With the holidays upon us and the new year only a few weeks away, the front office of the Kansas City Chiefs must begin in earnest the process of making sure that next season in no way resembles the current one. Last Sundays win on the road against the Raiders was a nice victory, and one that was sorely needed for the players to maintain some confidence as they head into the last four games of the season. However, it is much more important at this stage of a disastrous season to begin looking towards next season.
2005 will be here very soon, and then it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to free agency and the impending college draft in April. It could have been argued that last years draft was one of the most important in the history of the franchise, and with that being said it is now imperative that the front office of the Chiefs does not fumble away another opportunity.
It has been stated in this space before that I believe the Chiefs would be better served to have a new Team President and General Manager to replace the tired regime of Carl Peterson. But if Lamar Hunt chooses not to bring in some new blood, then it is absolutely mandatory that Mr. Peterson not have anymore mental breakdowns come draft time. In the past several drafts there have been some pleasant surprises to be sure, however most of them have come in the mid to late rounds. Where the Chiefs have most often made mistakes has been in the first few rounds of the selection process.
In the 2003 draft the Chiefs traded down from the number 16 slot to the number 27 position to select Penn State running back Larry Johnson. Despite his performance against the Raiders last week, which was due mainly to the offensive line having their best game of the year, his first round selection was not warranted. And in the second round of that very draft, the Chiefs selected Kawika Mitchell, a linebacker that many teams didn’t even have on their draft board to be selected at anytime in the draft, let alone the second round! And his performance since he’s been with the team has been what most of the other teams would have anticipated, very poor. But in a positive vein, later in that same draft the Chiefs selected Jordan Black, an offensive lineman from Notre Dame, who has played well in limited action and has a very bright future.
The performance of the Chiefs braintrust in that draft should have given them some insight heading into the draft of 2004, however they did it again! Their selection of Oregon defensive tackle Junior Siavvi as their first pick was another huge reach. He has played decently at times this season when he has been healthy, however he would have easily been available to be chosen in the third or fourth round, or even later. But once again, in that very draft, the Chiefs found a gem in Idaho State defensive end Jared Allen, when he was taken on the second day.
So the powers to be at Arrowhead Stadium will have yet another opportunity to get it right. And considering the Chiefs will probably finish 6-10 or 7-9 at best, they should be somewhere in the top ten as far as draft order is concerned. This of course will be an ideal place to select a defensive player who will have an impact and will bring dividends in his first year.
When you look at the results of the current season, it is clear where the focus of the draft and or free agency needs to be. Despite some backbreaking long runs against the defense, the line has quite obviously been improved. The addition of Lional Dalton and Jared Allen helped this unit immensely. And even though the numbers may be a little misleading, given the fact that most teams would rather throw the ball against the Chiefs, the D-line has done an admirable job of stopping the run. So even though Vonnie Holliday and Eric Hicks have had below average years, and much more should be expected of the likes of Ryan Sims and John Browning, this unit deserves to stay intact for another season.
This leaves the two areas that must be addressed if the Chiefs expect to contend anytime soon. This of course is the linebacking and defensive backfield units. Scott Fujita and Shawn Barber are above average linebackers and in my opinion would be even more effective if they had someone in the middle to help them out. Shawn Barber is probably a little overpaid for what he brings to the table, but with a better supporting cast he could unleash his potential. This leaves the drafting of an inside linebacker as extremely important and it must be addressed in the first two rounds of the draft. There are some goods ones out there that are first round material, such as Kirk Morrison of San Diego State, Mike Goolsby of Notre Dame and Lance Mitchell of Oklahoma. There are others that could be effective as well, but either way, it must be addressed. Counting on Mike Maslowski’s return will not be enough.
With the other one of their top two selections the Chiefs must take either a safety or a shut down corner. This is mandatory as well! Going into next year with the William Bartees and the Greg Wesleys of the world will not cut it. Taking a flyer on a small college player will not get it done next season either. Players like Corey Webster of Louisiana State, Antrel Rolle of Miami or Jamaal Brimmer from UNLV will be what’s needed to shore up the secondary.
So with the offense continuing to put up outstanding numbers, and the bounce back seasons of Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton, the defense should be the sole focus of the draft and free agency. It would also behoove the Chiefs to replace punter Steve Cheek with either a free agent or possibly even drafting BYU’s outstanding punter Matt Payne in the fourth or fifth round.
It is clear that those of us outside the hierarchy of the Chiefs, that are not able to sit at the table with the decision makers on draft day, must hope and pray that the people in control make the right moves when the moment arrives. With the mistakes of the past now over and done with, and nothing but water under the bridge, it is now time to rectify the situation and make the necessary adjustments in the offseason.
So in closing, I would like to wish the front office of the Kansas City Chiefs a very Happy Holiday Season! But when the last piece of pumpkin pie is finished off, please retreat to wherever it is that you go to work and begin doing so. Next spring will be here before you know it!