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Andy Reid’s transformation of the Chiefs is now complete

With the departure of Berry and Houston, the last members of the 2012 team are now gone.

Kansas City Chiefs Introduce Andy Reid
Andy Reid and Clark Hunt smile for the cameras after Reid was named head coach of the Chiefs in January 2013
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Chiefs released linebacker Justin Houston. On Wednesday — minutes after the new league year began at 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time — the Chiefs released safety Eric Berry.

And just like that, head coach Andy Reid completed his transformation of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Houston and Berry were the last players who remained from the 2012 Chiefs team that finished the season 2-14 — tied for the worst record in franchise history and arguably the worst team the Chiefs ever fielded.

To say that, we’re making exceptions for ageless punter Dustin Colquitt — simply because he’s a kicker, and kickers always get exceptions — as well as defensive tackle Allen Bailey, who is a free agent and is unlikely to return in 2019. (Bailey is visiting the New England Patriots on Thursday).

And we’re making another exception for offensive lineman Jeff Allen, who left for the Houston Texans in free agency in 2016, only to return last season when injuries ravaged the Chiefs offensive line. Allen is also unlikely to play for the Chiefs in 2019.

2012 Chiefs Starters

Offense Defense
QB Matt Cassel DE Tyson Jackson
RB Jamaal Charles DE Ropati Pitoitua
WR Dwayne Bowe NT Dontari Poe
WR Jonathan Baldwin LOLB Justin Houston
TE Steve Maneri LILB Jovan Belcher
TE Tony Moeaki RILB Derrick Johnson
LT Branden Albert ROLB Tamba Hali
LG Jeff Allen LCB Brandon Flowers
C Ryan Lilja RCB Javier Arenas
RG Jon Asamoah SS Eric Berry
RT Eric Winston FS Kendrick Lewis
Special Teams
K Ryan Succop P Dustin Colquitt

When I went back to look at the 2012 starting roster, I thought I’d see plenty of bad players there. But what I noticed was there were plenty of good players on it.

That seems to be what Andy Reid and John Dorsey noticed, too.

Still, when they took over in 2013, the changes they made were brutal. Just 24 of the 63 players on the 2012 roster returned the following season — the lowest percentage of any season going back to the beginning of the Carl Peterson era in 1989 — including just 14 of 22 starters, which was also the lowest percentage since 1989.

In itself, that wasn’t particularly surprising. It’s not exactly newsworthy when a new regime cleans house, right? But two things about the 2013 roster changes stood out.

One was what happened on the back end of the roster. Just 10 of the 41 reserve players from 2012 returned the following year, which was far and away the fewest since 1989.

The other was the surgical precision with which these cuts were made, which played a large part in one of the most remarkable turnarounds in NFL history. Certainly coaching (and putting a solid player at the most important position on the field) made a lot of the difference when the Chiefs went from 2-14 to 11-5 in a single season, but it’s unlikely that would have happened if the Chiefs kept the wrong players.

When they took over the Chiefs team that had finished 2-14 in 2008, Scott Pioli and Todd Haley famously promised to put the right 53 on the Chiefs roster. But it turned out that only Dorsey and Reid actually knew how to do that.

Dorsey and Reid brought in 28 veteran players in 2013 — including six who started that season — which was easily the highest number since 1989. But there was an important difference: they didn’t keep doing it.

17 veteran players joined the roster in 2014 and only seven came on board in 2015. In the years since then, the Chiefs have reverted almost exactly to the mean, bringing 11, 12 and 13 veterans to the team from 2016 through 2018. Over the 30 years since 1989, the average is 12.3.

In 2013, 47 percent of the Chiefs roster consisted of players who had started their careers elsewhere. That percentage rose to 51 percent in 2014, but by 2018, the percentage had fallen to 35 percent. To give you a frame of reference, that’s a lower percentage than all but two of the 20 seasons Carl Peterson was running the team; Peterson actually had seven consecutive seasons — 1993 through 1999 — with a percentage of 45 percent or more.

None of that should be a surprise to you. Walk into any Kansas City sports bar on an NFL Sunday and ask a random person watching the Chiefs game. They’ll likely tell you that Peterson depended too much on veteran players.

And as I pointed out last Friday, the Chiefs under Andy Reid have constructed a roster much like that of the New England Patriots — one that is primarily built on homegrown talent.

But there’s an aspect to the way the Chiefs have built their roster that has gone unnoticed by most fans. In 2018, the Chiefs starting roster averaged just 3.3 years of NFL experience. Only two Chiefs starting rosters in the last 30 years even came close to having that little experience: in 2008, the starters averaged 3.1 years. In 2012, they averaged 3.5.

Both of those teams finished 2-14. The 2018 Chiefs ended up being one play away from the Super Bowl.

When Brett Veach became general manager of the Chiefs in 2018, he had an advantage that few new GMs possess: the team was already talented — and Veach himself had played a substantial role in making it that way, having been a subordinate of Dorey’s since 2013. So in his first year, it wasn’t necessary for him to make wholesale changes to the roster in order to improve a team lacking in talent — something that all three Chiefs GMs that preceded him had to do.

But now, Chiefs fans — and the whole NFL — are buzzing about the “complete defensive rebuild” taking place in Kansas City. Even though just a week ago, I was essentially advocating for the exactly the moves the Chiefs have made since Sunday — saying that releasing Houston, trading Ford and cutting Berry were exactly the kinds of moves Bill Belichick might make — when Veach actually made them, I found myself in shock, wondering if the young GM had lost his mind.

I’ll understand if you don’t believe that I — the eternal optimist of the AP staff — was in shock. But ask Pete Sweeney. I was depressed when we finished up our work for the day very late on Thursday night, and I was irascible when I checked in on Wednesday morning.

(Editor’s note: He was.)

But now I have calmed down, recognizing that Veach had a much different problem to solve than any Chiefs GM who has preceded him. He must find the proper balance of talent between offense and defense, while also correcting a longstanding problem that existed before Dorsey arrived, and that Dorsey only made worse: properly managing the salary cap.

So while this week’s changes have been painful, they were necessary. Sooner or later, somebody was going to have to rip off the Band-Aid — and now Veach has done so. Such a move doesn’t come without cost.

Since three of the players who have hit the road since Sunday were starters in 2018, the changes could result in a dropoff in defensive production in the coming season. Those Chiefs fans who routinely state that the Chiefs had the second-worst defense in the NFL last season will scoff at that, saying the defense couldn’t possibly get worse.

But they’re wrong. They’re basing their belief only on total yards allowed, which is far from the most reasonable measure of defensive performance.

So make no mistake: the Chiefs defense could get worse in 2019. But there is definitely good news to go with it: even if they do, there’s every reason to believe that the team as a whole is now — finally — on the right track.

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