Week 14 - Issues Surrounding The Chiefs

This week Michael Ash talks about how Tony Gonzalez might throw a clog into the Chiefs' offseason plans, why Tyler Thigpen needs some time, and puzzles over Larry Johnson's absence from the offensive gameplan in Denver.

It's going to be an interesting offseason in Kansas City.

We already knew that, of course, with all the questions surrounding Herm Edwards, Carl Peterson, free agency, the draft, Larry Johnson's future, and so forth.

But things went up another notch this week when Tony Gonzalez drew a line in the sand. Speaking to ESPN after the Chiefs' loss in Denver, Gonzalez made it crystal clear that he believes the team has found its quarterback in Tyler Thigpen.

You might recall Gonzalez making similar comments about Brodie Croyle last year. But while Gonzalez was clearly supportive of Croyle, his support of Thigpen was far more direct. Gonzalez outright said it would be a "disgrace" if the Chiefs didn't make Thigpen their starter in 2009.

Those aren't words to be taken lightly. Gonzalez may not be putting up the best numbers of his career, but this year might be doing more to cement his legacy than any other season in recent memory. From a Chiefs' perspective, after the sticky situation at the trade deadline, he's been nothing but a professional. Without question, he's been the lynchpin of the new spread offense.

From a national perspective, just when it appeared Gonzalez might be on the verge of being passed by the younger tight ends in the AFC, he's spent 2008 distancing himself. Antonio Gates has been slowed by injury. Kellen Winslow hasn't followed up on his strong 2007. Meanwhile, Gonzalez continues uninterrupted on his Hall of Fame path, showing absolutely no signs of a slowdown. He'll not only make his 10th straight Pro Bowl this season, he'll likely reclaim his role as the AFC's starter.

While his "disgrace" comment has received widespread attention, Gonzalez's comments in the Kansas City Star – "As far as I'm concerned I'll be a Chief next season" – haven't. When Gonzalez wasn't moved at the trade deadline, the assumption in many circles was that he'd ask for another trade after the season and be moved sometime before the draft.

Will Tony throw a monkey wrench in the offseason plans?
Dilip Vishwanawat

Apparently, Gonzalez is starting to lean towards staying, which is why his comments about Thigpen have added another element of intrigue to the upcoming offseason.

What happens if the Chiefs ignore Gonzalez?

Let's pretend for a moment – it shouldn't be difficult – that the Chiefs aren't too active in free agency. Keeping with that assumption, positions of extreme need like defensive end and linebacker will continue to be weaknesses heading into the draft. The team should be picking high enough in April to guarantee them a top prospect at one of those two positions. But suppose a scenario were to unfold where one of the draft's top quarterbacks fell into their lap.

Quite obviously, the Chiefs should make decisions for the betterment of the team, not to placate any one particular player. But it's entirely likely they won't know what their chances are of taking a quarterback until they actually go on the clock. In other words, drafting a quarterback with their first pick will not be something they can plan for throughout the offseason.

If the Chiefs have the opportunity to draft someone they believe is a franchise quarterback, they would be foolish to pass. But that immediately raises the question: if they do draft a quarterback, what does that do to the team's shaky relationship with their star tight end?

Will Gonzalez ask to be moved again, not interested in spending what could be his final NFL season with a rookie under center? The Chiefs would have ample time to make a trade, but they wouldn't actually reap the rewards until the following year's draft. Would the rest of the league offer up a fair price for a player who proved in 2008 he was still at the top of his game? Or would the Chiefs have to settle for the lowball offers they received in October?

And, more importantly, to what degree would Thigpen and the new quarterback suffer minus Gonzalez? Especially if the Chiefs keep the spread offense, in which Gonzalez is excelling?

These are the kinds of issues we'll have to look forward to over the next several months. I can hardly wait, how about you?

While I think the Chiefs should take a quarterback if the opportunity arises, it's not because I'm sour on Thigpen.

Recently, Thigpen has been judged rather harshly. Yes, it's true that KC's offensive production has taken a rather sharp nose dive since the Buffalo game. The Chiefs scored only 13 offensive points against the Raiders and, even more alarming, only 10 against a rather generous Broncos' defense.

Let's not forget, though, that those two games have been on the road in the two most hostile environments the Chiefs play in. Thigpen received his first taste as a starter in both locations. It's understandable if he was a little rattled.

Maybe we should give Thigpen a break?
Jamie Squire

More importantly, let's keep in mind that Thigpen took over as the Chiefs' quarterback mid-season with an entirely new offense. Even rookie quarterbacks who have only been in the NFL since April spent several months learning and practicing their team's playbook.

Thigpen didn't have that luxury. Sure, he ran a spread offense in college, but he's spent two seasons trying to adjust to the NFL game. Do we even know how similar the Chiefs' attack is to what he ran at Coastal Carolina?

The bottom line is that Thigpen – and the rest of the Chiefs' offense, for that matter – had to hit the ground running with their new scheme. Thigpen didn't spend OTAs and training camp running the same plays he's currently running. Not only is it unfair to compare him to quarterbacks who received that preparation, you have to wonder how Thigpen might play once he actually has an offseason to prepare as the starter for an offense he's not learning on the fly.

In terms of evaluating Thigpen and the Chiefs' new offensive scheme, this week's game with San Diego will be a key test. Not only will we see if Thigpen can bounce back in the friendly confines of Arrowhead, the game will mark the first time an opposing defense has received a second look at the spread. What happens on Sunday may go a long way towards answering some of the key questions of the offseason.

Eleven carries? Seriously, Chan?

A few weeks ago I recapped what I felt were the more questionable playcalling decisions Chan Gailey has made over the last few weeks. Against Denver on Sunday, I almost got the sense he was trying to work all of his greatest hits into the same game.

Plenty has been said about the strange choice of plays in the redzone and Gailey's continued reliance on fade passes to Dwayne Bowe. But, honestly, how in the world did Larry Johnson only get 11 carries against, of all teams in the league, the Denver Broncos?

Whither Larry?
Jonathan Daniel

We all know about Johnson's history against Denver. His career average against them is a great day for most running backs. After the 198 rushing yards Johnson put up back in September, I‘m told Pat Bowlen threw up his hands and had his lawyers draw up papers that would have officially transferred ownership of the Broncos to Johnson.

If you'd had told me prior to the game that Johnson would get just 11 touches – with only three after halftime – I'd have expected the Chiefs to be on the wrong end of a blowout. Instead, they actually led for most of the game, and never trailed by more than a touchdown when they finally fell behind.

Much like in the Buffalo game - where the run was abandoned before it became necessary - it's not like Johnson was being held in check. If you take out the play where he was stopped for a loss while trying to reverse field, he was averaging 4.3 yards per carry on Sunday.

Tyler Thigpen deserves a break, since he hasn't had much time to get used to this offense. To be fair, the exact same thing holds true for Gailey. But giving Larry Johnson the ball against Denver? That shouldn't be a difficult decision.

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