I do not believe it was a "football decision".
On Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs surprised pretty much everyone with the release of rookie cornerback KeiVarae Russell. The Chiefs third-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft became the earliest pick to get cut from this year's draft by a country mile. Surprise turned into speculation before Andy Reid addressed the move as a "football decision."
Perhaps it is, under some new definition of the words. However, based on John Dorsey and Andy Reid's "football decisions" to date, the release of Russell makes zero sense.
Focus on the Draft
Others have written plenty about the Chiefs' valuation of draft assets already, recognizing that fellow third round picks like KeiVarae Russell have included Travis Kelce, Phillip Gaines, et al. Russell was the No. 74 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, which means that Dorsey decided it wasn't worth seeing whether or not a Top 75 college talent was going to develop. Remember the lengths to which the Chiefs went to try to get their other third round pick back that the NFL took in the Jeremy Maclin tampering case and you'll see something about the value Dorsey puts on these picks.
This was the draft in which Dorsey decided to complete the youth movement in the secondary. We've already waved goodbye to Sean Smith. We could see Eric Berry in another uniform in 2017. Ron Parker is likely sometime after that. Their replacements have been taken in the last three drafts, from the investment in Gaines and Marcus Peters to the trio taken this year.
Russell was the first of three DBs taken this year (along with Eric Murray and D.J. White). After years of scouting, unknown amounts of time watching film and months of sorting/shaping their draft board, the Chiefs' brass (whose jobs are on the line with these kinds of decisions) decided that KeiVarae Russell was not only an excellent defensive back but one of the top 75 overall players in the draft. Maybe even higher. Do you really think Dorsey changes his mind after a single preseason?
Focus on Development
General manager John Dorsey comes from the Green Bay Packers' system, where free agents are treated like Zika-infected and the entire focus is on player development. When the front office is so in tune with the coaching staff, then the scouts know to identify ideal scheme fits and the coaches develop that talent into recognizable NFL stars. Other teams then pay to acquire those players after the Packers have done the hard work. Meanwhile, the Packers are ready to introduce their fans to another line-up of soon-to-be recognizable pros.
Dorsey is not a full believer in the Packer way just yet. He paid big bucks for Jeremy Maclin. He outbid everyone for Mitch Schwartz. He surprised everyone by retaining an incredible number of the Chiefs free agents this past offseason. At the same time, however, Dorsey has also applied the Packer way across the offensive line and secondary. KeiVarae Russell was a part of that secondary.
Russell had space and time to learn. The Chiefs have a dynamic young core in the secondary with Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson. D.J. White will also begin to earn reps. Kenneth Acker is also in play. There's zero pressure on Russell to do anything but develop over time. Learn how to play special teams. Learn the playbook and terminology. Learn the system in practice and film study. And there's room to keep Russell, believe it or not.
Focus on Depth
The Chiefs are deep, but they're not an All-Star team who can easily dismiss a Top 75 college player. Are you really telling me that the Chiefs would rather develop Ross Travis and James O'Shaughnessy as a third tight end than a cornerback two years behind Gaines in the pipeline who could help defray costs and potentially develop as a high-end talent at corner in the pass-happy NFL? Unless the Chiefs begin to run 3-TE sets 75 percent of the time, it all makes zero sense.
When the Chiefs make "football decisions", they're rooted in a patient developmental process made possible by a harmonious front office-coaching staff relationship. Dumping Russell after the first week of the regular season defies this process at every step. After spending months/years scouting the player, the Chiefs believed he was an impact talent in the making — at a position where they already knew they needed to go all in.
If anything, Russell's own former rookie teammate Demarcus Robinson shows the normal template for the Chiefs in this instance. Robinson was bested by fellow rookie Tyreek Hill in the preseason in terms of flashing instant ability. Robinson will likely sit most of the year. He will sit and learn over time and eventually he'll get a chance to show he can stick.
Instead of giving Russell time to learn the system, instead of allowing the coaching staff to really learn his strengths and weaknesses, instead of seeing their investment through, they made a decision that seems anything but a football decision.
Tell me there were personal issues you cannot discuss. Tell me that it's up to Russell to talk about it if he wants. Tell me in vague terms about character or chemistry or behavior issues. But the moment the team tries to sell it as a football decision is the moment I know it doesn't pass the smell test.
When it comes to the Chiefs, real "football decisions" make sense.