Keeping It Together
The Chiefs were one of the surprise stories of the 2013 season. After posting a 2–14 record in ’12, coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey tweaked the roster enough to usher in a nine-game improvement and the franchise’s second playoff berth since 2006.
There were a lot of good things to build off. And with players entering the second year in Reid’s offense, and the attacking 3-4 defense of coordinator Bob Sutton, a program of sustained success—a hallmark of Reid’s Eagles teams—was set to take off.
Then free agency started, and the Chiefs were raided. LT Branden Albert, OGs Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz, safeties Quintin Demps and Kendrick Lewis, defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Jerrell Powe, linebacker Akeem Jordan and versatile offensive threat Dexter McCluster all exited.
The Chiefs, who were on the lower end of the salary cap list before free agency with just over $9 million available, didn’t really have much of a choice in letting those players go. The seven players they signed are mostly of the journeyman variety. But Dorsey isn’t deterred.
“It's always tough,” Dorsey said Thursday. “You need depth to compete in this league. As you go along with this thing, you have to establish the culture. You have to get players that you want, that will come and compete on a daily basis, be proud to come here as a Kansas City Chief. Not saying those guys weren't, that's why you have to be able to manage and balance that cap and look out and forecast. The guys we lost, I think we've done a nice job in terms of replacing them at a lower number but with the same production.”
I think we're getting faster. It's not your dad's NFL anymore. The field is stretched out so far… I don't think you can have enough of those guys.
The departures also meant that the Chiefs needed to do some work in the draft. That’s why it was a bit of a surprise when they selected Auburn end Dee Ford, who projects to outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ scheme, 23rd overall instead of finding help in the secondary or at receiver. Outside linebacker was one position where Kansas City seemed secure, with Tamba Hali (second-team All-Pro) and Justin Houston (21 sacks in past 27 games). But Hali turned 30 earlier this month, and his contract finishes with a $12 million cap number in ’15. And the Chiefs saw the effect of not having adequate depth. Both Hali and Houston missed time during the second half of the season and the Chiefs’ pass rush (and defense, overall) fell off a cliff.
“I think in today's NFL you need not just two, multiple pass rushers to continually apply pressure,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey also didn’t want to lose Ford, who was one of the few proven pass rushers in a weak draft at that position. Dorsey admitted he didn’t have enough ammunition to go up and get a Khalil Mack (fifth overall to Oakland). He also declined options to move back.
“When you weigh the compensation against the value of the player, I thought the player would be the better pick,” he said. “And we had heard some rumors that people were trying to move up to get Dee Ford too, so I didn't want to move back too far.”
Last August after a training camp practice at Missouri Western State University, Dorsey acknowledged that a lack of speed on both sides of the ball were a problem he was aiming to rectify. Ford, third-round cornerback Phillip Gaines (4.38 speed in the 40-yard dash) and fourth-rounder De’Anthony Thomas, a McCluster replacement, all fit that bill.
“I think we're getting faster,” Dorsey said. “We'll continue looking for that. It's not your dad's NFL anymore. The field is stretched out so far, everybody runs and is so athletic in today's game… I don't think you can have enough of those guys in either Andy's offense or Bob's defense.”
It is curious, however, that they declined to address receiver in free agency or the draft. In addition to Dwayne Bowe—Dorsey said he is in “magnificent” shape—the Chiefs maintained the status quo with Donnie Avery, A.J. Jenkins, Weston Dressler and Junior Hemingway. Dorsey’s OK with that, provided that 2013 third-round tight end Travis Kelce is healthy after missing nearly his entire rookie season following microfracture surgery on his knee.
“The way that group started to come on towards the end, and getting used to the offense, you could see that they were beginning to understand their roles and what they were supposed to do,” Dorsey said. “It's going to be a collective effort. And the emergence of a Travis Kelce being able to stretch the field as a tight end, hopefully that weapon adds another element to the passing game. We took some nicks at the tight end position last year.”
One player to keep an eye on during Chiefs camp: sixth-round offensive lineman Laurent (Larry) Duvernay-Tardif, a 6-5, 315-pound Canadian collegiate prospect who caught Dorsey’s eye at the East-West Shrine Game. While Duvernay-Tardif wasn’t invited to the combine, his pro day testing numbers would have been near the top had he been. He’s one of the top Canadian prospects to ever enter the NFL.
“He's an extremely gifted athlete,” Dorsey said. “You watch him on film and you see his athleticism, his toughness. He's going to need a little work as far as a technical understanding of the pro game, but that won't be for lack of effort. That guy is wearing the coaches out already… he wants to know everything and why.”
The Chiefs surprised many last season when they went from the AFC West basement to challenging the Broncos for the division title. That may have technically been the first year of the Reid-Dorsey regime, but after a forced reset of the roster this offseason, the real program building starts now. The Chiefs may be hard-pressed to live up to last year’s success, but Reid and Dorsey have a plan and they’re sticking to it.
As you may have heard, eight retired players filed a lawsuit against the league alleging the NFL and its teams routinely issued painkillers and other narcotics without prescriptions and without warning the players about the potential for addiction and side effects, some of which have impacted their lives long after football. It could become a class-action suit, similar to the concussion issue, which is still winding its way through the court system.
My first reaction: This is much ado about nothing. In the event the lawsuit is not dismissed for the reasons laid out by colleague Michael McCann, the league will likely settle for what amounts to peanuts for the 32-team league, which is a billion-dollar monster of business. Just like the concussion lawsuit.
My second reaction is, If these players have a problem with the medical advice given by a specific doctor, why are they not suing that individual doctor? What does the league have to do with it (besides the obvious deep pockets)? If I have a problem with the actions of one of my doctors, I sue him or her specifically. They’re the one looking over my chart and making decisions, not the hospital or HMO they work under. According to the AP, Bears offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, “played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn't told about the injury for five years,” and alleges in the lawsuit that he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain. Van Horne is one of three former Bears in the lawsuit. Sure sounds like those Bears players have an issue with the Bears’ team doctor at the time and/or the team. When former Bears fullback Merril Hoge thought the care provided to him concerning a concussion was inadequate, he successfully sued then-Bears team doctor John “Jay” Munsell in 1996—not the Bears nor the NFL. Why should these other players be any different?
Another point: From the concussions to this painkiller lawsuit, where is the Players’ Association in all of this? The players paid dues to an organization to protect them from being unfairly treated by teams and the league. Yet, in the two biggest health threats to former players, the NFLPA apparently did absolutely nothing to protect them. All of this happened long before DeMaurice Smith was elected as NFLPA executive director in 2009, but the union should no longer skate on their responsibility in this. Previous NFLPA leaders were elected and paid to protect the players and they obviously failed. That’s not the NFL’s fault.
Do I think that NFL teams and the doctors they employed pushed players to take painkillers before this century without explaining the possible side effects? In most cases, yes. But if the NFL had strict no-pressure guidelines and clearly laid out the possible side effects, do I think a majority of the players still would have taken anything the doctors put in front of them to get on the field? Yes, I do. The players are warriors who only care about three things during the short time they have to compete in the NFL: playing, winning and money. The order depends on the player.
Take how former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher shrugged off potential painkiller side effects to the Chicago Tribune two years ago:
“First of all, we love football," said Urlacher, who didn't take any Toradol injections or pills this season. "We want to be on the field as much as we can be. If we can be out there, it may be stupid, it may be dumb, call me dumb and stupid then, because I want to be on the football field.”
Never mind the argument about personal responsibility, that nothing can be put into your body unless you allow it. Now, if a specific doctor lied to players about side effects, that’s a different argument and, absolutely, the players should take action against that doctor. But to target the NFL itself? That seems shaky to me and smells like a money grab by players looking to piggyback on the concussion issue, which had a viable argument concerning the NFL possibly covering up well-known issues.
1) Sorry, but Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis got what he deserved when he was suspended four games after testing positive for a banned substance. Mathis said the positive test was triggered by a fertility drug prescribed to him by a doctor with hopes of conceiving another child with his wife. First of all, the prescribing doctor, Steven Morganstern, is a urologist and not a fertility doctor. There is nothing about fertility on his web page. Secondly, it’s extremely suspicious that a veteran NFL player like Mathis would take anything without informing the Colts’ trainer, team doctor, the NFLPA or the NFL. And, in case Mathis forgot, Clomid is specifically listed under banned substances in the league’s steroid policy. If Mathis truly needed to take the medicine (his wife is pregnant again), there are protocols in place to allow it if the player fills out the proper paperwork ahead of time. Mathis didn’t do anything and got caught. He has only himself to blame.
2) It is way too early to criticize commissioner Roger Goodell for what kind of discipline he may or may not enact when it comes to Ravens running back Ray Rice (domestic violence) and Colts owner Jim Irsay (suspicion of driving while intoxicated, possession of a controlled substance). Goodell almost always waits until a case has run its course before coming down with punishment, unless something else forces his hand. Rice’s case just finished, and Irsay’s is still going.
3) It’s time to make a deal with NFL teams: You guys can go and sign whatever character risks you want, like the Packers did this week with former University of Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla, but we never, ever want any coach, owner or front office representative to opine about how they value character and leadership and all those other empty descriptive phrases like “Packer people.” Every NFL team is the same. If talent is flashed in front of their eyes, they’re blind to the rest of the concerns. That’s fine, as long as you own it.
4) I understand the frustration of Texans veteran receiver Andre Johnson, who said that he’s tired of losing and wasn’t sure if he wanted to go through another rebuild with a third head coach. A player of his stature is entitled to that. But he has to know the Texans are not that far away, and that the contract he signed basically precludes the Texans from trading him.
5) The more I hear from Browns general manager Ray Farmer, the more I like. Fans think he should be desperate for receiver help, with Josh Gordon possibly suspended for the season. Farmer issued his reply on 92.3 The Fan, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer: “I would say, How important are those guys?” Farmer said. “Name the last big-time receiver to win a Super Bowl. Name the last mega-guy. (Gordon) matters to me because I like the guy and I think he's a really good player, but at the end of the day, when you look at the teams that have these mega-receivers, name the last guy that won a Super Bowl... There are none. The last guy that really helped his team get there was T.O. (Terrell Owens).”