This issue was something of a hot topic in New England after the Patriots' season abruptly came to an end. But with three key elements from the Patriots' glory days now wearing the red and gold of the Chiefs, the issue is also of importance in Kansas City.
If it's true that the Patriots have started sliding back towards the rest of the pack, should Chiefs fans be concerned that similar missteps will occur in Kansas City in the future? Or should we be optimistic that the team has learned a few lessons from what's gone on in New England?
To answer those questions, we must determine what exactly those lessons are.
To a minor degree, some have cited the losses suffered by New England's coaching staff over the years as an issue. New Chiefs' coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel were there for all of the Patriots' Super Bowl victories, so they've surely been the two biggest departures. But their replacements – Eric Mangini and Josh McDaniels – have also been lured away.
At the end of the 2009 season, Bill Belichick even seemed to lament the fact that his current staff doesn't challenge him the way Weis and Crennel once did. Citing both men's ability to maximize talent and make contributors out of role players, a feature by the New England Sports Network openly questioned why the Patriots didn't bring back Weis and Crennel this offseason, describing the two coordinators as "vital" to their success.
On the surface, it seems somewhat hard to believe that coordinators alone could make such a noticeable difference. Then again, there are both Belichick supporters and Bill Parcells detractors who have gleefully pointed out over the years that Parcells has never won a Super Bowl without Belichick on his staff. As it currently stands, Belichick hasn't won a Super Bowl without Weis or Crennel, so perhaps there is something to be said for it.
Keeping a high-quality coaching staff is the first lesson on our list.
To a far larger degree, though, New England's fall has been blamed on their failure to reload talent. Whether due to retirement, trades, or free agency, several key contributors to the Patriots' dynasty – Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Ty Law, Asante Samuel, and Adam Vinatieri – have left New England in recent years.
But which of them, if any, have actually been replaced?
The Patriots were able to find another strong kicker in Stephen Gostkowski. Linebacker Jerod Mayo had a strong rookie season in 2008 and might end up filling Vrabel or Bruschi's shoes – but he can't fill both at once. The Pats managed to replace Law with Samuel, but later allowed Samuel to seek a bigger contract elsewhere. Replacing him has proven more difficult.
Even during their 16-0 season, the knock on the Patriots was the advancing age of their defense. Over the last few years, the Pats have found less success through the draft, which means there are no longer a stable of young players ready to step in. As a result, aging players remain on the field and New England has been forced to turn to veteran free agents to help fill the holes.
That refrain should sound eerily familiar to Chiefs fans. Earlier in the decade, Dick Vermeil assembled the best offense in the league, but it was built with veteran players. Largely due to poor drafting, the team was unable to find young talent that could step in and keep the wheels in motion. Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, those same mistakes prevented the wheels from moving at all.
As the Patriots grow closer to inching down a similar path, criticism over their personnel decisions has gotten stronger. A recent column at ESPNBoston.com took issue with the notion that the Patriots have been drafting poorly in recent years, concluding instead that they simply haven't been drafting quite as well as they did in the past.
If one subscribes to that theory, it only shows the difficulty – and the luck – that goes into assembling a Super Bowl quality roster. The Patriots are still a highly talented team, but after years of top-flight drafting, a few classes that only rate "OK" haven't been enough to keep them seated on their perch.
With that in mind, our second lesson is fairly obvious: teams need smart personnel decisions to succeed.
Still, even when they weren't hitting their mark on personnel matters, the Pats have found ways to persevere. In 2006, the team arguably had their worst draft of the Pioli-Belichick era, and later that season blew a commanding lead to Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game. After that game, the end of their dynasty was also a popular topic.
That offseason the Patriots used a handful of draft picks to bring Randy Moss and Wes Welker to New England. But there wasn't much sharp personnel acumen required there – both players were already established talents. The result of those trades was an undefeated regular season and another trip to the Super Bowl
For all the current talk about how New England is sliding back towards the rest of the pack, it can't be ignored that their recent decisions – though not beneficial in 2009 – have put them in position to quickly re-establish themselves. It requires sacrifice but, this year alone, the Patriots have four of the draft's first 53 picks. Next year, thanks to the trade that sent Seymour to Oakland, they'll have two picks in the draft's first round.
Whether or not Belichick can use those picks to re-stock his roster with impact players still remains to be seen. If he can't, New England may keep sliding farther back. But if he can, the Patriots will quickly be back near the top of the heap. And Belichick – for his decision to take short-term losses that produced large gains – will once again be hailed as a genius.
No team can expect to hit yearly grand slams in the draft, but one way or another the Patriots are becoming adept at getting to the plate each year with the bases already loaded. They hit one out in 2007 and won 18 straight games. They could do it again in 2010 and make all their doubters look foolish.
Knowing that, our final lesson is that New England's type of maneuvering– whether it's to acquire draft picks or players – can help offset some of the mistakes a team has made along the way.
So can Chiefs fans take anything away from all of this?
With the additions of Weis and Crennel, the Chiefs certainly appear to be following the first lesson. The big unknown in the coaching equation is Todd Haley, who isn't quite on Belichick's level just yet.
As for the lesson of talent evaluation, that's a little more troublesome. It goes without saying, of course, that general manager Scott Pioli played a role in the Patriots' personnel decisions over the years.
We can't say what he was or wasn't responsible for in New England, but to this point in Kansas City, it's fair to say his decisions have been less than impressive. From free agent busts including the likes of Bobby Engram, Monty Beisel, and Mike Goff to a draft class that hasn't yet inspired much confidence, his first chance to acquire talent didn't exactly leave a strong first impression.
We'll have to consider the second lesson as a work in progress.
But we've seen signs that Pioli plans to follow the final lesson, too. From the acquisition of Cassel and Vrabel, to the trades of Tony Gonzalez, Tyler Thigpen, and others, Pioli wasn't shy about wheeling and dealing during his first year on the job. Unlike the Patriots, the Chiefs can't afford to make those types of moves as a means of fixing their own mistakes. They need to be made in addition to strong drafts, not instead of them.
At least to this point, though, it appears the Chiefs are actively following two of the three lessons, which is something to be encouraged about. The Patriots had their run of success when they were successfully following all three. It wasn't until they dropped down to one that various eulogies for their franchise began.
Of course, it goes without saying that the lesson of smart talent evaluation will end up deciding the Chiefs' fate. Obviously, it's something the team hopes to successfully execute – it's not like they'll set out to make bad decisions.
But if Pioli's drafting and decision-making isn't any better than the Patriots' has been over the last few years, his current project may never get off the ground and those eulogies will eventually follow him to Kansas City. Unlike the Patriots, however, the Chiefs won't have any recent Lombardi trophies to display at the service.
Lessons From A Dynasty
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