Why All the Chaos in Kansas City?

With the 2004 season nearly at a close, the Kansas City Chiefs hope to finish the season strong. After winning back to back road games, the home town team faces three straight games against their AFC West division rivals. But the unraveling of this franchise this season can be traced back to 2003.

Still looking back does very little to change anything that happened this season but this team has to get its swagger back and fast. One thing this organization can't do is start trading away some of their veterans. They'll be tempted to trade Larry Johnson and even Tony Gonzalez but they are two of their younger stars on offense. This team might want to consider trading Priest Holmes instead.

Its been a turbulent week for this once proud NFL franchise. First All-Pro running back Priest Holmes announced he would be returning for the 2005 campaign after a meeting with Chiefs President/General Manager Carl Peterson and head coach Dick Vermeil.

There have been reports circling the Arrowhead wagon that that meeting included a stern demand from Holmes about improving not only the teams defensive personnel for next season but also he wanted a bump in salary for 2005. Holmes privately has been the most vocal of his offensive mates and with a plethora of age resting on that side of the ball, there is only a small window of opportunity left for this high powered offense to continue to put up 30 plus points per game.

According to reports, Holmes made it clear about his position and he wanted to be assured before he would agree to return next season that changes would be made in the defensive personnel and a strong push would be made to be aggressive in the free agent market. He also gave up an opportunity to play this year by agreeing to go on injured reserve thus eliminating the majority of his performance bonus's he certainly would have earned by playing the entire season.

He'll certainly be selected to be a starter in the Pro-Bowl even though he won't play. But instead he needs to head to Hawaii and get his recruiting shoes on and try and lure some top free agent talent to Kansas City. Last season Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb lobbied hard to convince then San Francisco 49er receiver Terrell Owens to bring his skills to the city of brotherly love. It worked and the Eagles offense has taken a leap forward. He also was active in getting Jevon Kearse away from the Titans. Holmes needs to do the same PR job and back up his demands with management. He needs to back up his demands with some action of his own.

Still Holmes is the vocal leader amongst veteran players such as Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez, Will Shields and Willie Roaf who are all senior members of the offense. Though Gonzalez could play for another four to five seasons, the rest of them could be playing their final season in 2005. The clock is ticking on this offense and they can't be complacent on that side of the ball either when they evaluate talent for next season.

Green will be firmly entrenched in his mid 30's at the end of next season and his productivity and endurance has been amazing but not many NFL quarterbacks are successful once they begin the ascend to 40. The Chiefs have no heir apparent for Green and they'll have to address that this off-season. Todd Collins is not the answer and there's a reason he's been a back-up in Kansas City since the Schottenheimer era. The NFL crop coming out of college is good and the Chiefs would be wise to find someone who they can groom for the future.

Gonzalez could be used as trade-bate in the off-season and that would be a huge mistake. I'd rather see the team trade Holmes then Gonzalez. Before his career is all said and done, Gonzalez will have the most career receiving yards and touchdowns for a tight end. His value in this offense is underrated and under-used by offensive coordinator Al Saunders. He's the best all around tight end to ever play this game. Holmes is scoring machine but I'm confident that Larry Johnson can be just as productive in this offense.

But trading Holmes is more of a viable option and one the Chiefs should consider but would be foolish to do it unless another team knocked their socks off with a blockbuster trade that included both draft picks and defensive help. Though realistically that's not going to happen, and I'm contradicting myself since I'd like to see Holmes be a GM in Hawaii, Gonzalez can't be traded nor should Holmes or Larry Johnson.

Johnson has proved to me, and I've been on his band-wagon the last two years, that he's not a typical Penn State back. The two long touchdowns he scored on Monday Night against the Titans not only were impressive but I doubt that Holmes would have been able to score on either of those runs.

Johnson has power, strength and speed. He's clearly shown to me that he's the real deal and the Chiefs need to start adapting more of their offense toward his strengths. He can co-exist with Holmes in the back field next season and that might prolong Holmes's career beyond 2005. Trust me Johnson won't be traded and Derrick Blaylock has played his last season with the Chiefs. There is no way that this time will sign Blaylock who is an unrestricted free agent at seasons end and has shown to be injury prone with an increased workload.

Both Willie Roaf and Will Shields more than likely will play next season. Roaf in particular had a strong off-season and worked his tail off to get in better shape. He'll likely do that again in 2005 and end his career with the Chiefs as their greatest left tackle in team history.

Shields, the Chiefs all-time leader in consecutive games played, likely will do the same thing as Roaf after 2005. He's a beast and still the best at his position but he's been nicked this year with injuries and for him to continue past 2005 will be a testament to his willingness to physically battle age and do something that very few men in the NFL can do at his age and that's play at high level in his mid 30's.

But the bigger question this off-season is what Head Coach Dick Vermeil will do about returning to for the 2005 season. Though he says that he'll be back next season, I'm not so sure. Depending on what the off-season game plan is for Kansas City and an agreement about which players won't return in 2005, that could be the over-riding factor that determines if he'll be on the sidelines next season.

Carl Peterson is likely to return for his last season as Lamar Hunt has already indicated that he's going to let his CEO/President/General Manager comeback next season to correct the ship. With that news in hand Peterson's entire Chiefs legacy could be riding on the 2005 season. He's out of five year plans and it's all come down to one season. Granted he's made Lamar Hunt a lot of money but this season he has dedicate his job to the fans that have remained loyal to this franchise and are expecting that he'll be very bold and aggressive this off-season for a true and legitimate Super Bowl run.

If Vermeil does not come back next season, then it will be up to Peterson to find a successor. Now Peterson has a list and he's checking it twice but there are only two or three coaches that he feels could inherit Vermeil's shoes.

Rumors have been suggesting that the Chiefs have been in contact with some of the elite college coaches about their possible interest in moving from the NCAA circuit to the greatest show in sports, the NFL. Depending on who you believe, the reception was to his liking.

Though we can't confirm at this time the names, it's safe to assume that Peterson understands that the NFL is moving toward younger coaches and the best young coaching minds are in college football. If the Chiefs want an established NFL coach, there's only one name on the list; Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Bill Cowher. How likely will Cowher leave the Steelers is slim based on their performance this year but he's the tough as nails head coach this team needs. I would think that if Cowher leads the Steelers to a Super Bowl that he might be more inclined to try his luck with another organization to cement his history as one of the great coaches of all-time.

Still if Peterson has to replace Vermeil this off-season, he still has to upgrade the talent on the defensive side of the ball; this team needs two starting cornerbacks, a middle linebacker and a strong pass rushing defensive end just to become an average defense in 2005. It also has to address some of the age on offense but it desperately needs an Owens type of wide receiver who will force opponents to focus on someone else besides Holmes and Gonzalez. The Steelers Plaxico Burress could be a key target along with the Raiders Jerry Porter. Both would be a good fit for the Chiefs offense.

With that said, Peterson will have to maneuver the salary cap by adjusting contracts of Green and Gonzalez which both players will do. The expected cap this season will be somewhere between $80-85 million but in 2006 it could be as high as $100 million with the new TV and radio deals currently being negotiated by the NFL.

That means Peterson is also going to have let some veterans go on defense who did not pan out after giving them new contracts last season. The biggest busts on defense have been safety Jerome Woods and cornerback William Bartee. Defensive end Eric Hicks has not been very effective and he could be another veteran that could be released.

But this unit is so bad that Peterson would be wise to let defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham make all the calls in regards to personnel on defense this off-season. Cunningham who has been openly critical of his defensive players for much of the season knows exactly which players can play his style of defense. Both Vermeil and Peterson should just get out of his way this off-season and let him make the decisions who to draft, sign as free agents and cut off the roster despite the cap hits.

As for the Hunt family, Lamar announced that he's selling the Kansas City Wizards MLS franchise because its become a financial drain. Bottom line is that with Bi-State II failing to pass this past November, Hunt will have to reach into his pocket to do some upgrades at Arrowhead. There may be other reasons that he's put up the Wizards. With the a new Downtown Arena set for Spring of 2007, Hunt could be positioning his financial commitments to bring an Arena Football team to Kansas City.

But at hand is what to do with Arrowhead stadium. It needs major upgrades along the concourse levels. Now part of the crowded concourse areas at Arrowhead is due to the Chiefs adding additional private seating for Corporate Sponsors to sit and view games in outdoor suites. That was something that the original designers never envisioned and that more than anything has caused jammed concourses and people trampling on each other before and after games.

Still the stadium needs major upgrades. It's not known if a Bi-State III is in the offering but it's clear that the Kansas City Royals baseball team won't be part of any new talks to improve their stadium. There is a huge swelling of support to move the Royals downtown into a new ballpark near the new Sprint Arena which will be completed by the Spring of 2007.

That won't affect the Chiefs plans because they'll be happy to stay at Arrowhead if things can be worked out with Jackson County officials who could be defaulting on their lease with the Chiefs in two years due to a lack of funds to pay for the improvements and upgrades promised when each team signed their new leases.

Though the Chiefs won't likely be a candidate to move downtown, the Chiefs could be swayed to move out to the suburbs. The city of Overland Park and Lenexa, Kansas both have the money and ability to propose tax increases to lure the Chiefs away from the Missouri side of the boarder. It can be done very easily since Johnson County still ranks as the second richest county in America, the money and the players are there to make it happen. In fact, Johnson County is building a 8,000 seat arena that has already lured the Kansas City Knights and Kansas City Comets franchise so to their new proposed facility.

Still Hunt despite his obvious disappointment about Bi-State II, needs to start thinking about dipping into his own pocket not only for modest stadium improvements this winter but he needs authorize the signing of the best free agent players available to increase the talent on this roster and keep an eye on a possible new location in Johnson County for the Chiefs.

Hunt did not want to spend the money this past off-season and it was a critical blow to the Chiefs chances to build on their 13-3 season of a year ago. It was clear to everyone in the NFL that his decisions to stay pat and watch other teams in his division improve their player stock; would prove to be a death blow to getting back into the playoffs. Everyone new the defense would fail in Kansas City except those in the organization.

Hunt has to look no further than the San Diego Chargers who chose to release aging veterans and refused to pay players on the decline big bucks. Instead they signed marginal players with solid potential and allowed them to succeed in schemes that fit the personnel they signed. The Chargers are on the verge of a dynasty and Mr. Hunt needs to step up or they'll go even deeper into oblivion in the AFC West in 2005 and 2006.

The Chargers are sitting with a $21 million cushion in salary cap money next year and that's before the league officially projects next years cap. They can buy anyone they want this off-season and be more aggressive shoring up their deficiencies on both sides of the ball if they fall short in their playoff run.

Kudos to Marty Schottenheimer and the Spanos family, who owns the Chargers, for finally changed their stripes. For Schottenheimer his ability to change philosophies this late in his coaching career is something that Vermeil must do this off-season. Loyalty is great but productivity on the field is what the NFL is all about these days. That's why the Chargers are in the playoffs and the Chiefs will be sitting at home in January kicking themselves for the mistakes they made on and off the field this year.

Regardless, if the Chiefs climb back to 8-8 this season and position themselves to have a top 20 draft pick instead of a top 10 pick, they'll need to make all the right moves this off-season. They have to sign players who may lack a little character who in turn can make plays on the field, they'll have to scout the draft and find themselves at least three impact starters (two on defense and one on offense); they'll have to settle on a clear direction for 2005 and start working at rebuilding an aging roster for 2006 and beyond. They'll have plenty of cap room the next two seasons to be as aggressive as they want.

Still even if all that happens, it might not be enough to overshadow the mistakes they made last year. But one thing is certain from the words that both Vermeil and Peterson have indicated this past week about the poor decisions they made last year after a 13-3 season, both have clearly admitted they made mistakes in evaluating their own personnel.

If that's the best thing to come out of this disappointing season, Chiefs fans should feel a sense of hope for next year. Now it's up to the Hunt family, Peterson and Vermeil to learn from their mistakes and address the areas on this team that need a serious infusion of talent.

Time will tell if the current regime can get that done because if they can't, Chiefs fans might have to wait until this organization cleans house after the 2005 season.

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