Chiefs Can't Afford To Settle Now

Disturbing comments from Dick Vermeil have me very concerned about the Chiefs chances to upgrade the defensive and offensive talent for the 2004 season.

After glancing over the local rag the KC Star on Sunday, Vermeil made comments from the Pro Bowl that the Chiefs salary cap situation would not allow them to go after any premier free agents on either side of the ball. If Vermeil sticks to his guns, then the Chiefs are making a big mistake. It's a mistake that could doom the 2004 season even before it begins.

Vermeil reiterated his post season comments that the teams first order of business will be to sign the remaining free agents on the roster. Jerome Woods, John Tait, Eric Hicks, William Bartee and Jason Dunn are entering February without a contract for 2004 and beyond.

Woods and the Chiefs are rumored to be close to a new deal but Tait and the Chiefs appear far apart on getting a deal done anytime soon. As for the rest on the list all but Dunn are a priority. Though Vermeil has indicated he thinks Hicks can become the double digit sack master he was in the late 90's. That remains to be seen.

But Vermeil and the Chiefs can't settle to keep the same roster together another year. That simply is unacceptable and something that should concern all Chiefs fans. Vermeil can't blame all the defensive flaws on Robinson. Some of that blame and concern needs to be directed at the talent on defensive.

Kansas City has no proven shut down corners, a consistent pass rusher and a dominating linebacker. All three are a must for the Chiefs if they're going to make a serious run next year.

Cap deficiencies or not can't stop the Chiefs from adding a couple of key veterans on defense. Maybe they can't go after the top tier guys but they must upgrade the talent at those three positions. If nothing more they need to acquire players who can push the guys that are on the roster now.

Cunningham is not a miracle worker and he's being asked to build a defense with no triple threat. Even further he's been asked to do it with the players who flopped miserably last season. That's not easy task or even probable if the Chiefs want to improve on their 32 ranking.

Now the Chiefs don't have to be lights out on defense but they'll need to be better than middle of the pack if they want to be considered a serious Super Bowl threat in 2004.

That's what has me so perplexed by Vermeils comments. It's very uncharacteristic for him to throw up the white flag before free agency even begins. Now he knows more about his players than anyone else. He has the ability to evaluate and determine the heart of his players. But how can he expect the same players are going to improve that much under Cunningham.

The Oakland Raiders went from Super Bowl runner-ups to earning the second pick in the NFL draft in one year. This happened primarily because they failed to address their teams major weakness, age, and were very complacent by not adding a single player who could have helped them be more competitive.

The Chiefs are not the Raiders but comparisons can be drawn to a lesser degree that teams that sit back and aren't aggressive enough in upgrading talent usually plateau in the NFL. The Chiefs need to be even better next year if they want to compete with the New England Patriots in the AFC.

New England showed you don't need a group of Super stars to be successful. But they also didn't stand pat after they fell flat on their tails in 2002. They signed some key veterans who were long in the tooth or were castoffs from other teams and they molded them into one of the best defensive units in the NFL.

Vermeil has yet to show in his tenure in Kansas City that he can evaluate and assemble those types of defensive players. Cunningham on the other hand can do that. But still Cunningham must have the flexibility to get some better players on defense either in free agency or the draft.

Say what you want about Cunningham as a head coach but he can evaluate defensive talent and he drafted some good players when he was in the war room. He's a master motivator and has the ability to get the best out of players who have yet to give their all on the field.

But if Vermeil thinks that's enough, then the Chiefs are basically going to play 2004 with the same defensive hand outside of a couple of draft picks. With the 30th pick in the first round, the Chiefs should be able to get a decent defensive end or cornerback.

That's a very risky move and one that has to be revisited once free agency begins. In the NFL, you have to turn over your roster each year. That's why the Patriots were so successful and continue to be the class of the AFC.

If the Chiefs want to remain in that class with New England, their going to need to adopt the Patriots philosophies and bring in some better defensive personnel. The NFL is a copy-cat league and thus far Vermeil has not given Chiefs fans much hope the defense will be better in 2004.

Hiring Cunningham is not enough. Vermeil can't throw in the towel in February. What happens over the next three months will determine how much better the Chiefs defense is going to be next year.

If he does not sign any defensive free agents outside or inside the organization, then Kansas City's defensive fortunes will likely improve only slightly next year. If that's the case, Cunningham would have to be a miracle worker to improve each player on the defense. He's going to have to get them to buy into his philosophy almost immediately.

That is not what Chiefs fans had in mind when Vermeil decided to come back for another two-year coaching stint. It's certainly not what Cunningham bargained for either. I doubt he would have taken the job if he was not assured the team had some cap room to acquire at least one big time defensive player.

Maybe all this is a smoke screen and Vermeil is still in a fog after the Colts loss. Maybe the Hawaiian air temporarily has him dazed and confused. Maybe after watching the Pro Bowl on Sunday Night, he woke up this morning with some cap room and realized that that he must be even more aggressive this March then he was last year at this time.

If Vermeil needs any reminders about the 32 defense, he needs to take a look at all the game film of the Chiefs defense the last two seasons and he should rethink his position on going to war with the same players.


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