Week Seven – Issues Surrounding the Chiefs

This week Michael Ash talks about Clark Hunt, the quarterback situation in Kansas City, troubled running back Larry Johnson and the possibility of Daunte Culpepper as Chiefs quarterback.

Clark Hunt's votes of confidence in Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards last week couldn't have come at a worse time.

I fully understand why Hunt said what he did, especially considering his words came during the bye week while the team had a sense of optimism about Brodie Croyle's return to the lineup.

But a lot can change in a week.

Now, with Croyle done for the year, the Chiefs showing little to no progress in their rebuilding effort and all eyes already looking towards the offseason, the angry masses have contracted a serious case of agita as they look back at Hunt's comments.

Many fans are already frustrated by the fact that Peterson and Edwards are still employed going into Week 8. While Hunt didn't say a word about either having a future beyond this season, his assertion that both are doing "a good job" will ensure a lot of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over the next 10 games.

With the all-too-brief Croyle era coming to an unfortunate end, it's clear that the Chiefs' top priority this offseason is to find a quarterback. Just as important, though, is for the team to put the right people in position to not only make that decision, but to develop the chosen quarterback into a top-flight NFL player.

How could anyone justify having the current Chiefs staff lead that effort after the way they failed so horribly with Croyle?

This season was supposed to be about developing a quarterback of the future and the Chiefs let Croyle down in every conceivable way. They gave him a poor offensive line, made a half-hearted attempt at finding him a #2 receiver, and stuck him with an overly conservative offense that put a bull's-eye on his chest with every third and long he faced.

It's not like the team didn't have the means to improve those areas. The Chiefs had the most cap space of any team, the most draft picks of any team, and they hired a new offensive coordinator during the offseason. Every single one of those areas was a problem in 2007 and each one remains a problem today.

Of course, even if things had been set up perfectly, Croyle might not have panned out. It's obvious his body isn't cut out for the kind of abuse an NFL quarterback takes. But that doesn't excuse the team for not doing their part. If anything, knowing Croyle's injury history, they should have gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure everything possible was done to give him the best chance at success.

Incredibly, though, despite Edwards' extensive history with quarterback injuries over the years, he's yet to show any recognition of the fact that poor protection and a mindset that leads to multiple third-and-longs just might be a bad combination.

It's nearly impossible to come up with a reason why anyone on the Chiefs' payroll – from Peterson to Edwards to quarterbacks coach Dick Curl – should be involved in the process of finding and grooming another young signal caller.

The only possible exception is Eric Price, who unlike the rest of Kansas City's coaches, has actually been credited with helping an NFL quarterback (Chad Pennington) develop as a pro. Price, however, is currently coaching the Chiefs' receivers, and that fact is yet another sad commentary on how badly Croyle was mismanaged.

Above any other reason, the quarterback issue is the best argument for why Edwards shouldn't return as head coach next year. Chiefs fans now have to wait out the season, hoping that Hunt ultimately sees things the same way they do. But with his recent comments still fresh in their minds, it figures to be a tense, nervous 10 weeks.

To close out the quarterback topic, I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating: the Chiefs should invest in a quarterback guru during the offseason.

Whether it comes via their first pick in the draft, a later-round pick, a trade, a free-agent signing, or some combination of those options, the Chiefs will have to invest heavily in the quarterback position. Regardless of who's calling the shots next season, why not go all the way and add someone to the staff with the proven ability to groom quarterback talent?

Mike Holmgren will be leaving Seattle after the season. Norv Turner might be out in San Diego if the Chargers keep struggling. Mike Martz could be out of work with all the changes going on in San Francisco. Steve Mariucci is kicking back at the NFL Network.

I'm not saying any of them should be the next head coach – although the Chiefs could do a lot worse than Holmgren. Just bring someone in to work with the quarterbacks. Open up the checkbook, give the person a fancy title like Assistant Head Coach In Charge of Quarterbacks, do whatever it takes to get somebody in Kansas City.

Had the Chiefs not let offensive line guru Alex Gibbs slip through their fingers this past January, things might look a lot different on that front today. Given the state of the team and the importance of the quarterback position, there's no reason not to go all out -- especially if the Chiefs draft a quarterback in the first round.

If it's financially viable, the Chiefs should end the ongoing embarrassment and cut all ties with Larry Johnson.

Kansas City was shopping Johnson prior to last week's trading deadline – shockingly, though, no teams were interested in giving up draft picks for a moody running back with a knack for running afoul of the law.

Still, the fact they had him on the block means they were willing to use some of that massive space they have under the salary cap to eat the remaining cost of his signing bonus. I'm no capologist, so forgive me if this inaccurate, but I'm pretty sure the salary acceleration is the same whether a player is traded or released. So if the Chiefs could handle the cap hit of trading him, they should be able to cut him as well.

Johnson's reported behind-the-scenes behavior – tardiness, missing meetings, single-handedly delaying a team flight, refusing to come out of games when asked – is both disrespectful to the team and a horrible example to a roster of young players. Factor in Johnson's legal problems and the fact he may be facing a suspension from the league and it's surprising the Chiefs haven't already reached their limit.

Not just the "bench him for a game" limit – the "so long, get out, best of luck in your future endeavors" limit.

Honestly, what is Johnson contributing that justifies keeping him around in spite of all this? The only good, four-quarter game he's had this season was against Denver, whose defense is so atrocious they would have given up 200+ yards rushing to Patriots' third-string back Sammy Morris on Monday night had he not left the game with an injury.

Sure, that may be more of a reflection of the Chiefs' offensive line than of Johnson, but does that matter? The line isn't showing any sign of improvement and Johnson will continue to struggle when the team isn't playing Swiss-cheese defenses. On the few occasions the Chiefs do play a bad defense, Kolby Smith and Jamaal Charles are more than capable of gaining yards on the ground.

The only justification for not letting Johnson go is the fact that, unlike a trade, the Chiefs will have no say in where he goes. What if they cut him and he ends up with, say, Denver and stays in the division?

Perhaps I'm alone, but I don't care. In fact, it would be kind of funny to see Mike Shanahan take the credibility hit for bringing in yet another player with off-field behavioral issues. Imagine the fun Johnson could have cruising Denver nightclubs with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Travis Henry, if he's still in Denver these days. Or is Henry still in jail? Who can really keep track anymore?

Regardless, Johnson's continued presence on the roster is providing little value on the field and nothing but embarrassing headlines off of it. Sitting at 1-5 with both their offensive and defensive units ranking near the bottom of the league, the Chiefs are being humiliated enough this season. It's time for a drastic step to be taken.

I would have no problem with the Chiefs signing Daunte Culpepper.

Before the season, I would have been outraged at the mere thought of the Chiefs bringing in another veteran retread. But it's time to face facts: the dream of finding a young quarterback this season is all but dead and buried.

A report in the Kansas City Star said that if Culpepper is signed at all, it may not be until next week. Given that Damon Huard's status is in question due to his hand injury, that should provide Tyler Thigpen with another starting opportunity on Sunday against the Jets.

I'm all for playing a young quarterback and getting him some experience, but the Chiefs can't keep throwing Thigpen out there if he struggles with completions and turnovers the way he did against Atlanta. The rest of the team will quit by Week 12. Huard has been forced to leave more than one game due to various injuries, so he can't be counted on to stabilize the position.

In a best case scenario, Thigpen will show marked improvement from his first start and the Chiefs can keep rolling with him for awhile. But if it's more of the same, Culpepper is as good a stop-gap as any.

Well, until he gets injured too.

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