As promised, the Chiefs have entertained quite a few free agents this off season. Those visits have resulted in two signings, linebacker Kendrell Bell and safety Sammy Knight. However, a trend seems to be developing. Carl Peterson and Dick Vermeil, whenever possible, seem to go aggressively after people they (or someone close to them) are very familiar with. "Insider" information on personnel is a very intelligent way of pursuing people they want. However, the question that must be asked is how many good people do the Chiefs pass up due to not having history with them?
The Chiefs' stated target this off season was to acquire three impact defensive free agents; a corner back, a linebacker and a safety. Right out of the gate the Chiefs brought Samari Rolle in for a visit and according to various reports, they were very close to signing him. Rolle played for the Tennessee Titans while Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was the Titans linebacker coach. However, in the early days of free agency, Rolle was the only corner back the Chiefs brought in for a visit. Ken Lucas and Anthony Henry signed with other teams while Rolle made his visit. If the Chiefs had scheduled visits with Lucas and Henry, they could have had an alternate player lined-up in the event the Rolle deal fell through.
Fred Smoot sat at home for about a week before he got a call for any visit. Once the Rolle deal went south, the Chiefs rang his number, but were 2nd in line to the Vikings. The Chiefs never got the chance to role out the red carpet as he didn't leave Minnesota without signing a hefty contract. The "unfamiliar" Smoot should have made a trip to Kansas City after Rolle left town without a contract.
Sammy Knight was a brought in for a visit and was signed before he left town. To be fair, he was the 2nd safety brought in by the Chiefs, but appeared to be the only one that got into serious negotiations. Dwight Smith came in first, but negotiations didn't appear to get to the serious stage.
So what is Knight's connection to the Chiefs? Chiefs Vice President of Pro Personnel, Bill Kuharich, signed Knight as an unrestricted free agent when he was with the New Orleans Saints. Surely Kuharich's insight played an integral role in signing Knight. Could Smith have been a better player for the Chiefs? We don't know, but we do know that he has no history the Chiefs front office or coaching staff. But since he's on our team now maybe he'll help us acquire his good buddy Patrick Surtain.
The Chiefs brought in three LB's: Kendrell Bell, Jeremiah Trotter, and Edgerton Hartwell. Now none of them have a tie to the Chiefs front office or coaching staff, but no top tier LBs were available that did. However, if Tennessee Titan linebacker Keith Bulluck were available, there's a good chance he would have been brought in and the Chiefs would have missed out on Bell.
But it doesn't stop at players. When Peterson needed a head coach to turn the Chiefs around, he convinced his old buddy Dick Vermeil to come out of retirement. When Vermeil needed a defensive coordinator he turned to a guy Carl was familiar with, Gunther Cunningham. When he needed an offensive coordinator he turned to his circle of friends and tapped Al Saunders. Director of Football Operations Mike White is an old cohort of Peterson and Vermeil. Defensive Backs Coach Peter Guinta was Vermeil's defensive coordinator in St. Louis. Receiver Coach Charlie Joiner was a pupil under Saunders in San Diego.
The draft is even impacted by the "familiar". In 2002 the Chiefs traded up 2 spots to get Ryan Sims who played for John Bunting at the University of North Carolina, a former coach on Vermeil's staff in St. Louis. If the Chiefs are able to trade up and get Derrick Johnson, linebacker from the University of Texas, you can bet that Vermeil has received input from former defensive coordinator Greg Robinson who coached Johnson at Texas.
Still the familiar is not always a bad thing. Trent Green was the QB that Vermeil brought into St. Louis and he and Al Saunders made it a priority to bring him to the Chiefs shortly after they arrived. He has been a very good addition for the Chiefs. Eddie Kennison played with Vermeil in St. Louis. The Chiefs will apparently pass on Andre Dyson who has a history with Gunther Cunningham. Perhaps Gun knows something that makes the Chiefs uninterested.
The worst example of staying with the familiar was the Chiefs decision to only resign their own defensive free agents last year and to not pursue any "unfamiliar" players outside of defensive nose tackle Lional Dalton. That strategy blew up in their face during the first game of the season when Quentin Griffith torched them for 156 yards and 2 TDs and Jake Plummer ran naked boot after naked boot to move his team down the field.
The Chiefs have many more holes to fill, but don't have much history left with the available players on the free agent market. They will continue to do their due diligence, but the time has come to venture outside the familiar and go aggressively after some "unknown" talent.
The success of the 2005 season could depend on it.