The off-season itinerary of the Kansas City Chiefs has been distributed, and the various departments within the organization have begun constructing the blueprint for the 2011 Chiefs. Although the NFL currently has a black cloud looming over its empire with labor issues, all 32 NFL teams are still operating business as usual with hopes that there will not be a work stoppage. Providing that there is a work stoppage, the NFL has already confirmed that there will still be an NFL combine, held in Indianapolis, Indiana from February 24- March 1, 2011, and an NFL draft, held at the Radio City Music Hall in New York, from April 28- 30, 2011 (the NFL will conduct the second and third rounds on April 29th, while the fourth through seventh rounds will be held on April 30th). The Chiefs have the 21st pick overall in this year’s draft, while the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos own the first and second pick. However, before the combine and the draft there will be many other events that will take place prior to evaluating the future talent of the NFL.
First teams must make coaching changes, front office changes, sign free agents, manipulate their rosters, adapt to the regular season schedule, evaluate the past season, and set forth a plan for the upcoming season. Also, teams will be allowed to franchise players, despite not having a current CBA. This phase of the off-season program is addressed before teams begin to send out the scouting troops.
Statistically speaking, the Kansas City Chiefs made big improvements last season. According to kcchiefs.com, the 2010 Chiefs improved in 18 statistical categories, including increases in points scored (72 more), first downs (63 more), total yards (744 more), and had 13 fewer sacks. The Chiefs also lead the league in rushing for the first time since 1995, averaging 164.2 yards per-game. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles combined to post the best rushing total by teammates in 2010, and the top total in Chiefs history. The team won their seventh AFC West title in team history, hosted its first playoff game in seven years , and had five players participate in the 2010 Pro-Bowl. These accomplishments are all building blocks for the Chiefs as they prepare to enter into the 2011 NFL season.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Charlie Weis, the former offensive coordinator, announced his departure smack in the middle of the team’s 2010 playoff run, an act that many believe affected the Chiefs postseason outcome. As a result, the Chiefs have hired Bill Muir to be the team’s new offensive coordinator. Muir has 33 years of coaching experience, and is with the seventh NFL team of his career. Last season Muir was the Chiefs offensive line coach, and Todd Haley feels that he is “the right man for the job.” Other than the teams’ equipment manager of 22 years, Mike Davidson, retiring, no other major coaching changes have been made. Although, Todd Haley did mention that he intends on calling the offensive plays in 2011, as well as possibly hiring a quarterbacks coach.
In the front office, the Chiefs have promoted Mark Donovan, the teams former Chief Operating Officer, as the team’s President, who is responsible for every aspect of the Chiefs’ business operations. All of the other major players within the Chiefs organization are still in place, General Manager Scott Pioli, head coach Todd Haley, assistant coach Maurice Carthon, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel just to name a few.
The Chiefs offseason itinerary does present some obstacles in trying to retain a few players, including the team’s top pass rusher, Tamba Hali. The long list of unsigned Chiefs free agents include Brandon Carr, Shaun Smith, Wallace Gilberry, Barry Richardson, Ron Edwards, Casey Wiegmann, Ryan O’Callaghan, John Brodie Croyle, Michael George Vrabel, Jon McGraw, Terrance Copper, Jackie Battle, and Leonard Pope. Some of the players on this list will definitely not be on the Chiefs roster in 2011. In addition to this, Brian Waters is getting old, Thomas Jones is 33 years old, Terrance Copper and Chris Chambers opposite Dwayne Bowe in 2011 is not an option, a future quarterback in training is needed, and a new defensive line is imperative.
And the return of Cameron Sheffield, the Chiefs’ fifth round pick out of Troy in 2010, is in progress. His return could prove valuable to the linebacking core. Sheffield missed his entire 2010 rookie season with a neck injury that he suffered following a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mike Bell in the pre-season home-opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Sheffield was the only member of the Chiefs 2010 draft class not to appear in a regular season game. The Chiefs 2010 draft class was among the most productive in the NFL.
To fulfill the process of filling team needs, the Kansas City Chiefs have traveled to Mobile, Alabama and attended the 2011 Senior Bowl practices, as well as traveled to Orlando, Florida to attend the 2011 East-West Shrine game. For this year’s Senior Bowl, the Cincinnati Bengals coached the North team, and the Buffalo Bills coached the South team. The Senior Bowl offers a unique opportunity for NFL teams to discover how draft prospects respond to NFL coaching. The practices are conducted by NFL personnel and formatted in a manner that mirrors an NFL-like atmosphere.
Furthermore, a record 56 underclassmen have been granted draft eligibility in 2011, compared to 53 in 2010, 46 in 2009, 53 in 2008, and 40 in 2007.
The preceding list includes the likes of the Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton (QB- Auburn), the Bronko Nagurski winner Da’Quan Bowers (DE- Clemson), the Chuck Bednarik winner Patrick Peterson (DB- LSU), the Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award winner Nick Fairley (DT- Auburn), Blaine Gabbert (QB- Missouri), the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (RB- Alabama), Julio Jones (WR- Alabama), A.J. Green (WR- Georgia), John Clay (RB- Wisconsin), the Dick Butkus Award winner Von Miller (LB- Texas A&M), Jonathan Baldwin (WR- Pittsburgh), and Ryan Mallett (QB- Arkansas).
Even though the 2011 draft contains loads of talent, some inside sources suggest that the Kansas City Chiefs should trade their 21st pick to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for Larry Fitzgerald, who was a former player under the tutelage of Chiefs head coach, Todd Haley, during their Super Bowl XLIII appearance.
Looking back at a list of former 21st picks in Chiefs history I discovered that there have only been three, Sylvester Morris, a wide receiver out of Jackson State in 2000, Harvey Williams, a running back out of Louisiana State University in 1991, and John Alt, an offensive tackle out of Iowa. With that kind of history, I would undoubtedly welcome Mr. Fitzgerald to Arrowhead. Last year the NFL fans witnessed Jermaine Gresham (Cincinnati Bengals), tight end out of Oklahoma, get drafted 21st in the draft.
The Chiefs have their full stock of draft picks and a conditional selection received from New England for safety Jarrad Page.
Regarding the Kansas City Chiefs potential picks in the first round of the 2011 draft, the options vary. Admitting that the Chiefs have many needs, a rush linebacker, a wide receiver, a nose tackle, and an offensive lineman are at the forefront. With the uncertainty of re-signing Tamba Hali hovering above, the Chiefs may be interested in Justin Houston, linebacker, University of Georgia, who had 19.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in his junior year last season. Or one can assume that Jonathan Baldwin, wide receiver, University of Pittsburgh, is a better option to upgrade an already talented offense. Or perhaps, with the 21st pick, the Chiefs could fill the gaps in a depleted defensive line by drafting University of Mississippi’s nose-tackle Jarrell Powe, or Stanford’s nose-tackle, Sione Fua.
Lastly, the Chiefs 2011 schedule consists of six playoff teams (four of which are division champions) from 2010, the Steelers and Packers, the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Chicago Bears, and the Indianapolis Colts. Unlike the 2010 schedule, which was ranked as the 22nd-toughest schedule in the league (.488) last season, the 2011 schedule appears to be a lot tougher.
Let the construction begin, as the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to chase the division crown for a second consecutive season, and the 8th title in team history. Go Chiefs!