Roundtable: Black Friday Edition

On Black Friday our Warpaint Staff, breaks open some early questions including where Larry Fitzgerald will play next season. So will he really be a Chief in 2011? We have the answers.

Is it actually realistic to think Larry Fitzgerald could be a Chief next year? What kind of odds would you give it?

Nick Athan: Book it, Danno! There was too much going on after the game that indicated to me that Fitzgerald, who has the right to veto any trade to any team in the offseason, will likely end up in Kansas City. This is where he wants to play.

In the offseason, he and Dwayne Bowe spent a lot of time together. Fitzgerald has already indicated on numerous occasions his affection for Chiefs coach Todd Haley. The fact the two were seen talking in private after the game leads me to believe, if the compensation is appropriate, that Scott Pioli will be able to pry him away from the Cardinals.

But if you want more proof, you might have to wait until January 2nd when the Cardinals season ends and Fitzgerald cleans out his locker. It won't take long for a local reporter to push his button about where he wants to play in 2011. I can't guarantee he'll say Kansas City, but I can say he won't want any part of playing for the Cardinals next year.

C.E. Wendler: It doesn't appear all that realistic from where I'm sitting. What appears realistic is the Chiefs eventually giving a big contract to Dwayne Bowe. With that in mind, why would they go after Fitzgerald, who will command an even larger contract? We're talking somewhere in the range of $25 million in guaranteed money.

The Chiefs need an upgrade at wide receiver, but they aren't that desperate, especially with money waiting to be paid out to Matt Cassel and likely Jamaal Charles.

Josh Scotten: I say this with as much controlled enthusiasm as I can muster, but the more I ponder this subject, the more and more it makes sense. Haley and Fitzgerald are football soul mates and if there is any way possible for Pioli to get this done, he is going to pull the trigger to reward his coach for the fantastic job he has done this season.

Not only that, but receiver has to be the Chiefs most glaring weakness and will be their top priority during the offseason. It is really going to boil down to what Arizona wants to do, but from everything I'm hearing they either can't or won't shell out the bones it's going to take to sign one of the league's top receivers.

Will this trio reunite in 2011 in Kansas City?
Justin Olson/Warpaint Illustrated

The Chiefs, on the other hand, are an ascending team with a lot of money to spend in the offseason. Even if it boils down to draft picks, I can't see any potential prospect with more talent or character that fits the "right 53" mold that Haley and Pioli desire.

Keep your fingers crossed, but this just seems to make too much sense not to happen. It may be a bit optimistic but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say there's a 70% chance Fitzgerald is a Chief next year.

Michael Ash: Unfortunately, no, it's not too realistic. As I covered in the article I wrote on him last week, the big question surrounding Fitzgerald is his no trade clause. When he restructured his deal last year, it was reported by the Arizona Republic that he waived that clause as part of the re-negotiation. People continue to speak about the clause as though it still exists, but I've never seen a retraction of that report, so the fact that Fitzgerald waived it may be a detail that has slipped under the radar.

If that report was erroneous and he still has the no trade clause, then that's good news for the Chiefs. It means Fitzgerald can control where he ends up, and it clearly seems that K.C. is a place he'd give serious consideration to. But it's still far from a sure thing. If Fitzgerald is available, there are going to be plenty of teams interested in his services.

What if an elite team year-in and year-out, like the Steelers, decides to pursue him? That particular example would be especially appealing since Fitzgerald played his college ball in Pittsburgh, but there are other teams that would also apply – the Colts, the Patriots, and so forth. What if the 2010 Super Bowl champions, whoever they may be, make a move for him?

Does Fitzgerald really want to play for Haley so badly that he'd turn down those types of opportunities?

And if he doesn't have the no trade clause anymore, the Chiefs' chances of getting him plummet. Without that clause, a trade will depend solely on who makes the best offer to Arizona. A team picking higher than K.C. in the draft would be able to offer the Cardinals more valuable picks. And look at a team like New England and all the draft picks they're stockpiling. The Chiefs would never be able to match what they could offer.

If Fitzgerald still has the no trade clause, I'd put the odds of him becoming a Chief around 40%. But if he doesn't, I'd say it's no more than 10% at best.

Tamba Hali hasn't had a sack in his last two games, and I read a stat that says the Chiefs only blitz 23% of the time, the second-lowest amount in the league. Why doesn't Romeo Crennel send more pressure? Especially when Hali is being held in check?

Nick Athan: Who else are they going to send? That's the problem. The Chiefs were hoping that Tyson Jackson would evolve into a pass rusher, but he's a back-up right now. Wallace Gillbery has some abilities, but he's not playing much either.

In recent weeks, Tamba Hali hasn't been able to find an easy path to the quarterback.
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The only way the Chiefs are going to be effective sacking opposing quarterbacks is to increase that percentage. The problem with that, though, is the team's most proficient blitzers are cornerback Javier Arenas and safety Eric Berry, who are both needed in the secondary.

One guy who I think can get the job done is linebacker Derrick Johnson. For some reason, Crennel likes him in the open spaces. On occasion, he should unleash D.J. on obvious passing situations. I'm not a fan of Crennel's laid back approach on third and long – eventually he's going to have to attack more.

C.E. Wendler: Crennel doesn't send more pressure because he has such a young secondary and, let's face it, the Chiefs really don't have many players who can beat a blocker one-on-one consistently. Other than Tamba Hali and Wallace Gilberry, Kansas City's pass rush is the defensive version of a Matt Cassel deep ball - a wing and a prayer. Blitzing and hoping the blitz gets there is a recipe for disaster with three rookies in KC's nickel package. Crennel is playing the percentages.

As for Hali, sacks come in bunches and, when you're the only real pass-rush threat on a team, it's too easy for smart offensive coaches to neutralize you. Also, against Denver the Chiefs were behind the entire game, which tends to limit pass-rush opportunities. Don't worry about Hali, he'll be fine. Worry more about that young secondary.

Josh Scotten: I think Romeo would like to be more aggressive – he has definitely built a reputation around the league for being blitz happy. But the conservative approach you are seeing from Crennel this season with the Chiefs has more to do with an overall organizational philosophy than a defensive game plan.

This offense is just not ready to get into shootouts with opponents, and Haley knows he needs to keep games under the 25 point marker if his team is going to walk away with a win. Taking chances with corner and safety blitzes heavily increases the odds of the big play which the Chiefs just can't come back from (i.e. Denver).

Romeo Crennel has to find someone else to help Hali with the pass rush.
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But it's a bit of a Catch 22. With the Chiefs lack of speed on the defensive side of the ball, leaving the secondary to cover for more than five seconds is going to get them torched. The only way to solve this problem is by blitzing and creating pressure on the QB. Crennel has to walk a fine line until he can address some of these issues in the offseason.

Michael Ash: Obviously, the nature of sending players on a blitz is that the defense ends up having fewer players back in coverage. I can only assume that Crennel doesn't blitz often because he doesn't think the Chiefs' coverage is capable of holding up. With a pair of rookie safeties and a rookie nickleback, he's probably right.

And part of the problem is something we've been talking about for years – other than Hali, and Gilberry to a far lesser extent, the Chiefs don't have anyone proficient at getting to the quarterback. Getting after the QB is a skill, you can't blitz just anybody and expect them to get a sack. And the last thing you want to do is send extra guys after the QB and watch them get blocked, leaving a short-handed pass defense even more vulnerable.

As best I can tell, Mike Vrabel doesn't even play on obvious passing downs anymore. Andy Studebaker doesn't appear to be anything special as a pass rusher. D.J., Arenas, and Berry are all capable blitzers, but whoever's replacing them in pass coverage is probably a liability, so sending those guys after the QB is a gamble. Judging by his performance against Arizona, Demorrio Williams might deserve some more opportunities in pass rush situations. But that was just one game.

Ultimately, the secondary will grow more experienced, so Crennel may feel more comfortable sending extra pressure in the future. But it still boils down to the fact that the Chiefs need to find more guys who know how to get after the quarterback.

How worried should we be about the Chargers?

Nick Athan: Honestly, this might be delusional on my part, but it should be the other way around. Sooner or later the Chiefs are going to win a big game on the road. In fact, I had long conversation with a friend of mine who is a big Patriots fan. He told me without a doubt that when the Chiefs travel to San Diego in a few weeks, that Kansas City will beat the Chargers.

Is there a hotter quarterback in the NFL other than the Chargers Phillip Rivers?
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Now I think he's a bit off his rocker, but he did tell me before the season that Matt Cassel was the real deal and he also warned me that it might not make much sense what the Chiefs new coaches, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, do the first half of the season, but it will take form in the second half. In other words, they're goal is to set things up so teams that lie ahead in the Chiefs schedule don't quite know what they have in store.

So I think the Chargers have all the pressure. And, sure, they have a strut about them right now, but their special teams play is a concern. Injuries are another factor. But ultimately Philip Rivers is going to have to continue to carry them. And despite great personal stats, his team is just 5-5.

C.E. Wendler: Extremely worried. The Chargers appear to be starting their usual late-season surge and their offense and defense appear to be legit. Not only is Philip Rivers on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing record, but San Diego's defense leads the league in sacks and is third against the run. Now that the Chargers have sorted out their special-teams problems - or at least the punt-blocking problems - they certainly appear to be a formidable foe.

The real issue for the Chiefs is that the Chargers hold the common opponents tiebreaker over them at the moment. That means if the Chiefs and Chargers end up with the same record and the same divisional record, the Chargers take the division. Kansas City's visit to San Diego on December 12 is going to be a huge football game. It will basically be a playoff game for our young Chiefs. The winner of that game will probably take the division.

Josh Scotten: If the Chiefs take care of business down the stretch, they don't need to worry about the Chargers at all. At this point the Chiefs have a one game lead on the Chargers, with one victory over their division foe already in their hip pocket.

I think everyone expects the Chiefs to lay an egg in San Diego in a few weeks, but the Chiefs should be favored in their remaining contests. San Diego, however, is a bit of an anomaly. The Chargers are statistically the best offense and defense in the entire NFL but continue to struggle putting up wins.

The Chargers have dominated the AFC West in recent years and do deserve a lot of respect, but this assumption that San Diego is the favorite to take the division is not only presumptuous but also a bit insulting. We are 10 games into the season and the Chiefs have been leading the division for the majority of that time.

If you ask me, I would say the Chiefs are getting disrespected a bit, and I am sure Coach Haley is letting his players hear about it.

This young team needs to stay on course and Haley has to guide them through some potentially difficult waters over the next six weeks.
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If the Chiefs win on the road this Sunday in Seattle, and prove they can take their show on the road, San Diego will be left out of the playoff picture and in the cold come January.

Michael Ash: The Chargers are a serious concern. If they beat the Colts this weekend, they have a legitimate shot at running the table the rest of the way to finish at 11-5. Even if they do lose at Indy, a 10-6 finish still looks possible.

But why waste our time worrying about them? Let's just focus on the Chiefs. Thanksgiving is the point of the season when the good teams start to separate from the pack, and the Chiefs will either step up or they won't. If they play like they're capable of, I think they should be able to win five of their final six games.

We'll start with their away games in Seattle and St. Louis. If the Chiefs are so bad on the road that they can't even beat two mediocre teams from the worst division in football, do they even deserve to be in the playoffs?

Beyond that, they just need to hold serve at home. The Broncos had a nice one-week mirage after their bye week, but they're still as lousy as ever. And after what happened in Denver, the Chiefs should have all the motivation they need to take care of business. The outlook for the Titans game has changed drastically now that Vince Young is out for the year. And the Chiefs should have beaten the Raiders in Oakland, so they should be more than capable of beating them at home.

A 5-1 record down the stretch gets the Chiefs to 11 wins. And if they can get to 11 wins, then all they need is for the Chargers to lose one more game this year and it's impossible for San Diego to win the division. Luckily, if Indy doesn't beat the Chargers on Sunday, then K.C. has a chance to do it themselves when they go to San Diego in two weeks.

So the ball is in the Chiefs' court. If they want to win the division, the path is laid out in front of them.

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