Look, I get the reasoning. I really do. People love them some salary cap space. People also love the idea of potential and relatively unproven talent. Finally, people go crazy over the idea of cheap production. I get it.
I also understand the danger in becoming overly attached to players for emotional reasons. Football is a business, and at the end of the day the overall success of the team is what is most important. As fans, we tend to have our favorite player and become very invested in them. But players come and go, even the ones who stay with the Chiefs their entire career. It's the team that remains (well, unless your a Rams fan, but I digress).
So let me be clear that my reasoning for why it's crazy to cut (or trade) Jamaal Charles has nothing to do with the fact that I love watching him play. I DO love watching him play, and I believe a very cogent argument could be made revolving around the fact that watching players who are a joy to watch enhances the viewing experience of being an NFL fan. But again, let's totally leave that side of things out.
Instead, I'd like to address the most popular arguments I've seen for the Chiefs parting ways with Jamaal Charles. All too often I see these thoughts thrown together to create what APPEARS to be a pretty powerful group of reasons to get rid of one of the greatest players I've ever seen. However, when you break down each argument individually you find out what your gut already told you; it's crazy to get rid of Jamaal Charles.
"The Chiefs were better running the ball without Charles in 2015. That proves they can do really well without him and that they don't need him."
Hey, you won't get an argument from me when it comes to the fact the Chiefs did well running the ball without Jamaal Charles. As I've said before, the Chiefs finished the year first in DVOA rushing the ball, a fantastic feat without their star rusher. The offense overall looked decent without Charles as well. Argument over, yes?
The problem with looking at a stats sheet is that it can tell you WHAT, but it can't tell you WHY. The simple truth is the Chiefs offense did, in fact, improve a great deal after Charles was injured... at least after a couple of games. It's not as though Charles went down and boom, the offense suddenly improved. Remember the Vikings game? Yeah, I've blocked it out too. But it's important to realize the offense looked significantly worse the first game and a half Charles was out.
What changed? Well, a couple of things. But the offense started looking better when the Chiefs faced the Steelers. As has now been well-chronicled (particularly in this fantastic MMQB article), the Chiefs changed their offensive philosophy, allowing Alex Smith more leeway at the line of scrimmage and relying less on pre-packaged, single read plays (not that Reid ever went totally away from those, unfortunately).
Now, we're not here to argue about Alex Smith. But it's absolutely unquestioned that Smith's play picked up considerably in the second half of the season. That and improved play calling accounted for a great deal of the Chiefs' offensive success down the stretch.
Of course, you've still got to talk about that No. 1 rushing rating in DVOA. Here's the question I'd put to you; how much of that was Smith moving the ball with his legs? Smith ran the ball for nearly 500 yards at 5.9 YPC in 2015, and picked up 30 first downs while doing so (only five less than Charcandrick West, and more than Spencer Ware). It's impossible to really define what would have happened had Player X not done something, but it's IS a simple truth that the Chiefs success running the ball was often predicated on Smith.
The Chiefs offense was better down the stretch due to improved play calling, the emergence of Spencer Ware, and Alex Smith's improved play. Connecting it with Charles going down is a mistake. If you kept JC in the equation, the offense would have (very, very, very likely) been even more improved.
Yes, the offense was able to function well without Charles (for the most part). However, everything else had to go well in order for that to happen. Getting Charles back means there's a cushion for when things DON'T go well, and another "plus" for the offense when they DO go well.
"Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware can carry the load."
I hear this a lot, with people pointing to some of the stats I discussed above or just stating it as a fact.
Look, I like both West and Ware. They stepped in when needed and did an admirable job. But the idea that either of them is a full-season answer to not having Jamaal Charles is... well, it's iffy.
West averaged 4.0 YPC this season. While that's not bad at all, it's nowhere close to the gaudy numbers Charles has put up for years. Additionally, anyone watching could see the difference between the two. West is a decent RB who is going to have a long career in the league. But he simply can't replace JC's explosiveness and ability to avoid defenders. He's much more reliant on blocking than Charles to get his. While he's good enough to get by with, he is not a viable "replacement" for Charles. That's not meant as a slight. Very few players are that productive.
Spencer Ware is a guy many Chiefs fans absolutely love, and for good reason. In limited action, Ware had 5.6 YPC and displayed a high level of vision, power, and cutting ability. He didn't seem overly dependent on blocking, but was rather able to create yards on his own. I can really understand why someone might think Ware has star potential.
The problem? Ware had 72 carries last season. That's not very many (#analysis), and even then Ware got nicked up several times. He hasn't shown the ability to carry the ball even 200-250 times in the NFL without having the injury bug bite him. There's a gigantic question mark there with such a small sample size.
I can understand why people want to believe in the West / Ware combo moving forward. But that's more about dreams of "potential" than it is a reliable plan.
"With the money the Chiefs save on Charles, they can sign a difference maker!"
I've talked quite a bit about the Chiefs cap situation so far this offseason. The simple fact of the matter is the Chiefs have plenty of cap space, more than enough to re-sign the guys they want and still make a few moves. It's simply the truth. People can claim whatever they want regarding how fast the cap space will go, but a simple visit to Over The Cap ought to make anyone realize just how flexible contracts can be, especially with the annual cap increases seemingly here to stay.
Cutting Charles would save the Chiefs $5.3 million. That's absolutely enough money to make a move. But again, the money to make a move ALREADY EXISTS. You're essentially cutting Charles to fix a problem that doesn't really exist.
Of course, I will never convince those who believe the Chiefs are dead in the water cap-wise to believe this. But it remains the truth; the Chiefs have sufficient space to play around without getting rid of a Hall Of Fame caliber player.
When you look at the surface of the reasons people give to cut JC, they look good enough. But I don't believe any of them come close to passing muster. The offense managed to stay afloat without Charles, sure. But that was due to other positions stepping up. Isn't the idea to take a step forward, not tread water? Yes, West and Ware stepped in, but there's no real reason to believe either one can replace Charles for a full season. They don't need the cap space badly enough to justify the move.
In short, you're getting rid of one of the most special players in the league without a surefire replacement in order to do something that isn't necessary. It's a bold strategy, Cotton, but let's not see how that plays out.