Warpaint Roundtable - Offseason Edition I

This week we discuss 2010 starters, Derrick Johnson, Gunther Cunningham and free agency.

What's to become of the inconsistent Derrick Johnson? Do you think he did enough in limited play to warrant a bigger contract?

Nick Athan: The Chiefs may attempt to sign him to a low-ball, average contract. Johnson, despite his performance the last game of the season, still has some things to overcome. He wants to be a Chief but he'll get offers from teams like Houston and Denver because his agent has strong ties to those organizations.

Johnson was up and down mostly based on the fact he got in Haley's doghouse. The rap on him is that he's not a good practice player. Even so, he was the Chiefs' best linebacker all season long and should have been starting. There will be a team that makes a push for him.

Michael Ash: With the game he had against Broncos, Johnson did more than enough to revisit the issue of starting. As for a bigger contract, I'm not so sure.

As far as DJ goes, the whole issue with the league's collective bargaining agreement couldn't be happening at a better time. If there was a CBA in place, he would be a free agent this offseason, which would really put the Chiefs on the spot. But unless a new CBA is reached soon, Johnson will be a restricted free agent and will almost surely remain with the Chiefs another year.

Now the Chiefs will have 2010 to work him back into the starting lineup and see if he can finally become the consistent playmaker we've always hoped he could be. If he does, then he can get that new contract. But if he goes back to being the inconsistent player we've seen for most of his career, 2010 will probably be his swan song.

C.E. Wendler: This opinion won't be popular, but the Chiefs might want to think about trading Johnson. As I've pointed out in the past, he continues to miss tackles, and for such an athletic linebacker, he wasn't good in coverage this year. At this point he's not close to being worth big money.

But in a league where talented players almost always get paid by someone, there is a market for Johnson. If the Chiefs can get a second or third-round pick for him, it would be in their best interests. He doesn't appear to be a player who has long-term starting potential. The 3-4 demands discipline from inside linebackers. Johnson doesn't have it.

How many new starters are you predicting come opening day 2010?

Nick Athan: We could see at least seven new starters between both sides of the ball. The Chiefs could have two new offensive lineman and a new wide receiver on offense. On defense, I think they'll have a new nose tackle, two linebackers and a safety. That number could rise with the potential for a new fullback and another offensive lineman.

The Chiefs need to shore up both lines. Neither is adequate and both Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel understand that. Producing good line play was the focal point of their days in New England and the Chiefs are fortunate to have both on the staff.

Michael Ash: The Chiefs need at least one, if not two, new starters on the offensive line, and a new starting receiver unless Chris Chambers is re-signed. Then they need a new nose tackle, perhaps two new linebackers, and at least one new safety.

That's quite a lot for one offseason, though. Realistically, I would only predict about half that, especially with free agency not looking terribly deep this year.

C.E. Wendler: As Michael pointed out, free agency may not yield much this offseason. Realistically, probably all we can count on is five new starters, especially because the Chiefs will be retaining the same offensive and defensive schemes from a year ago.

I'd guess the Chiefs may only have one new starting offensive lineman, particularly because that unit showed so much progress towards the end of 2009. The rest of the new starters may show up on defense, because if Romeo Crennel is going to make any progress in year one, he needs a new nose tackle, at least one new linebacker and a safety for certain.

Do you think Gunther Cunningham would have done better with our current defensive talent, or did Clancy Pendergast do OK with what he was given to work with?

Nick Athan: No, because he lost part of the Chiefs' locker room before he decided to jump ship to Detroit. Personally, I like Cunningham, and outside of Bill Cowher, he's been KC's best defensive coordinator in the last 20 years. But he could never settle on starters regardless of injuries and salaries.

Gunther's downfall was the loss of defensive end Jared Allen. Based on the fact Glenn Dorsey didn't step up as a rookie, I doubt Cunningham would have made any difference with Tyson Jackson.

Michael Ash: The Chiefs had the 30th ranked defense in the NFL, meaning there were only two teams that fared worse. The Cleveland Browns were 31st and coming in dead last were Gunther's Detroit Lions.

Remember when Gunther threw Herm Edwards and the Cover 2 under the bus when he went to Detroit? Well, he didn't run a Cover 2 this year – how'd that work out for him?

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to think the Chiefs' defense would have been improved with Cunningham running it. At this rate, he'll be lucky if he can still get a job as a position coach when the Lions fire him in a year or two. I'll admit I would have liked to see him get in a shouting match with Todd Haley, though.

C.E. Wendler: The Chiefs were so hamstrung by their talent on the defensive side of the ball this season, almost no coordinator could have turned that unit around. That doesn't excuse Pendergast, however, because he should have stood up and demanded more talent from the beginning. How do you go into a season with almost no legitimate athletic talent at safety whatsoever? You're just asking to be 30th on defense.

Here's what would have happened had Cunningham been retained – the Chiefs would have searched fruitlessly for a right defensive end, Glenn Dorsey would have continued to play the wrong position, Tank Tyler would continue to disappoint (note that he hasn't excelled in Carolina), and Derrick Johnson would have started too many games and missed too many tackles.

Tamba Hali may have played fairly well, however, proving that coaches like Cunningham and Pendergast are only as good as the talent they put on the field. In Pendergast's case, however, you can argue he actually handicaps the talent on the field, as the Cardinals proved this year.

With Weis and Crennel hired, does it affect the way free agents look at Kansas City?

Nick Athan: The Chiefs signed the two biggest free agents they could get in hiring Crennel and Weis. Yes, they will give Kansas City street cred in regards to free agents. Carl Peterson struggled getting top-tier free agents signed, but nobody really knows what will happen with Scott Pioli.

In New England, they spent money where needed. Pioli obviously has Hunt's blessing to spend wisely this year, because he spent about $5.5 million hiring the New England crew. I can't imagine that Hunt and Pioli won't spend money now that they have two veteran coaches in the organization.

Michael Ash: I doubt it makes that big a difference. The biggest thing that affects free agents is money. The next thing on the list – and a distant second at that -- is being part of a winning team. On paper, a staff with Weis and Crennel might suggest that a winning team is in the cards, but it's not going to mean much until those results become tangible.

The only players it might make a difference to are ones who've actually been coached by Weis and Crennel. Unfortunately, any ex-Patriots fitting that description are probably in the same stage of their careers as Mike Vrabel, and the few talented players the Browns developed under Crennel don't appear to be heading for free agency just yet.

C.E. Wendler: It'd be nice to believe this might be true, but players are going to look at the head coach before they consider the coordinators. With the way Haley handled players this season – often in a volatile manner – you have to wonder how that will affect any potential free agents. Money talks, but does it speak louder than Haley's screaming?

Haley has to be the primary draw for any potential free agents. Players want to play for a head coach with credibility, and right now he doesn't have much. Weis and Crennel aren't going to change that.

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