The purpose of this column isn’t to whine about how Kansas City hasn’t signed any big-name free agents. Sure, the Chiefs could have gone out like some of the other 4-12 cellar-dwellers and spent foolishly with moves reeking of desperation. Thankfully, however, it seems the front office has moved past that.
Some of those who are sitting around gritting their teeth over the lack of activity in free agency may not want to admit this, but it is, shall we say, somewhat unlikely that the rebuilding Chiefs will compete for the playoffs in 2008. This team is not just, “one or two players away,” from being a contender. There are too many issues and it simply isn’t realistic to expect everything to get turned around overnight.
The 2008 season should be a chance for young players – the future cornerstones of the franchise – to start rebuilding the foundation of what, year-in and year-out, will hopefully become a championship caliber team. It may not be a selling point that will move tickets, but it’s a crucial step in taking the Chiefs back in the right direction.
Out of all those young players, none is more important than quarterback Brodie Croyle. During his media tour after the season, Clark Hunt made it clear – and rightfully so – that finding and developing a franchise quarterback is of the utmost importance. So there’s no larger issue facing the Chiefs this year than finding out if Croyle is the player everyone hopes he can be.
The upcoming year is critical for Croyle. It’s probably not fair, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of time to prove himself - not with the Chiefs coming off their worst season in 30 years. Not when they closed 2008 with a nine-game losing streak. Not with an offense that finished as one of the worst in franchise history. No one can afford the luxury of patience at this point.
But even though I agree with KC’s offseason plan, this (Croyle) is a situation where their approach deserves to be questioned. The Chiefs must find out about Croyle, who needs to prove he’s the right man for the job. It’s obviously in Kansas City’s best interest for him to succeed.
So why aren’t the Chiefs doing everything they can to put him in a position to succeed?
Last year, Croyle made six starts under some of the most difficult circumstances a quarterback can face. He was sacked three times per game, a stat that doesn’t take into account all the hits he took immediately upon releasing the ball. Even worse, only twice did Croyle’s leading rusher crack 60 yards, robbing him of a supporting running game.
Croyle took plenty of hits in 2007.
Jamie Squire - Getty
I’m not trying to make excuses for Croyle. These are significant issues that should be addressed under any circumstance, and particularly for a team trying to get a read on their young quarterback. Fixing those problems should have been KC’s top priority this offseason.
The Chiefs addressed the playcalling by hiring Chan Gailey, but what sort of impact will that really have? When I reviewed the Chiefs’ wide receiver corps last week, it was obvious that Croyle’s options outside of Dwayne Bowe are largely unproven.
More importantly, what about the offensive line? Unless you believe in addition by subtraction – or you’re excited about a couple waiver claims – nothing has been done to better the unit except the removal of Kyle Turley, Casey Wiegmann, and John Welbourn.
The Chiefs know how bad their offensive line was, right? They had the league’s worst rushing attack last season. No team surrendered more sacks. By every possible measure, last season’s line was a spectacular failure.
The team was clear at the outset of free agency about the type of player they were targeting, so perhaps their lack of activity could be defended if players with the right profile weren’t available. But those players were out there.
Maybe they weren’t Pro Bolwers, but young linemen with proven starting experience coming off their first contract were available. Any of them would have improved the running game while keeping Croyle off his back. Most of them wouldn’t have required an overly large paycheck, not that the Chiefs are in any kind of cap trouble.
Kansas City could have easily added a lineman or two without compromising their new approach to free agency, yet they haven’t signed even one. The Chiefs showed interest in only two available linemen (Jeff Faine and Rex Hadnot), but both signed elsewhere.
The only reasonable explanation for this lack of action is that the Chiefs are confident in the young players already on the roster. That, and they expect to add some quality linemen through the draft.
In theory, that sounds fine for a rebuilding team. But it can’t be ignored that by taking this approach, the Chiefs are walking back down the same path that led to last year’s disaster.
A season ago they held their breath and hoped several aging linemen could hold it together for one more year. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. Now, instead of hoping to squeeze another season out of some proven veterans, they’re hoping a group of youngsters will pan out.
Will the Chiefs protect Croyle in 2008?
Jamie Squire - Getty
For the second year in a row, the Chiefs are using the “hope” approach with their offensive line. Their plan to field a decent unit appears to involve crossing their fingers and making a wish.
Why should anyone expect this gamble to be any more successful than the last one? What has suddenly made the Chiefs better able to judge their offensive line than they were a year ago? Are the Chiefs trying to tell us that the blame for last season’s line fell entirely on the shoulders of Mike Solari and John Matsko?
I don’t have the answer to those questions. What I do know is that it’s a little disheartening to realize the Chiefs didn’t learn much from last season’s catastrophe.
This year, couldn’t they have brought in some linemen they know can get the job done, instead of relying on ones they hope can do it?
How can the Chiefs expect to see what Brodie Croyle is truly capable of if he’s constantly running for his life or stuck running a one-dimensional offense every week because of a lackluster running game?
Basing Croyle’s future on “hope” is a disservice to everyone involved. The Chiefs have been telling us how important it is to find a franchise quarterback - what are they doing to help one emerge?