Chiefs Ready To Meet With Pioli?

STEPHAN SAVOIA - AP

Early Wednesday it was reported that the Cleveland Browns were nearing the end in their search for a new General Manager. At the helm of the Browns' ship was owner Randy Lerner, who was in charge of harpooning "The Big Fish," Patriots V.P. of Player Personnel Scott Pioli.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, now it appears the fans may force Lerner to walk the plank into the deep end of the ocean. That opens the door for the Chiefs, who may now have a shot at Pioli.

Chiefs Chairman of the Board Clark Hunt has a handful of names on his list to replace outgoing GM Carl Peterson. At the top of his list is former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher, but second on that list is Pioli.

Every single NFL source we stay in touch with, save one, told us throughout this entire process that Pioli was a lock to sign on the dotted line in Cleveland on New Years Eve. As of Wednesday afternoon, it appeared to be a lock that following his meeting with Lerner at an undisclosed location in New York, Pioli would be signed, sealed and delivered.

But contract talks hit a major snag as the sun set, and Pioli let it be known that he'd entertain other offers. To that end, the Chiefs received permission from the Patriots to speak with Pioli and we're told Clark Hunt could fly to Boston in the next day or two, per our source, to make a formal proposal and present to Pioli the merits of coming to the Chiefs as GM.

So what happened today?

It's simple, but Browns fans should be worried that their franchise is heading in the wrong direction. Per our league source, Lerner made a series of blunders throughout the day that upset Pioli and opened the door for the Chiefs and other NFL teams.

Lerner, wanting to get a jump on the head coaching search, began the interview process on Tuesday by sitting down in New York with former Jets Head Coach Eric Mangini. On Wednesday, he was granted permission to speak with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. When reports surfaced that the Browns were going to contact former Denver Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan, that seemed to begin the unraveling process in what was thought to be a slam-dunk negotiation process with Pioli.

Per our league source, Pioli may have grown irritated throughout the day that Lerner was meddling in that process by jumping the gun, assuming he'd just accept the job in the first place, and started acting as the teams general manager in lieu of having one in place. After all, that's why he was speaking with Pioli in the first place. Seems everyone knew that but Lerner himself.

As news began to leak mid afternoon about Hunt's interview request, Lerner's discussions with Pioli took another turn. Lerner, who later denied the report from NFL.com's Adam Schefter, wanted a final answer from Pioli before talks ended Wednesday.

That obviously didn't sit well, especially when they exchanged contract demands, which we were told were more a measuring stick than an offer. The starting range was $3 million per season but eventually increased to $4 million per season, per another source close to the Browns.

To compound the problem, apparently Lerner was hesitant to give Pioli too much power within the franchise.

Before talks ended, Warpaint Illustrated.com confirmed that Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay would indeed hold his previously scheduled interview with Lerner on Thursday about the job that Pioli was interviewing for.

Shortly after that was confirmed, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that on Friday Lerner would interview Browns Director of Player Personnel T.J. McCreight for the GM opening.

However, as talks ended, both Lerner and Pioli agreed to meet again. Lerner's options are defined, but now Pioli's are about to take a turn. Per a league source, Hunt will likely fly to Boston on Thursday or Friday to sit down with Pioli.

However, we're told that Hunt would still like to receive a definitive answer from Bill Cowher, who has publicly turned down the Browns and the Jets in their search for a new top man.

Though we believe the Chiefs have made no formal offer to Cowher, we do believe that Hunt, based on a recommendation by former Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer, has realized Cowher's interest in Kansas City. We've heard the two have spoken and might have met face to face, but that's unconfirmed. It's not likely that Hunt would have asked the Patriots for permission to speak with Pioli if Cowher had indicated at that time that he had serious interest in joining the Chiefs.

However, before anyone in Kansas City starts celebrating, the other major stumbling block in KC's quest for Pioli is that in order for him to leave New England, he wants complete control of football operations somewhere else. He wants to run the whole ship himself. Hunt has to ask himself if he's willing to grant that, but it's unlikely that he'd interview Pioli if he wasn't ready to do just that.

However, the Chiefs aren't playing with Monopoly money. There is a budget and before major dollars are going to be spent, Hunt wants to make sure any front office hires he makes fit within the structure of building the Chiefs into a perennial winner.

In short, the Chiefs now have the opportunity to close the deal and bring in one of the hottest NFL GM prospects in quite some time.

In Other Chiefs News

If the Chiefs can somehow land Pioli, they might indeed turn their intentions to former Denver Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan. Assuming Pioli gets the GM job, he and Shanahan would make a terrific combination. A team source told Warpaint Illustrated no decision has been made on the future of Herm Edwards, but Shanahan has a great deal of respect amongst Chiefs officials. More than likely, Shanahan's name could pop up in talks with Pioli.

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