The Great Quarterback Gamble - Part V

We've looked at hits and busts in the draft. We've looked at the fortunes of teams that traded for veteran quarterbacks. Now, to round things out, let's look specifically at the Chiefs' previous efforts when trading for quarterbacks. As things usually are for the Chiefs, it's a mixed bag.

We'll start out by going back 16 years. The Carl Peterson era was still, in many ways, new and shiny. Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer had brought the Chiefs out of the cellar, even taking the team to the playoffs three straight seasons from 1990-1992. The stumbling block, it seemed, was at the quarterback position.

Steve DeBerg had been a steady hand in the early years of the new regime, and Dave Krieg had taken over in 1992. The Chiefs posted a 10-6 record that year and advanced to the playoffs, but Krieg's poor performance in the first-round loss (zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and seven sacks) served to highlight the Chiefs' need at quarterback.

Fortunately, a legendary quarterback was about to become available.

1993
• The Chiefs acquire Joe Montana from the San Francisco 49ers for a first-round pick in the 1993 draft (the Chiefs also received safety David Whitmore and San Francisco's third-round pick in 1994).


This was a blockbuster, front-page deal. Montana, the hero of the 49ers dynasty of the 1980's, the three-time Super Bowl MVP, was demanding a way out of San Francisco. He had struggled through injuries, missing nearly the entire 1992 season. In Montana's absence, long-suffering backup Steve Young had taken the reins and played well.

With rumors swirling that Montana would enter the 1993 season as Young's backup, the elder quarterback wanted out. The 49ers granted Montana and his agent permission to speak with other NFL teams regarding a possible trade, and his search was eventually narrowed down to two teams - the Phoenix Cardinals and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cardinals had missed the playoffs 10 years in a row, and were coming off their fourth straight double-digit loss season. The Chiefs, conversely, were a team on the rise, and seemed to only be a quarterback away from the Super Bowl.

Joe, not being an idiot, picked the Chiefs.

The Chiefs reached a contract agreement with Montana, and after an arduous negotiation period, the 49ers finally (but reluctantly) agreed to a trade.

The 49ers received the Chiefs' top pick (#18 overall), but would eventually trade down twice in the first round before selecting defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield.


Montana - the last Chiefs quarterback to win a playoff game.
Otto Greule Jr - Getty

For Kansas City, it may have been the biggest sports headline since the Royals' World Series win in 1985. When the Chiefs took the field to begin the 1993 season, Montana gave them instant status, and the veteran's play delivered the goods. He missed five games during the regular season due to injury, but compiled an 8-3 record in the 11 game he started. Montana's stat line didn't set the world on fire (13 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 87.4 quarterback rating), but he did enough to nab a spot in the Pro Bowl, and the Chiefs won the AFC West on their way to the postseason.

The Pittsburgh Steelers (coached by a young Bill Cowher) came to Arrowhead Stadium as a wild card team. The game was a thriller, as the Chiefs came from behind to tie the game on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Montana to Tim Barnett. The next week, the Chiefs traveled to Houston to face the Oilers. In Week 2 of the regular season, the Oilers handed the Chiefs a 30-0 beating, but Montana threw for three touchdowns in the second half of the playoff game to give the Chiefs an upset victory. (Insert obligatory comment about this being the last playoff victory for the Chiefs.)

Most of us know how the season ended, with the Chiefs getting pounded by Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game after Montana was knocked out of the game.

Montana again posted solid numbers in 1994, starting 14 games and leading the Chiefs to a 9-7 record and a wild card berth. There was no magic this time around, as the Chiefs made yet another early playoff exit, losing to the Miami Dolphins.

Montana would retire following the 1994 season. The Chiefs had given up a first-round pick in exchange for two seasons from an aged, injury-prone, but still effective quarterback. The merits of the deal can be debated, but Montana did provide the boost the Chiefs were looking for to advance in the postseason, if only for a single season.

While Montana was still playing, the Chiefs did make another trade for a quarterback. Many may not remember, or they may have chosen to block it out of their memory...

1994
• The Chiefs acquire Steve Bono from San Francisco 49ers for a fourth-round pick in the 1995 draft.


Yes, that's right, the Chiefs actually traded for Steve Bono. After the 1993 season, Montana was the starter, but backup Dave Krieg move on. Considering Montana's age and lack of durability, the Chiefs needed a backup quarterback capable of leading the team. Whether it was Bono's familiarity with Paul Hackett's West Coast offense, the Chiefs' obsession with acquiring quarterbacks from the 49ers, or just Montana feelin' lonely and wanting to bring his old buddy Bono to Kansas City, the Chiefs found themselves back at the negotiating table with San Francisco.

The price was a fourth-round pick (#119 overall) in the next year's draft. The pick itself ended up changing hands a few times, but didn't end up producing anything special for any team.


Bono - the last Chiefs quarterback to bash Kansas City food.
Stephen Dunn - Getty

However, the Chiefs actually gave up a draft choice to get a backup player who they were hoping wouldn't have to play. If you're looking for ammunition against the Peterson era, this is a shining example. In any event, the Chiefs ended up with Bono, who spent the 1994 season backing up Montana, and starting two games.

Following Montana's retirement, Bono was promoted to the starting lineup. He started all 16 games, earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, and took the Chiefs to a 13-3 record. Bono's serviceable level of play crumbled in the playoffs, as he threw three interceptions in the infamous loss to the Indianapolis Colts following the 1995 season.

Bono never warmed to the Kansas City crowd, making silly comments about preferring San Francisco restaurants. He soon discovered that it doesn't matter if you ran 76 yards for a bootleg touchdown against the Cardinals; if you insult Kansas City food, you're done.

Bono struggled badly in 1996, eventually losing the starting job to backup Rich Gannon. That ugly season was Bono's swan song as a Chief, as he left town and was replaced by yet another former 49ers backup - Elvis Grbac.

The Chiefs didn't make another foray into quarterback trade waters until Dick Vermeil came to town.

2001
• The Chiefs acquire Trent Green from the St. Louis Rams for a first-round pick in the 2001 draft (the Chiefs also received the Rams' fifth-round pick in 2001)


With Vermeil's hiring in 2001, it was understood by everyone that he wanted his own quarterback. Grbac, despite surprisingly strong play in 2000, was dying to get out of town (with many of his teammates and Chiefs fans ready to run him out of town anyway), and was released in a salary-cutting move. Green had lost his starting role with the Rams after his knee injury in 1999 opened the door for Kurt Warner's ascendance to stardom.


Green - the last Chiefs quarterback who actually panned out.
Ronald Martinez - Getty

The Chiefs and Vermeil danced around the issue during the early part of the offseason, but it was assumed that a deal would eventually be made for Green. In the end, the Rams received the 12th overall pick in the draft, and the Chiefs had their chosen quarterback. The fifth-round pick the Chiefs received from St. Louis as a part of the deal (#150 overall) was used to select running back Derrick Blaylock, who went on to be a productive player during the Vermeil era.

Green would step in and start 81 straight games for the Chiefs between 2001 and 2006. He posted the most consistently strong numbers from a Kansas City quarterback since Len Dawson, including four straight seasons of ratings over 90, and three straight 4,000-yard seasons from 2003-2005.

Behind Green, the Chiefs fielded the most potent offensive attack in the NFL for several seasons. The Vermeil-era offense set new team records across the board, and only a horrid defense kept the team from approaching true success.

Green was a stable source of production and leadership before faltering in the post-Vermeil downhill slide. He suffered a nasty concussion in the 2006 season opener, and has never been the same player since.


Analysis

The benefits and drawbacks of the Montana trade can be debated. Bono, while solid for one year, was obviously not the quarterback the team needed to make it over the hump towards winning a championship. The Trent Green deal was an overall success, despite the defensive deficiencies that plagued the organization during the years of offensive explosion.

So trading for veteran quarterbacks has been a double-edged sword for the Chiefs. With all the talk about Matt Cassel, it's anyone's guess as to which category he would fall into. If the Chiefs end up paying the steep price in draft picks and financial commitments to acquire Cassel, it will certainly involve a considerable amount of risk.

In the event that such a trade does happen, I offer one piece of advice to Mr. Cassel: don't badmouth Kansas City restaurants.

WarpaintIllustrated.com Top Stories