton-Poe-Bailey up against any front seven in the league.
To compete for a Super Bowl you need to be either really good on both sides of the ball or elite on one side and competent on the other. The Chiefs have a competent offense (yes, competent. Despite it's limitations and frustrations, the team still finished smack-dab in the middle of the league) and a really good defense.
What if Andy Reid believes he can coax a MORE competent offense (think hovering around the top 10) without breaking the bank on a wide receiver (via the draft and mid-tier free agent signings)? Wouldn't it make sense to go all-in on the side of the ball that's already really good?
And in case you think it's an exaggeration to call the 2014 Chiefs defense really good, consider yourself reminded that allowing 17.6 points per game was good for second in the league (tied with the Lions). The Chiefs pass defense was particularly stingy, allowing only a shade over 200 yards a game (in today's NFL, that's elite. Only the Seahawks fared better).
The Achilles heel of the defense (besides, well, Achilles)? Stopping the run. The Chiefs were 28th in the league in run yards given up per game, and were even worse (30th) in yards allowed per rush. As the year wore on, opposing offenses increasingly ran over a Chiefs defense that was simply not up to the task.
Now, as has been discussed elsewhere, a great deal of the blame for the poor run defense is placed (in this guy's opinion) at the feet of poor inside linebacker play last year. With the irreplaceable DJ gone all season and Joe Mays taking much of the season to get healthy, the linebackers were a consistent point of weakness. Obviously, having Knighton on the team doesn't change that.
However, what it DOES do is create a defensive front that's incredibly formidable and just doesn't allow runners (or guards, or fullbacks, or light) to get through. This would create less pressure on the linebackers, force more stuffs, and put offenses in the dreaded second and third and long situation more often (which is a rough gig against one of the best pass rushes in the NFL).
Mike DeVito is a solid player. But Terrance Knighton is more than solid. He'd be a significant upgrade along the defensive front and potentially allow the team to move from "very good" to "elite" on defense. Knighton also plays with an edge the Chiefs defense desperately needs. Justin Houston has become a more vocal leader (his "mic'd up" segment in Week 17 is amazing), but one more "we're gonna tear their heads off!" player on the defense is almost always a good thing.
Is it at all likely? No. Would I be even a little upset if this was the direction Dorsey decided to go in free agency? Absolutely not. The game is still won and lost in the trenches (see almost every playoff game in the last five years), and with Knighton lining up next to Poe and Bailey, the Chiefs would field a group no offensive line would want to line up against.
If John Dorsey doesn't splurge on Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin (my preference is Cobb), and doesn't decide to go big on an offensive guard (a move I find highly unlikely), this would be one of my favorite potential moves.
Plus, you know ... Pot Roast, man. POT ROAST. How can you say no to that?