Don't Discount Sanchez

A week ago, while discussing KC's options for trading down, I mentioned the possibility of forcing a team to trade up. Such a move would involve drafting USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with the third pick (assuming Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford goes #1 to Detroit), allowing quarterback-needy teams who covet Sanchez to bid on him.

Many of the responses to that idea – not just my own proposal of it, but any talk of such a scenario unfolding come draft day – have been written off as "too risky." It would be too much of a gamble, some argue, for the Chiefs to take Sanchez and risk getting stuck with a player they don't want. After all, other teams would know the Chiefs have no use for a quarterback, and wouldn't offer much as a result.

But who says the Chiefs have no use for Sanchez?

I'm not talking about the idea of drafting Sanchez so he can be traded. What about drafting Sanchez with the idea of actually keeping him in Kansas City? Who says that couldn't happen?

The Chiefs certainly haven't. They could have said it if they had signed Matt Cassel to a long-term contract extension after they acquired him from New England. Such a move would have told the entire league that Cassel was both the Chiefs' present and their future.

Curiously, though, they've yet to do that.

Many talk about Cassel's contract like it's a forgone conclusion, as though the Chiefs – for whatever secretive reasons they have – are just waiting to announce it until some later date. Apparently, though, that would come as news to Cassel's agent. In his column a few weeks ago on SI.com, Peter King discussed a conversation he had with Cassel's agent (David Dunn) in which Dunn was perplexed by the fact Scott Pioli wasn't eager to discuss a long-term contract.

If the Chiefs are convinced Cassel is their guy, what's stopping them from locking him up with a new deal? The only explanation I've seen floated that even comes close to making sense is that, because the team has so much room under the salary cap, the lofty salary figure guaranteed to Cassel by the franchise tag is helping the Chiefs reach the minimum 2009 salary amount. In other words, they actually want to keep his large salary on the books instead of working out a contract and reducing his cap hit.

But if that were actually the case, it could still be accomplished by signing Cassel long-term. If the Chiefs wanted Cassel's 2009 salary to be significantly large, they could simply front-load his contract. A handful of teams around the league routinely use the front-loading strategy, making the early years of a player's contract worth the most money. That way, they gain more room under the salary cap every season, because their contracts become cheaper with each passing year.

The Chiefs have more than enough salary cap room to strike such a deal with Cassel. And if the issue was really as simple as the team wanting his large cap number counting towards 2009, why would Cassel's agent be so confused about the lack of a deal for his client?

As many have suggested, the only answer that truly makes sense here is that the Chiefs aren't ready to attach themselves to Cassel on a long-term basis. They want to make sure his one good season, throwing to Randy Moss, wasn't a fluke before they make a long-term commitment.

Pioli is hedging his bets. He was obviously confident enough in Cassel to trade for him, but he's not going to make a heavy financial investment until Cassel proves to be something more than a one-year wonder. The only way to interpret that position is to say Pioli isn't completely convinced that Cassel is the answer.


What if the Chiefs drafted Sanchez?
Chris Carlson - AP

With that in mind, why is it so hard to imagine Pioli covering all his bases? The quarterback is the most important player on the field, and no one knows that better than Pioli, who watched firsthand as Tom Brady helped turn the New England Patriots into a modern-day dynasty.

Is there something wrong with having a backup plan in case Cassel doesn't pan out?

It seems like the idea of putting a premium on the quarterback position is something fans in Kansas City just can't understand. After two decades of Carl Peterson, we've been blindfolded and spun around in circles so many times that, somewhere along the way, a depth chart featuring the likes of Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, and Tyler Thigpen began to seem normal to us.

A year ago, the Chiefs went into the season with a completely unproven and highly injury prone starter at quarterback. Worse yet, the player waiting in the wings behind him was a journeyman in his mid 30's. Doesn't that seem absurd in hindsight? But we bought into it. Year after year of that sort of insanity has taken its toll on everyone.

No position is more critical to the success of a team than a quarterback, yet we can't fathom the idea of the Chiefs' new regime doing everything they can to make sure that position is set. We can't wrap our minds around the possibility of Pioli telling us, "the quarterback position is so important that we're going to make sure we have another option to fall back on, just in case Cassel isn't the right fit."

Drafting Sanchez would provide the Chiefs with another legitimate option at quarterback if Cassel, as his critics have suggested, ends up being the next Scott Mitchell. Imagine how brilliant Pioli would look if Cassel were to fail and the Chiefs already had his replacement ready to step in and take over.

Now imagine if Cassel plays even better this year than last. Suddenly, the Chiefs would have quite a poker chip to bring to the table – a shiny, untouched quarterback, all wrapped up in a neat little bow for whoever wants to trade for him. At worst, Pioli would be able to recoup the first-round pick spent on Sanchez.

Some who scoff at this idea have suggested Sanchez isn't worthy of being taken with the #3 pick. In reality, he's one of the top prospects in this year's class, as ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks him as the fifth-best player in the draft. Both Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, and Scout.com, actually have Sanchez rated higher than Stafford.

Todd McShay of ESPN and Scouts Inc. has reported that if Sanchez is available at #4, he'll be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. A similar report has surfaced from Cleveland, suggesting Sanchez will be the pick at #5 if he's there.

Knowing all that, there's really no debating that Sanchez is worthy of being taken at #3. The only question is whether Pioli would actually pull the trigger. Even if Pioli is willing to draft a quarterback, it's entirely possible he hasn't graded Sanchez as highly as other teams around the league.

So what does all of this mean? Does this mean Sanchez will be the Chiefs' pick #3? Not at all. It would be a surprise.

But you have to admit, it's not as crazy as it initially sounds. There are plenty of crazier things the Chiefs could do with the third overall pick, like drafting a coverage linebacker who doesn't rush the passer.

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