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Things we Lost in the Fire
Posted By ChiefsWarpath.com On April 24, 2009 @ 10:45 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled
In 2004, the Chiefs lost Priest Holmes to injury. In 2005, the Chiefs lost Willie Roaf to retirement. In 2006, the Chiefs lost Trent Green in an ill-advised trade. In 2007, the Chiefs lost Jared Allen to what I can only assume was a bar bet gone wrong. I had hoped that a change in management might bring an end to this recent trend of losing the franchise’s best player at the conclusion of each season. My hopes have been dashed.
In the past three months I have vacillated between cautious optimism and cautious criticism toward the new regime at One Arrowhead Drive. Tonight I’m throwing caution to the wind, and I’m sending optimism along to ride shotgun. It’s time for criticism.
Todd Haley’s father, Dick Haley, was a personnel man for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1971 to 1990. Pittsburgh’s consistently strong performance over the last four decades is largely due to their personnel management. Simply put, no team has done it better. Only the Cowboys and Giants even come close.
As I detailed in my February article Steeler Way, a big part of what made (and still makes) Pittsburgh so successful is that they draft well, shy away from bringing in free agents older than 30, and only tender third contracts to their absolute best players (see: Jerome Bettis, who got paid, versus Alan Faneca, who didn’t). The Steelers age like wine.
Meanwhile, Kansas City is aging like vinegar.
The ostensible justification for trading Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons is that the 2010 second round pick the team received in exchange for their best player will help them build for the future. Anybody who dares question the trade is guilty of failing to see the bigger picture: Tony is in the twilight of his career, and there is no reasonable expectation of getting more than two or three good years out of him. It’s shortsighted to keep an elderly player at a non-impact position when a first day pick is being offered. Never mind that it’s a pick for next year – this team isn’t going anywhere in 2009 anyways.
Which, of course, is why they signed Zach Thomas, Bobby Engram, Mike Vrabel, Monty Beisel, and Mike Goff.
And now they have no offense. quarterback Matt Cassel, the college backup who came of age chucking the rock to two of the three best receivers in the league last year, now has the following weapons at his disposal: a wide receiver with a case of the dropsies, a wide receiver with a case of the breaksies, an older wide receiver with a case of the breaksies, a power running back who ran out of power two years ago when he lost his Hall Of Fame right guard, a backup running back who plays one good game every season before retreating to somewhere south of 3.0 yards per carry, another backup running back with the oratory skills of Helen Keller, and a blocking tight end. Prior to the onset of the 2007 season, erstwhile Broncos tight end turned crocodile tear manufacturer Shannon Sharpe said this about the Chiefs: “They cannot win. All the good players are gone.” Cassel concurs.
But wait, it gets better…. With left guard Brian Waters and his four Pro Bowls likely on the way out of town also, Cassel gets the privilege of standing behind both Damion McIntosh AND Wade Smith on every snap (or at least every snap until Big Mac gets hurt). No wonder he hasn’t singed a contract yet…. Would you?
But this is old hat for even the youngest Chiefs fans. They know from last season alone what can happen to one phase of the game when its best player is traded away. Complimentary players get asked to fill shoes two sizes too big, and with every step they try to take they find themselves falling backward on their asses instead. What’s the main course now in 2009? I can’t see all the way back into the kitchen, but it sure smells like more of the same.
Inevitably someone will argue that it’s a lesser position – a tight end can’t change the game the way a pass rusher can. In principle, that’s true. Tony Gonzalez, however, isn’t exemplary of the principle. Jay Novacek, one of my all-time favorites and often my first reference for how a prototypical tight end should play, garnered much of his success as a foil for Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper. Tony was never the foil. That was always somebody else’s job. His yards gained were never at the expense of a receiver. Actually it was quite the opposite – every receiver Tony ever played with gained yards at his expense. Tony drew double and triple-teams, leaving other targets wide open downfield. That’s the sort of thing receivers do, not tight ends. Not even good tight ends.
That’s a testament to what the Chiefs had, a rare Lawrence Taylor type, who singlehandedly changed every perception about how a position could be played. And, as it was with Taylor, we may not see that position played that well ever again in our lifetimes. Lesser position or not, that’s something not to be taken lightly.
Conventional wisdom declares that a passing game cannot be built around a tight end. Tony Gonzalez’s play defied conventional wisdom. The team was never mistaken for having done so the way that Baltimore was mistaken for building around Todd Heap. But now in Kansas City that one reliable cornerstone is gone, and a team that is struggling mightily for any identity at all will now struggle a little more. Tony bitched just enough while he was here to ensure that a lot of fans will declare for the time being that he won’t be missed, but it’s been over a decade since they’ve seen a game without him. They’ll figure it out soon enough. Bitching aside, as soon as Tony hit the field on Sunday he was a can’t-miss. A can’t-miss is never a won’t-miss; he’s a will-miss.
Tony, you will be missed. Todd, you’d better know exactly what you’re doing. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get it.
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