Get it right Herm.

A make-or-break draft

Mar 25, 2008, 2:07:32 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ

This has got to be the Chiefs’ cloudiest off-season since 1989, when Marty Schottenheimer took over in the wake of a 4-11-1 season, or since 2001, when Dick Vermeil came in after a 7-9 season. You knew the winds of change would blow, but who knew from what direction?

You should usually brace yourself for just about anything when a new coach takes over, though continuity seemed likely in 1999 when Gunther Cunningham inherited Schottenheimer’s veteran-dominated roster. Give a coach a few seasons to install his systems and acquire talent and you usually have a reasonable idea what to expect.

So why is the outlook so murky heading into Herm Edwards’ third season with the Chiefs? Because he’s a third-year coach with a first-year mindset. Coming off a dismal season he is, in some respects, starting over. His key team-building decisions are yet to come.

Edwards has shown in his first two seasons that he wants a dominating defense with a power-running offense. But we already knew that, based on his five seasons with the New York Jets.

He’s rebuilding the Chiefs now as he would have preferred to do in 2006. But that would have involved blowing up a team that still had enough veteran talent to squeeze into a wild-card spot. The bottoming out came last season. The Chiefs, as we speak, are mired in a nine-game losing streak and we have yet to see any indication of what might make them better.

That is, of course, because Edwards has chosen to attempt a turnaround primarily through the draft. He has not added one guaranteed starter this off-season, though free-agent signee Demorrio Williams presumably will compete for a starting linebacker’s spot.

The first real tipoff to the look of the 2008 Chiefs will come from the 10 draft picks, barring trades, that the Chiefs will make April 26-27.

It’s a pretty good guess that the Chiefs will have an above-average defense, no matter what, but the caliber of cornerbacks they draft will tell us more. It’s a pretty good guess the Chiefs will have a below-average offense again but the caliber of linemen and receivers they add will tell us more.

Or maybe not. We still don’t know whether end Turk McBride and tackle Tank Tyler, who played limited roles last season as rookies despite receiving rave reviews on draft day, are ready to put the finishing touches on the Chiefs’ defensive front.

A team coming off a 4-12 season, obviously, needs immediate help. That means signing serviceable veterans, an approach that’s failed consistently for the Chiefs in recent years, or betting you can identify winning prospects in the draft and plug them into the lineup as rookies.

The latter approach is a gutsy one for Edwards because he has to know another dismal season would put him squarely on the hot seat. For many coaches in his situation, a free-agent quick fix, instead of a long-range plan, might be tempting.

We all know the draft is the most tried and true approach to building a winner in the NFL. That is also, however, far easier said than done, and dramatic improvement for the Chiefs in 2008 depends upon Edwards getting almost as much talent from this draft as from his first two drafts combined.

Folks aren’t just blowing smoke when they call this the Chiefs’ most important draft in nearly 20 years.