When Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and his head coach assemble the 2009 Chiefs, they can start anywhere they like. They’ll take over a team that boasts few apparent strengths, as a 2-14 finish last season would suggest.
The front seven of the defense, which ranked next to last in the NFL and had the league’s weakest pass rush ever, needs plenty of work. So do the special teams.
The offense, surprisingly, proved a relative bright spot, though having the league’s 24th-ranked unit is nothing to write home about. And who knows if the spread formation, which helped quarterback Tyler Thigpen and his offense come to life, will even take a curtain call?
Pioli and his coach won’t need a crowbar to pull the 2008 Chiefs apart. The walls already have come down, and no room defies redecoration.
That wasn’t the case when Herm Edwards arrived in 2006. He inherited the league-leading offense, but it was dominated by veterans with iffy expiration dates. There loomed the danger of this unit getting old in a hurry – which it did — but why fix it until it was broken?
Now, every unit of the Chiefs needs fixing, which gives Pioli and his new coach a lot of choices. But the choices are tough because they can’t refit an entire roster in one off-season. And thanks to the salary cap, upgrading all units becomes especially challenging, even over the long haul.
If there’s one overriding lesson from the regime of Edwards and president Carl Peterson over the last three years, it’s the need to hire people who mesh with the guiding philosophy. With 20-20 hindsight, it’s clear that the Chiefs didn’t do that.
Mike Solari was miscast as an offensive coordinator for two years. Gunther Cunningham, though a respected coordinator, wasn’t, by his own admission, a good fit to run Edwards’ cover two defense.
Brodie Croyle, counted on to blossom into a franchise quarterback, was injured four times while losing all eight of his starts. The NFL exacts a stiff price for misfiring on so many key decisions.
Edwards preached textbook football – a dominating defense that would create scoring opportunities for a power-running offense. His Chiefs ideally would keep games close into the fourth quarter, then be smart, tough and disciplined enough to make the plays it took to win.
But a team that banks on good field position needs top-notch special teams, especially a blue-chip place kicker who comes through at crunch time. But the Chiefs’ special teams weren’t special, and Edwards kept shuffling kickers and return men, most of whom did not fit the bill. Even star punter Dustin Colquitt had an off year in 2008 when he struggled with injuries.
When the Chiefs went to a passer-friendly spread offense after season-ending injuries to Croyle and Damon Huard, they were far afield from the punishing ground game Edwards had envisioned. While coordinator Chan Gailey’s spread proved a near stroke of genius, it also was a last resort.
Edwards, astonishingly, wound up with a team in 2008 that was the antithesis of what he said he wanted in 2006. Because of that formidable detour, it would’ve taken a long leap of faith to believe the Chiefs were headed in the right direction.
Though the 2008 Chiefs were loaded with youngsters, it’s anybody’s guess how many will be part of their future.
The new regime will have to diversify its player portfolio. Even teams building primarily through the draft need a winning blend of youth and age, and a key free agent here and there.
Though Pioli’s a man of few words in public, his personnel decisions will reveal his blueprint. Here’s betting that a few years down the road, we’ll still be able to see it in what he builds.