The NFL is so popular now that the maxims, taken together, don't make sense. Quarterback is the most important position, but you also can't have too many pass rushers. Or cornerbacks. But left tackle is also important. But now it's both tackles. The game is also won in the trenches, but you need someone to stretch the field.
The bottom line is that all 11 starters in a given unit are important. Some positions should definitely be prioritized over others — quarterback over, say, fullback — but how much is enough? Really? Because if you can't have too many cornerbacks, for instance, then that means you'll never focus upgrading other positions. And haven't the Chiefs already invested enough?
Let me state my case, because I think it's here that my editorial boss would disagree with me. He's already making heart lockets for Eli Apple and hoping the Chiefs go all-in on another cornerback early in the draft. My belief:
The Chiefs have made all of the investments they need at cornerback already.
Before you jump to the comments to say, "You're an idiot," let me at least show you why I am an idiot so you don't have to assume.
1. John Dorsey has been thinking about 2016 since 2013
I believe the Chiefs knew coming into the 2015 season that Sean Smith was done with the Chiefs in 2016. They knew they'd signed him on the cheap, and that he'd flip and find himself a rich market three years later. Dorsey made the requisite draft investments (more on that in a minute) to hopefully solve the issue and moved on to other things. Because, I think, he knew Smith would be on to other things. He's not reactionary to the market.
Let's allow Dorsey to speak for himself. Here's a bit of the Q&A at the recent NFL Combine.
Q: Is it harder now to manage your cap space when you're having to spend big money on players in the open market?
DORSEY: "No, I don't think it is. I think what it is, if you plan out three, four years at a time here and you have an understanding of your team and the makeup of those specific players, no, I don't think to manage the cap that's true."
Translation: "I've been thinking about the moves I'd have to make this offseason when you were watching the Sochi Olympics. I'm that far ahead. So no, the cap isn't a problem because all I think about is this team's future."
This means Dorsey is not going to be reactive to a single player's potential exit. He's either planned well in advance to retain the player or not. Given the lack of public mentions (compared to Eric Berry or Derrick Johnson), it's clear Smith is going to get his major payday elsewhere. It also means Dorsey isn't wondering what he will do about the secondary, if/when Smith leaves.
2. The investments have been made
Analyzing 2016 by only looking at 2015 is a serious mistake. It's the fan who thinks Jamaal Charles is expendable just because the Chiefs beat some non-playoff teams in a row with two surprise candidates. "They were fine then, so they'll be fine now."
If you look at the secondary with only 2015 on the mind, you'll end up in a dark place — one that is, in fact, reactionary (the opposite of Dorsey). Your "sky is falling" rhetoric will sound something like this:
"If Sean Smith leaves then that means Marcus Peters is the only proven pass defender on this team! What playoff hopes can a team have if they have one dependable corner? Phillip Gaines is unproven and injured! Steven Nelson is just unproven! Marcus Cooper and Jamell Fleming are fringe roster players! We're screwed!"
To be honest, there are definitely kernels of truth to be found in that paragraph. You can definitely view the secondary as more second-scary without a proven veteran like Smith opposite Peters. But consider point No. 1 and then look at the investments that have been made in the secondary over the last two years.
- First round draft pick in 2015: Marcus Peters
- Third round draft pick in 2015: Steven Nelson
- Third round draft pick in 2014: Phillip Gaines
Dorsey has used 50% of his Day 1 & 2 picks over the last two years on cornerbacks. After Dorsey grabbed his quarterback and his tackle, he immediately went to work on the secondary. He signed a veteran who could occupy one side for three years (Smith) and then set out to replenish a very bare cabinet with that time frame he'd set up.
You don't invest collaborative years evaluating high-value picks only to doubt them when you actually need them. If you're Dorsey, you trust your process. That's why it's in place. You trust the word of your scouts. You make your selection. You trust your coaches to take the talent you've given to them and mold them into playmakers. That's how this works.
3. Dorsey's earned our trust
Unfortunately, there aren't any assurances for Dorsey or Reid or Clark Hunt that these moves are going to pan out. It's entirely possible that the Chiefs pass defense will take a hit if Sean Smith leaves for another team. Injuries happen. Draft picks don't pan out. It's part of the game.
That said, Dorsey has proven his acumen to date in his post with the Chiefs. He's also earned our trust. We've seen immediate payoff on some moves and late bloomers in others, but very few of the seeds that Dorsey have planted have failed to yield some dividends.
What I wouldn't expect, then, is for Dorsey to over-invest in a single position because he's suddenly stopped trusting his process. There's zero reason to think that both Nelson and Gaines can't join Peters to form a young, dynamic pass coverage unit.
Unless there's an incredible playmaker unexpected still on Dorsey's draft board, I can't imagine we'll hear a cornerback's name called in the first round.