Woods on the Hot Seat in KC

With the signing of safety Sammy Knight, many experts around the NFL are projecting long-time Kansas City Chief Safety Jerome Woods to be a June 1st casualty. Woods may have gone to the Pro-Bowl in '03, but he had a poor season last year, and ended the season injured. Now the Chiefs are faced with a dilemna that could lead to the release of a loyal player.

Jerome Woods didn't look quite as young, or quite as fast last season, and Safety is a position where speed is key and age and experience can not make up for losing a step. Knight may not be that much younger, only two and a half years actually, but he still has his speed. Perhaps Knight could be an upgrade to Woods, who would have to make another miraculous comeback in '05 to regain his status as a top-echelon player.

Having said all that, I really hate to see a longtime Chief leave. He has been around longer than almost any other current player on defense, and has never worn another NFL jersey other than the Red and Gold of the Chiefs. He's been here in great years and he's suffered through horrible ones. He's been a cornerstone of one of our best Defenses ever, in 1998, and he's been the scapegoat of one of our worst ever last year. This guy is as loyal a Chief as the great Len Dawson was (and still is).

Jerome Woods has given everything he has to the Chiefs organization. In 1998, he played over half the season with six screws and a metal plate in his hand and didn't miss a single game. In fact, he finished third on the team for tackles that year on a very good defense.

In 2002, he broke his leg in a preseason game, but came back in 2003 and earned the first Pro-Bowl berth for a KC safety since Deon Cherry in 1988. He's had sacks that changed momentum in games, last-second interceptions to seal victories, and taken interceptions back for touchdowns to break the spirit of opposing teams. There are also a lot of things he hasn't done: he's never made a controversial statement to the press, he's never been involved in a scandal, and he's never had a big ego or bad attitude.

Last year, he signed a new six-year contract with the team, reportedly worth about $3 million a year with a 2-tier, $5 million signing bonus. That isn't a huge contract for a player that went to the Pro-Bowl that same season, but Woods was willing to sign back up with the Chiefs before even testing the lucrative free-agent waters. In fact, he could have been in the same exact position as Knight is in now—he'd have been about the same age, and would have been a target for many teams with weak secondaries last year. He signed back up, however, even though he knew he would be coming back to one of the lowest ranking defenses in the league. As a fan and as a person, I find that kind of loyalty admirable.

The question is can the Chiefs organization show the same loyalty to Woods that he has shown them? I'm sure that Vermiel, Cunningham, and all of his fellow players on the team would love to see him retire as a Chief. I'm sure that Woods would be proud to go down in the books as a lifelong Chief, too. Can the team find a way to keep him around though? The higher-ups in the organization have a difficult decision to make, and it may be difficult, or even impossible, to keep Woods on a defense desperately in need of re-building.

Of course, if he does become a free agent, I'm sure that there will be a feeding frenzy of teams after him. It's even possible that he could go to an AFC west rival, or a team like Indianapolis who is sure to be a playoff contender.

Maybe there is no solution in today's NFL. Maybe the ageing players, who stay loyal to a team throughout their prime years and carry their organizations to victory after victory, and console their teammates after every loss, maybe these players MUST be cut in today's cut-throat NFL. Players like Warren Sapp, Jerry Rice, and Drew Bledsoe were all basically abandoned by their teams when they became expendable. Woods may not be a household name like some of those players, but his dedication and impact are probably even greater.

I've always felt that the Chiefs showed class, but we may soon find out if that class can hold up against today's brutal NFL world of cap-room and free-agency.


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