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Top Five Reasons Why the Chiefs are Stuck in Rebuilding Mode

More by William Cloake
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Top Five Reasons Why the Chiefs are Stuck in Rebuilding Mode.

There is an old saying that goes: "Some team rebuild while others reload". Certainly, there was a time when the Kansas City Chiefs were in the later category. From 1989-1997 – the first nine years of the Mary Schottenheimer era, the Chiefs simply reloaded. During those 9 years, the Chiefs average 10.4 wins per season, made 7 play-off appearances and won three division titles.

Then, in 1998 something happened. The Chiefs stumbled to their first losing season in nine years, going 7-9. At that point, the Chiefs parted ways with Schottenheimer and promoted defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to head coach. Since then, the Chiefs have had three head coaches, have averaged only 8 wins per season, have made the play-offs only twice and have won only one division title.

Frankly, in spite of having three winning seasons in the past 10 years, the Chiefs have clearly been stuck in rebuilding mode. Evidence of this may be seen following the Chiefs 2003 season. The Chiefs managed to go 13-3 and win a division title. However, the next season the Chiefs dropped to 7-9 and missed the play-offs. The reason for this is clear. While having gone 13-3, the 2003 Chiefs were far from a "rebuilt squad". They ranked 29th in total defense and were ranked 19th in points given up. Although the Chiefs managed to get 13 wins, it was mostly a product of a weak schedule, strong offense & special teams and – to be honest – a lot of luck.

So what has gone wrong? Why are the Chiefs stuck in rebuilding mode? Interestingly, it has been mostly the same things for the past 10 seasons. So with no further ado, I'd like to present to you the top 5 reasons the Chiefs have been stuck in rebuilding mode the past 10 years.

Number 5: Choosing Elvis GrBac over Rich Gannon

Now there is more to this than meets the eye. Even at a quick glance, it is obvious the Chiefs made the wrong choice at quarterback. While the Chiefs held onto Grbac for two more productive seasons, Gannon went on to play for the Raiders for six and won a league MVP. While Gannon may have been the better QB, there is even more to it. Had the Chiefs resigned Gannon it would have likely been to a four or five year deal, which would have potentially averted the problems created when GrBac bolted to the Ravens in 2001.

As a result of not having Gannon or GrBac, the Chiefs were forced to go out and get a quarterback in 2001. They traded their number one pick, 12th overall to the Rams for Trent Green. Essentially, the Chiefs wound up wasting a pick that they would have had, if they had signed Gannon to a longer term deal. While the Rams used the #12 pick on Damion Lewis – a defensive tackle who was nothing more than a rotation player, the Jacksonville Jaguars picked up 3-time pro bowl defensive tackle Marcus Stroud at #13. Had the Chiefs acquired Stroud he could have shored up the run defense, which has been a problem for the past 10 seasons.

Ultimately, choosing GrBac costed the Chiefs not only a better quarterback (Gannon) but the potential to fill another hole as well. A hole that has continued to plague the Chiefs until this day.

Number 4: Failing to Draft or Acquire any Impact Linebackers on Defense.

It is no coincidence that - when at its prime in 1997 - the Chiefs linebacking core consisted of names like Donnie Edwards, Tracy Simien and Derrick Thomas. As time passed and these players left through free agency or tragedy (in the case of Thomas), the Chiefs did not have adequate replacements waiting in the wings. The Chiefs seemed to understand the need to draft replacement linebackers as they selected 10 in the 10 years since 1998. However, of these, only one – Derrick Johnson – has been a success. Others, such as Scott Fujita and Kawika Mitchell started for the Chiefs but were considered failures, in spite of having success elsewhere.

What is more, the Chiefs efforts at acquiring quality linebackers through free agency were all miserable failures. Players such as Shawn Barbers, Kendrell Bell, Napolean Harris and Lewis Bush have all flopped after having success elsewhere.

Much of the Chiefs problems with developing linebackers may have been the result of radical changes in scheme that seemed to occur on a regular basis. After Gunther Cunningham was replaced by Vermeil in 2001, the defense struggled because the Chiefs linebackers were unable to cover well. Enter Shawn Barber and Scott Fujita, both quicker linebackers who were well-suited to cover schemes. A few seasons later, when Gunther Cunningham returned Barber (who was oft-injured, anyway) and Fujita were a poor fit because they didn't play "downhill" enough. Now, in 2007, enter Herm Edwards and the Tampa 2 and linebackers suddenly need to be able to cover again.

In any event, regardless of reason, a failure to find answers at linebacker led the Chiefs to sign Napolean Harris and an aging Donnie Edwards in 2007 and to add DeMorrio Williams in 2008. However, Harris has been such a disappointment that has lost his job to unheralded Pat Thomas, who appears to at best be a stop-gap solution. Given Edwards age, it is likely the Chiefs have at least one – and probably two – linebacking positions to be filled going into 2009.

A final failure – which pertains to the Chiefs inability to rebuild its linebacking core - has to do with the drafting of Larry Johnson. In 2003, it was clear that the Chiefs needed a middle linebacker (the chose Kawika Mitchell in the 2nd round) as their middle linebacker in 2002, 35 year old Marvcus Patton, had retired. Drafting at number 21, the man that Dick Vermeil wanted Nick Barnett was still on the Board. However, Carl Peterson instead chose to draft Johnson. While Johnson has been a good back for the Chiefs, he wasn't needed at the time. Barnett on the other hand has become a staple of Green Bay's defense and has started every game of his career and made the NFL's all-rookie team in 2003. Meanwhile, Mitchell failed to even make the active roster on opening day as the Chiefs wound up converting free agent outside linebacker Mike Maslowski to the middle. When Maslowski got hurt in the middle of 2003, the Chiefs defense fell to pieces with Mitchell in the middle. If the Chiefs had drafted Barnett it might have been enough to put them over the top and past the Colts in 2003. Instead, the Chiefs struggled with Mitchell for four seasons before giving up on him in 2007.

Number 3: Failure to draft and develop a competent offensive tackles

This story begins in 1995, when the Chiefs spent their number one pick on Trezelle Jenkins, who was to be groomed as the replacement for an aging John Alt. Jenkins was to go down as one of the biggest busts in Chiefs history. After only three seasons, he was given his release after playing in a grand total of 9 games, with only one start.

Now faced with a retiring Jeff Criswell and questions at both offensive tackles, the Chiefs spent number one picks on Victor Riley and John Tait, in 1998 & 1999 respectively, who were supposed to be the Chiefs offensive tackles for years to come. However, Tait struggled at left tackle and was finally moved to right in 2002 ironically, to replace Riley, who was not resigned after proving to be an average player at best. In 2001, the Chiefs acquired Willie Roaf, who was 32 and thus began arguably one of the greatest offensive line groups in NFL history. However, while this was a great group, Roaf was aging fast and it was no secret that the Chiefs needed to groom a replacement.

While they clearly understood this fact, the Chiefs were completely unable to do so. The Chiefs proceeded to take at least one offensive tackle in every year from 2001 through 2008, except 2002. In both 2003 and 2005, the drafted two offensive tackles. Yet, of all of the players taken, only Jordan Black received substantial playing time and he played really out of necessity, rather than talent.

As a result, 2008, after trying every stop gap solution from John Welborne to Kyle Turley, the Chiefs are starting a rookie at left tackle and still have problems at right (Damion McIntosh). Had the Chiefs drafted and groomed replacements out of all the picks spent, they could have spent free agent money elsewhere or used picks to shore up other problems. Instead, the Chiefs failed to draft competent players, who could have learned from and been developed behind some great offensive lineman. As a result, as players like Will Shields and Willie Roaf retired, the Chiefs did not have answers waiting in the wings.

Number 2: Missing on Several Defensive Tackles in the Draft.

In 1997, when the Chiefs went 13-3, the Chiefs led the NFL in scoring defense giving up only 232 points. The Chiefs ranked 7th in rushing defense and 11th in total defensive yards. That off-season, the Chiefs allowed Joe Phillips & Vaughn Booker both to depart via free agency. Booker was replaced with an aging Leslie O'Neil, Phillips was replaced with Tom Barndt. The results were instantaneous; the Chiefs went from #1 in scoring defense to #22, giving up 363 points. Most notably, the Chiefs dropped to #18 against the run. Against the pass, without Phillips to take up space and command double-teams, the Chiefs sack total dropped from 54 to 40.

As a result, the Chiefs revamped their defense in 1999 and switched from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. It was at this time that the Chiefs Holy Grail search for a quality defensive tackle began. Since 1998, the Chiefs have drafted 10 defensive tackles. Of these 10, only the Chiefs picks taken in the past two seasons are still on the roster. Meanwhile, the rest were all busts, including a number one spent on Ryan Sims and two number twos spent on Eddie Freeman & Junior Siavii and a number three spent on Eric Downing.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs defense has continued to linger near the bottom of the league in run defense every season and failed to get pressure up the middle from and defensive tackle. As a result, the rebuilding of the Chiefs defensive line has been an ongoing process ever since that fateful day in 1998 when Joe Phillips got away.

Number 1: The Failure to Find a Way to Keep Marty Schottenheimer

When the Chiefs and Marty parted ways in 1998, most Chiefs fans through a ticker tape parade. Although the Chiefs had by and large been successful during his tenure, Chiefs fans were frustrated by early exits from the play-offs following 13-3 campaigns in 1995 and 1997. However, it wasn't Marty who missed three field goals 1995 or who missed a wide open Kimble Anders in the flat – on 4th down – in 1997.

Although Marty's Chiefs had their only losing campaign in 1998, that particular Chiefs team was particularly mired with injuries. Considering, that the 7-9 record was Marty's only losing campaign it seems – particularly in retrospect – that his "resignation" was premature. Although Marty did resign, the word around the league was the disagreements about player personnel had led to a rift between him and GM Carl Peterson. Although, he had resigned, it was clear that he had done so because if he hadn't he was going to be fired. Interestingly, the Chiefs chose defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to replace him. The idea being that they could continue what Marty did sans Marty. Taking over Marty's squad, now without the injuries, the Chiefs wound up that season a field goal away from an AFC west title, but the wheels were soon about to come off.

Player soon began to comment about a lack of confidence in Gunther Cunningham as head coach and by the end of 1999 it was obvious he had lost control of the ship. Cunningham was completely unable to control certain players with "attitudes" that Marty had somehow been able to inspire (i.e. Chester McGlockton, Tamarick Vanover, Derrick Alexander and Elvis Grbac). Additionally, it seemed the Cunningham did not have Marty's touch for developing younger players. Of the 14 players drafted in the Cunningham era only two John Tait and Greg Wesley wound up being everyday starters. Others were giant flops, including cornerback Willie Bartee, Runningbacks Mike Cloud, & Frank Moreau and defensive end Gary Stills (who did make a pro-bowl on special teams).

As a result, by the time Cunningham was replaced by Dick Vermeil the team was in shambles. Vermeil quickly rooted out the malcontents, but there wasn't much talent left when he was done. Left with a dearth of talent, the Chiefs had an offense and defense to rebuild. Vermeil managed to rebuild an offense, but the defensive problems remained. Sad to say, the Chiefs efforts to fix the problems never seemed to pan out and the defensive rebuilding project went on and on. Before you knew it, the offense – fixed quickly with veteran acquisitions – needed rebuilding, too, as younger players did not pan out. As a result, the Chiefs rebuilding project still continues until this day.

And the Chiefs seem to be stuck in rebuilding mode...

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