Step 4: Finding A Franchise Quarterback

When I began writing about the 10 things I believe the Chiefs need to do in order to compete for an AFC West Championship next season, I was certain Tyler Thigpen wasn't part of the mix. But after back to back solid games, I've changed my mind about the Coastal Carolina product and the impact he can make on the future of the franchise.

If not for a lackadaisical second half coaching effort from offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in Kansas City's losses against New York and Tampa Bay, this article might be even more optimistic about the future of the Chiefs' quarterback position. As it is, Thigpen has done well when the game is in his hands and he's running an offensive system that fits his talents. All he needs to do is work on his accuracy. With a strong arm, sometimes the ball sails on him, but that comes down to mechanics and that can be corrected.

However, now is not the time to get too giddy over Thigpen, who must prove he can play the same way over the next eight weeks. If he can, he's Kansas City's leading candidate to start in 2009.

But that should not deter the Chiefs in their efforts to draft a young quarterback next April. There are a plethora of choices - mostly Juniors, with one talented Sophomore – who could end up as first-round picks for the Chiefs.

Most of these quarterbacks live in the Big 12, with Oklahoma's Sam Bradford (redshirt Sophomore), Texas' Colt McCoy (Junior) and Kansas State gunslinger Josh Freeman (Junior) all entertaining prospects of jumping to the NFL.

Another player making big noise is Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford but his stock continues to fall and he could benefit from another year in College before he jumps ship to the NFL.

There are other candidates, but it's anyone's guess if they'll compare or even be in the same productive class as this year's first-round golden boys, Matt Ryan (Falcons) and Joe Flacco (Ravens), who have led their teams to potential playoff seasons as rookies.

On the veteran front there are several options for the Chiefs, who quite likely will part ways with Damon Huard and/or Brodie Croyle in the offseason. That means the team has to be aggressive in upgrading the position regardless of the success Thigpen might have the final half of the season.

There are two veterans the Chiefs should make a play for in the offseason. One is Houston Texans backup Sage Rosenfels. Sunday at Minnesota, against one of the better defensive units in the NFL, he threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns and nearly pulled off an upset victory.

The other veteran is Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. There's talk that he wants out of Cincinnati. However, in the four games he's played this year he didn't win once. Sure, he's injured, but the Bengals have played better this season under Ryan Fitzpatrick.

It's obvious that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis will be ousted at the end of the season, and the team is also likely to lose standout wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to free agency. Palmer and Houshmandzadeh would fit well in Kansas City.

The Chiefs would have to be willing to give up a second-round pick for Palmer and agree to a contract extension, but it's an enticing option.

Regardless, the Chiefs must hit lightning in the bottle, either in drafting one of the top young quarterbacks or adding a veteran who can push or surpass Thigpen as a productive NFL starter. Based on the current state of the AFC West, Kansas City really just needs one more solid and aggressive offseason to get them over the top.

After Sunday's loss, a Chiefs' executive hinted to me that the team was going to be more aggressive in the offseason. With plenty of cap room, the team has options in free agency. With a draft class coming that will be loaded with as many as 100 juniors, there's even more prime talent available.

This offseason won't be the time to be conservative. Instead, the Chiefs must go for the kill in acquiring or drafting a top quarterback.

It's never happened. This franchise has never developed or drafted a quarterback that has led them to the playoffs. Who knows, Thigpen may end up being that guy, but the Chiefs can't bank their future on that. They must hedge their bets.

Next - Step Five - Improving the Secondary.

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