The 2004 season has finally, mercifully ended for the Chiefs – and not a moment too soon, I may add. It was a season that never should have happened the way it did. The high-powered offense was going to get help via an improved defense. The improvement, however, was supposed to improve simply by the return of Gunter Cunningham. Potential free agents Eric Hicks, Jerome Woods, Jon Browning, and William Bartee were re-signed to fat contracts. The “Gun” could take care of the rest. I have no idea what they were smoking at Arrowhead Stadium the day when those decisions were made, but now Carl Peterson, Dick Vermeil, and staff really have a mess to fix. The problem is, where do you start?
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a commentary questioning Vermeil’s sanity after he decided to bring Greg Robinson back for another season. I pointed out that the 2002 Chiefs defense set eight team records for futility, including most points given up, most passing touchdowns permitted, and most net passing yardage permitted. The 2004 Chiefs defense only set four team records for futility but they were:
* Most point permitted (435)
* Most passing touchdowns permitted (32)
* Most total touchdowns permitted (53)
* Most net passing yards permitted (4,210)
No, I am not screaming for Gunter’s head. This time, I am pleading for the players’ heads. They didn’t do squat for Robinson and they didn’t do much for Cunningham. The only logical conclusion is that the players are either unwilling or unable to perform at a high level and need to be replaced. There was an inability to force turnovers (8 fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions) and absolutely no ability to stop the big play. In short, the defense was an embarrassment. Based on an email I heard read on the Jim Rome Show Jan 5, 2005 (“Dear Jim, Other than the two or three big plays they gave up, we thought the Oklahoma defense played really well. Signed, the Kansas City Chiefs defense”), the defense was a national laughingstock. To those of us that grew up watching the great Chiefs defenses of the late ‘60s that is totally unacceptable.
So, back to my original question; where do you start? Several underachieving players were signed to long-term contracts in the past two years (Wesley, Woods, Hicks, Bartee, Barber, McCleon, and Holliday immediately come to mind) and it would be salary cap suicide to cut most of them. However, Barber, Holliday, and McCleon could be affordably released after June 1. Scott Fujita and Monty Beisel will be free agents and the team needs to think long & hard before offering either one a long-term deal.
I’m not sure what the problem is with Hicks and Ryan Sims. Hicks had a huge season in 2000 and hasn’t done much since. Sims hasn’t done much at all except collect his paycheck. I hesitate to use the word “bust” but Sims certainly fits the bill. In the secondary, Bartee and Julian Battle are major busts. They were toasted so often this season that they will spend most of the off season in the burn ward recovering. They need to be shown the exit. Don’t get me started about what I think of Jerome Woods who signed a fat contract before the season and did nothing to earn his pay.
The main problem with the defense, however, is a lack of leadership. Once Mike Mazlowski went down with a knee injury, no one stepped in to take his place. Veterans like Woods, Wesley, Browning, Hicks, Barber, and Holliday needed to step up and fill the void. Unfortunately, other than Browning, the only place these guys stepped up to was the pay line. A fiery leader or two need to be brought in as free agents.
Mostly what is needed is patience. The rebuilding of the defense is not going to be accomplished in one year. It may not be completed in two, but it needs to be done. There are precious few players currently on the defensive roster who deserve to be there. The rest need to go.