Chiefs Have Lots of Work to Do for 05

After watching the San Diego Chargers reserves walk off with a 24-17 victory over Kansas City, one thing became perfectly clear on Sunday; this team has to turn over a majority of the roster before they kick-off in 2005.

Obviously the Chiefs need two new cornerbacks, another starting safety, a middle linebacker and a pass rushing defensive end just to get to a level where they can compete against marginal offensive teams. If they want to beat the best in the NFL, they'll need some new blood and attitude in the locker room.

Gone will be veteran cornerbacks Dexter McCleon and William Bartee. McCleon is just too short to play cornerback against taller receivers. It's a disadvantage for the Chiefs defense when he's on the field. Bartee simply does not have the talent to play at this level.

Rookie free agent Benny Sapp showed some playmaking abilities late in the season and he could be one of the teams' starters next year or at best be the nickel back. Julian Battle needs to sit in the film room and work every day at getting stronger so he can use that large frame and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage.

The Chiefs could make a run for a pair of cornerbacks to upgrade the unit. Eric Warfield has talent but he was not the same player after his off the field incident this past season and he needs to really focus on his game and earn the $5 million the Chiefs are paying him next season. Players like Ken Lucas of Seattle and Gary Baxter of Baltimore could be prime selections for Kansas City in the free agency period.

This team must find another safety. I'll give Greg Wesley the benefit of the doubt that he just had a bad season but Jerome Woods who was inured for much of the second half of the season quite likely will get the boot on June 1. Shaunard Harts does not have the talent to play in the NFL; he can't cover or make tackles. He was pounded by the Chargers third string running back and he has no instincts in pass coverage.

The draft won't yield any help as the Safety position is the weakest in recent history so they'll have to bring in a free agent to replace Woods. At linebacker, the Chiefs must find a true man in the middle. The draft could yield them that type of playmaker but by finishing 7-9 Kansas City would need to slip in the top 10 and that's not going to happen. Right now they sit at 13th in the first round so that should net them at least one impact player next season.

Monty Beisel was overmatched and Kawika Mitchell is a solid back-up that would have to come full circle in the off-season to make an impact on the defensive unit next year as a starter. Shawn Barber had major knee surgery and he joins Mike Maslowski as two huge question marks on this defense. The Chiefs don't know if either will start the season on the active roster. Scott Fujita led the linebackers in tackles but he did not have the kind of impact season that many had thought he would under Gunther Cunningham. The Chiefs should make a run at the 49ers Julian Peterson who has been injured the last two years but he's a solid playmaker that the Chiefs have not had since Donnie Edwards was patrolling the middle of the defense.

Up front the line is solid with the exception of Ryan Sims. He simply does not make enough plays to warrant his huge salary and the Chiefs might have to consider cutting their losses with him in the off-season. Lional Dalton proved to be an outstanding nose tackle and John Browning continues to be efficient at defensive end. Sims simply needs an attitude adjustment and he needs to become a man possessed in the off-season. He needs to stay in Kansas City this off-season and work at Arrowhead until his bones hurt every day just to get a shot at playing time.

On offense, the Chiefs must get a go-to wide receiver. They need a big Terrell Owens type of receiver who can go over the middle and can compliment tight end Tony Gonzalez. Eddie Kennison had a career year and Johnnie Morton came out of nowhere to have a solid season but the former Detroit Lion won't be back next season. Samie Parker needs to be a focal point of the offense and he could be a solid #3 receiver. Chris Horn is a nice story but he's not the playmaker that this team needs. Marc Boerigter will be back but after two surgeries the jury is out on what time of impact he'll have on the offense. They could be in a position to draft USC wide receiver Mike Williams. If they go the free agent route, the Steelers Plaxico Burress could be a real catch for the Chiefs offense.

One player who will be part of the 2005 offense will be tight end Kris Wilson who suffered a broken leg in the final exhibition game. He'll do nothing but get stronger in the off-season and working with Tony Gonzalez can't hurt.

The big question will be how Al Saunders can incorporate Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson into the offense. Johnson scored ten times this season and he was the catalyst and the spark-plug that led to the Chiefs late season four game winning streak. Johnson is a playmaker who brings an attitude to the offense that has been missing even with Priest Holmes in the line-up.

The fact is when Johnson was on the field contributing as he should have been all season long, the team won games. The Chiefs averaged more points and more touchdowns with Johnson and Derrick Blaylock than with Holmes on the field. They won four games and only three with Holmes. That's a very telling statistic. Though the Chiefs won't consider trading Holmes they should at least open up some dialogue with teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins or Tennessee Titans who will be desperate for a solid running back.

On the coaching staff, Dick Vermeil has said all the right things about coming back but its not 100% certain that he'll do that. He generally takes a week or so off after the season and that's when he reflects on the season that passed and the one ahead.

Carl Peterson will have to renegotiate the contract of Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Ryan Sims and Tony Gonzalez to get extra cap room beyond 2005. If the Chiefs are going to be aggressive in the off-season, they'll need more cap room.

Sunday's loss showed that the Chargers Junior Varsity was better than the Chiefs Varsity and San Diego has $21 million in cap room plus two first round picks to build upon in 2005. Regardless if they do well in the playoffs, they will be poised to win the division next season if they shore up some of their deficiencies in the secondary.

If that happens, it'll take more than one or two prime time free agent pick-ups to compete with them and the Denver Broncos who also made the playoffs.

This will be the most important off-season in Chiefs history and any mistake in judging player personnel could set back this franchise for years to come.

The Chargers proved that they could work with less and the Chiefs proved that the best offense in the NFL did not make enough plays when it counted to win more than seven games. We already knew the defense would be bad but misadventures in the Red Zone more than anything else cost this team a playoff run in 2004.

Next year this offense has to play with a sense of purpose and passion from the opening quarter of the season until they reach their ultimate goal which is to get to and win the Super Bowl.

The defense needs to create a few more turnovers and put pressure on the quarterback and get the ball into the hands of their offense. If all that happens, then Kansas City could compete with both the Broncos and Chargers for the AFC West crown in 2005.


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