Julius Peppers, Karlos Dansby, Anquan Boldin. Big players, big names, big excitement. By far, it was the most exciting moment of the offseason for some Chiefs fans, comparable to the day Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel became the franchise’s coordinators. I admit, when I heard the news, it even rivaled the joy I felt when Clancy Pendergast was fired as KC’s defensive coordinator.
But as the seconds ticked by, turned to minutes, and then hours, it soon became apparent nothing was happening while the midnight oil burned. Excitement turned to disappointment and Friday afternoon, when Peppers became a Bear, Dansby a Dolphin and Boldin a Raven, some Chiefs fans were downright angry.
And it didn’t help that another potential Chiefs’ target, safety Antrel Rolle, wound up signing with the New York Giants. If there are winners and losers in the first 24 hours of free agency, it’s not hard to argue that the Kansas City Chiefs wound up as the losers.
But if you can stop writing the hate mail addressed to Scott Pioli and Clark Hunt for a minute, ask yourself a question - just what did they lose?
That’s what's relevant right now. By failing to beat out Chicago, Miami, Baltimore and New York for big-name players, what have the Chiefs really lost?
I contend that what the Chiefs have lost does not justify the hand wringing, teeth gnashing and wailing that currently ranks as the preferred activity for a good number of people who reside in the greater Kansas City area. In layman’s terms, quit complaining.
First we have to consider you can’t really lose something you never had a chance to gain. That applies in the case of Peppers, who wound up signing a gargantuan $91 million deal with the Bears that includes $42 million in guarantees. What it really boils down to is this – the Chiefs, even if they wanted him, were never truly in the running for Peppers, just as they never had a realistic shot at landing Albert Haynesworth a year ago.
Free agents like Haynesworth and Peppers – the absolute best of their free-agent classes – never end up in Kansas City. It has never happened. Look at the history yourself. Since the league adopted free agency in 1993, the Chiefs have not landed a Grade-A, No. 1, USDA Prime Choice Free Agent. Not a single one.
It must be written into NFL bylaws that the most sought-after player in a given free-agent period is banned from signing with the Kansas City Chiefs, because it has never happened, it didn't happen this year, and evidently it's never going to happen. Put it this way – if the Washington Redskins and Daniel Snyder’s thick wallet didn’t land Peppers, certainly the Chiefs never had a chance. So we can’t really be all that upset that Peppers is a Bear.
The other players? Certainly there’s an argument to be made that the Chiefs had a shot. With head coach Todd Haley’s connection to Arizona, Kansas City may have seemed like an ideal place for Boldin, Dansby or Rolle to land.
But besides their Arizona connection, there’s one other important thing Boldin, Dansby and Rolle have in common – none of them are elite players. They are not on Peppers’ level. Even so, that didn’t prevent them from being paid like the elite.
Boldin will receive $28 million over the next four years. Dansby and Rolle, together, inked contracts worth $80 million. Dansby is being paid like a quarterback. Rolle’s contract is one of the largest in league history for the safety position.
All this for a receiver who scored four touchdowns a year ago, a linebacker who has never made a Pro Bowl and a safety who is actually a failed cornerback?
The argument against these players isn’t that the Chiefs couldn’t use them. It’s that they’re being absurdly overpaid for the actual value they bring to their football teams, and the potential value they would bring to the Chiefs. That’s what Scott Pioli and Todd Haley weighed over the last 24 hours, and that’s what we have to consider no matter how disappointed we might be.
Let’s say the Chiefs got lucky, overpaid like mad, and took two of three – Boldin and Dansby. How would that change their roster? Does Boldin, a possession receiver who does not qualify as a deep threat, suddenly transform Matt Cassel into the quarterback he was in New England?
No, and he certainly doesn’t bring the Chiefs anything Dwayne Bowe can’t provide. Bowe is younger, has less injury history, and more room to grow. Boldin is without question the better receiver, but is the difference in salary and draft pick compensation (the Ravens had to give up a third and fourth-round pick for Boldin) really worth the difference in the two players? Objectively, you can’t argue that it is.
What about Dansby? As a middle linebacker in the 3-4, he’s certainly a player at a position of need for the Chiefs. But he’s not going to have enough of an impact on a defense that still needs four or five new starters to jump into the top half of the league. Good player? Yes. The best linebacker in the NFL? Not even close.
If that’s not enough, just look at the teams that won the opening round of free agency. The Bears, Dolphins, Ravens and Giants are all in win now mode. They have established programs and are either trying to get over the hump (Baltimore and Miami) or back to the Super Bowl (Chicago and New York).
Throwing big money at the best talent available makes sense for these teams. The timing is right. If Boldin makes Baltimore's passing game just a little more threatening, makes Joe Flacco just slightly more productive, the payoff is huge.
But the Chiefs aren't trying to get over the hump and they are light years from the Super Bowl. They need two home-run draft classes before the core talent base of the roster is formed and matures. Right now, spending just to spend won't have the effect most people want it to have.
If Pioli does has done his draft homework correctly, the Chiefs can find a Rolle, Dansby and Boldin in the draft this April. Heck, they might even find someone better. And it won’t cost Clark Hunt an exorbitant amount of money.
Oh, by the way, free agency isn’t over. There’s still time to get excited about other players.