Déjà vu All Over Again

It's Saturday, August 6, 2005. I woke up this morning to read that Ty Law has either agreed in principle on a contract with the New York Jets or is very close to agreeing to a contract. I was immediately taken back to a Saturday morning in 2003 when I read that Hugh Douglas had agreed to a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The situations were eerily similar. In 2003, the Kansas City Chiefs desperately needed a pass rushing defensive end. Hugh Douglas was the former pro bowl, big name talent available via free agency. His availability was due in part to injury concerns. The Chiefs made a very serious attempt to sign Douglas and several media outlets across the country predicted he would soon sign with the Chiefs.

He did not, opting to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars where he was a complete bust. Similarly, pro bowl cornerback Ty Law has been the object of the Chiefs pursuit the past few months. Law is available via free agency due in part to an injury to his foot that caused him to miss half of the 2004 season. There is concern that he is not fully recovered and is not ready to participate in training camp. The Chiefs have a need for a cornerback due to the four game suspension of Eric Warfield. The Chiefs were at one point believed to be the most likely landing place for Law.

However, it now appears that Law will sign with the Jets. Déjà vu!!! A highly touted pro bowl free agent that plays a position where the Chiefs have a need then chooses a different team for reasons that make little sense. And at the end of the day if his foot is not sound, he could in turn receive the same fate as Douglas.

But the similarities of the off seasons do not end there. In 2003 the Chiefs added three defensive free agents in an attempt to improve a very porous defense. In that off season they added linebacker Shawn Barber, cornerback Dexter McCleon and defensive end Vonnie Holliday. In hindsight the efforts of the 2003 off season failed to provide a solution to the Chiefs defensive problems.

While the offense and the special teams carried the Chiefs to a 13-3 record in 2003, the defense finished 29th in total defense that season. When the Chiefs needed them most, the defense failed to deliver. In the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning, the defense failed to force one punt or deliver one turnover. The result was a 38-31 loss and an end to the superbowl dream.

Further evidence of the 2003 off season failure is the fact that this off season, the Chiefs attacked those same three positions, adding linebacker Kendrell Bell, cornerback Patrick Surtain and defensive end Carlos Hall. Why should Chiefs fans believe these off season acquisitions will result in a defense better than one that finishes 29th in the league in total defense? Why should there be hope of a season ending in Detroit rather than one ending in yet another first round playoff loss, or worse, no playoff appearance at all?

There are three reasons. First the Chiefs return an offense that has been in the top five of the league for the past three years and have the best kick/punt return specialist in the league in Dante Hall. Second the acquisitions made this off season appear to be more dynamic than those made in 2003. Kendrell Bell is a former rookie of the year and pro bowl linebacker who has great speed and is a heavy hitter. Barber was fast as well and had a reputation of being a big hitter, but has never been to a pro bowl. Patrick Surtain is a two time pro bowl cornerback who has 29 career interceptions. McCleon was signed by the Chiefs to be a nickel cornerback and ended up being a starter because of injuries and a lack of talent at the position.

Carlos Hall has not been to a pro bowl nor was he rookie of the year. However, after posting eight sacks his rookie year, he earned All-Rookie honors from Pro Football Weekly. Vonnie Holliday came to the Chiefs with 32 career sacks, including eight in his rookie season. However, he had a reputation of being inconsistent. All together, the combination of Bell, Surtain and Hall is more accomplished and brings a higher level of talent to the Chiefs than the combination of Barber, McCleon and Holliday.

The third reason why Chiefs fans should be optimistic about this offseason compared to the 2003 offseason is that the Chiefs defensive acquisitions didn't stop at the three positions already mentioned. The Chiefs also added pro bowl safety Sammy Knight who has 35 career interceptions and brings a new level of leadership to the team. Further, The team added first round draft pick Derrick Johnson out of the University of Texas who won the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker and earned the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the top collegiate defensive player.

In 2003, the Chiefs first round draft pick was running back Larry Johnson who has become another arrow in the offensive weapons quiver of offensive coordinator Al Saunders. Obviously, Johnson could not do anything to help the defense.

Déjà vu all over again?

Maybe so but based on the excitement being generated from River Falls about the defense and the office it's not inconceivable to see the Chiefs post double digit wins, take the top spot in the AFC West and host a playoff game or two this year.

However, this team has the potential to go beyond that. The return of the one of the league's best offense, the best kick/punt returner in the league, and at long last, pro bowl talent on defensive side of the ball provides the 2005 Chiefs the opportunity to get beyond the first round of the playoffs and to compete for the Super Bowl.


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