As is the case with the Chiefs pursuit, or more recently their lack of pursuit of veteran free agent linebacker Ed Hartwell. He has in one sense done wonders for bringing out the passion of the Chiefs fans. Not bad for a player who will never wear a Chiefs uniform.
I have to be honest with everyone. The Chiefs quick start into free agency surprised me. When I left the season ending press conference in January where both Dick Vermeil and Carl Peterson spoke; I was convinced we wouldn't see much action from the Chiefs this off-season to reshape their horrible defense. They claimed the current defensive players needed one more year before they could truly be evaluated. My heart stopped! Sitting next to me was Hall of Fame Quarterback Len Dawson. I thought he was going to stop breathing.
But thank goodness something changed after that press conference. We started hearing the Chiefs were going to make some changes on defense. Rumors began swirling at the NFL Combines that the Chiefs were going to be players. My source told me that the Chiefs were going to attempt to add at least three defensive free agents; a cornerback, linebacker and a safety.
I still wasn't convinced until they started parading some of the NFL's best at Arrowhead. They rolled in linebackers Jeremiah Trotter, Ed Hartwell, Kendrell Bell and cornerback Samari Rolle. The excitement amongst Chiefs fans was at a fever pitch. I've not seen anything like the passion that Kansas City fans were exuding with the potential news about signing some of the NFL's best players.
Then it began. The RUMORS!
It all started when ESPN reported that the Chiefs had a deal with Trotter, then news that Hartwell was close to signing, then it couldn't be true but Rolle was next to join the Chiefs. Imagine a trio of top notch players in the fold for our Chiefs who always waited to sign free agent leftovers.
But reality set as none of them signed a contract. Bell eventually signed and so did Safety Sammy Knight. Suddenly things were better despite the fact that we lost out on Rolle but the fans could not let go of Ed Hartwell. They had to have him on the roster. The message boards were a rage with his name and every buddy who claimed they knew him, knew of him were saying in unison that he'll be a Chief.
Hartwell came to Kansas City and preached to his agent that this was the place he wanted to be for the next four or five seasons. The two sides began talking contract and it all changed. Hartwell wanted a signing bonus in the $12 million range. The Chiefs said no. His agent pushed the Chiefs but they didn't back down. Hartwell was not Ray Lewis. He was just a solid linebacker who played next to one of the best in the business. Hartwell is a piece of the puzzle and must fit into a system to be successful.
Still fans were getting restless and the Chiefs were realizing that this was not going to happen. So they quickly turned their attention to Bell even while Hartwell was still in town. They brought Bell in as a back-up and though it took a week to finalize the deal, Bell showed the Chiefs respect by allowing them to work out a deal that gave him $10 million in guaranteed money. He didn't play any games, make demands and he knew his value. If Bell pans out for the Chiefs, he will be paid like one of the top linebackers in the NFL.
That wasn't good enough for Hartwell nor his agent. So he moved to Arizona where he was shown the door after demanding more money from the Cardinals than the Chiefs offered. Now going to visit the Cardinals was a ploy to get the Chiefs to increase their offer but if clearly didn't work. It STILL hasn't worked and in fact Hartwell still is without a home.
Oh yes he's talked to the St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Seattle Seahawks. Now he's talking to the Atlanta Falcons who might actually sign him for far less money than the Chiefs offered him on the first day of NFL free agency.
But even with a possible deal pending with the Falcons, Chiefs fans still want this guy. I admit he's a talented player who could help this team but why would we still want him? After all we knew he blew it by not signing a deal with the Chiefs. But it's just too late. The Chiefs have NO interest in Hartwell anymore. But the mystery of where Hartwell will finally land still rages on the internet in chat rooms from coast to coast.
But who is fueling these rumors or Hartwell sightings? Misguided fans? Misguided journalists? Misguided agents? The answers rest with all three to some degree or another.
The Chiefs have been telling me since Bell signed that they have no interest in Hartwell. And with every rumor, I ask again. I get the same answer. The problem is very simple. Hartwell's agent promised him a double digit signing bonus and now he can't get his client what he wants. What Hartwell really wanted was to play for the Chiefs. That's why some can't let him go because they believe that in their hearts. They refuse to accept he'll play for anywhere else but Kansas City. Still fans will listen to radio reports, read internet posts and scour wire services for any news on where Ed Hartwell will sign.
The Chiefs are a proud franchise that will always side on caution and after only agonizing hours of due diligence; will they pull the trigger on any free agent. They'll do their homework even harder now because they've made many mistakes the last several years in evaluating talent; especially on defense. They know they can't compete with the same defense they did year ago if they want better results in 2005. They know they might have to cut some veterans or push some of the younger guys to the forefront if they want to make a legitimate run for a modern day Super Bowl appearance.
This organization realizes just as much as the fans do. I know they listen to the radio, read the papers and I know they check out our website and read our magazines. Though we might not at times have faith in their decision making process, each decision they make equates to the risk of losing millions of dollars. For us working stiffs, we don't care about that but they have to be accountable for that with each player. Do you think the Chiefs are happy they gave Ryan Sims a $10 million signing bonus? Heck no. But despite that error they shelled out bucks for Shawn Barber two years ago, who also didn't pan out. Yet they gave Bell lots of loot because they knew they had no other choice if they wanted to compete.
Do you think it was easy for Carl Peterson to go to Lamar Hunt and ask him top open up his checkbook this year after shelling out all that cash a year ago to retain Jerome Woods, Eric Hicks, Greg Wesley, William Bartee and John Browning? Heck no.
Granted Lamar Hunt has a lot of money and thank goodness the Chiefs are one of the most financially stable franchises in all of sports not just the NFL and they are willing to spend up to the salary cap limit every year on salaries. But even Lamar Hunt had to scratch his head as well when Peterson approached him with an open hand after the 2004 season ended. People forget that Hunt has spent well over $100 million in signing bonus's and/or guaranteed money to free agents and current players to assemble this team since Vermeil came aboard after the 2000 season.
As my grandfather used to tell me, ‘That's a lot of Iron.' The only thing fans have to understand now is that Ed Hartwell won't be getting any of Lamar's Iron either. I'd much rather he give it to Ty Law or Patrick Surtain!