What happens? Big-name players are talked up by any number of outlets, Chiefs fans' eyes grow as large as dinner plates, and it starts. They start to dream, to hope that a messiah is coming out of the next free-agent class. Then they begin ponder the question of whether or not the Chiefs will fork over huge dollars to secure the biggest name out there.
This offseason is shaping up to be no different. If I had a dime for every time Julius Peppers' name was mentioned among Chiefs fans on the internet or over the radio, I could probably afford to fly him to Kansas City myself.
Other fans are under the delusion that Vince Wilfork, Karlos Dansby, Brandon Marshall or Miles Austin are actually going to leave New England, Arizona, Denver or Dallas and wear red and gold this fall. It's entirely possible hell could freeze over and one or more of those names could end up in Kansas City. But don't start hoping. It's false hope.
Not only is it false hope that those players are going to be Chiefs, it's false hope they could be responsible for turning the franchise into a winning entity again. All you really have to do is look at last year's premier free agent class.
One player almost every Chiefs fan wanted was wide receiver TJ Houshmandzadeh. He wound up going to the Seattle Seahawks and had a decent season with 911 yards and three touchdowns. Did he justify the five-year, $40 million contract he signed last offseason? Considering he couldn't crack 1,000 yards and the Seahawks finished 5-11, not really. Fun fact: the Chiefs averaged more points per game than the Seahawks.
Then there's Jason Brown, one of the top offensive linemen on the market last offseason. He was also coveted by Chiefs fans. Ask yourself what difference his five-year, $37.5 million contract made after the Rams finished with the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL last season.
The best example of them all is defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who was awarded a whopping seven-year, $100 million contract from the Washington Redskins last offseason. Haynesworth actually had a good season, and the Redskins ranked in the top 10 on defense. But not only did he miss four games, he was in and out of the lineup all season long with nagging injuries, and Washington finished 4-12. Haynesworth, the highest-paid defender in the entire league, didn't even make the Pro Bowl.
The Chiefs, of course, did just fine without Haynesworth on October 18 when they beat the Redskins.
Are Houshmandzadeh, Brown and Haynesworth good players? Absolutely. Could the Chiefs use them? No question. But were they really worth the huge contracts they signed? Not even close. The teams that signed them were so flawed to begin with that no matter what free agency brought, a lousy season was almost guaranteed.
Did you know the Indianapolis Colts signed only four free agents last offseason? None of them signed contracts approaching any remarkable amount of money. All four of them played for the Colts in 2008, too. Bill Polian, Indy's legendary general manager, wasn't looking for impact players in free agency, because he already found them in the draft.
Are there exceptions? Of course. The New Orleans Saints' roster is littered with impact players acquired through trades or free agency. Between Darren Sharper, Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma, the Saints have proven that a team can make great use of free agency and the trade market.
But it's a supplement, not a replacement. The Saints built the core of their team through the draft. Thirteen of New Orleans' 22 Super Bowl XLIV starters arrived via the draft. The man who sealed the game with an interception returned for a touchdown, cornerback Tracy Porter, was a 2008 second-round pick. The Saints drafted four of their five starting offensive linemen. Their best skill-position players, save Drew Brees (and Shockey), are products of Saints drafts.
Meanwhile, the Redskins flounder around despite Haynesworth's gargantuan contract, not to mention the huge money they gave to cornerback DeAngelo Hall and guard Derrick Dockery. Why? Poor drafting.
The Redskins spent three second-round picks on receivers in 2008. Last season, those three players barely combined for 1,000 yards of offense. The quarterback they invested a first-round pick in, Jason Campbell, has underachieved. Over the last five years there are a few bright spots in Washington's drafts, like Carlos Rogers and Brian Orakpo, but there is not much else to write home about. There's no foundation.
The point is this – the Chiefs have to build their own foundation, through the draft, before they start tacking giant, expensive chandeliers to the ceiling and slapping 60-inch plasma screens on the walls.
How many playoff games do you think Joe Montana and Marcus Allen would have won following the 1993 season had the Chiefs not already built a foundation consisting of Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Dale Carter, Albert Lewis, Kevin Ross, John Alt, Dave Szott, Tim Grunhard, Will Shields and Nick Lowery? You can probably add Willie Davis and JJ Birden to that list, too.
If you're looking for hope this offseason, forget about free agency or trades. Hope that the Chiefs nail their first pick like they nailed it when Carl Peterson picked Thomas in 1989. Clark Hunt is again going to be shelling out big money to someone, and whoever it is, he needs to have the impact everyone is hoping Peppers might have.
Hope that not only is that first pick nailed, but the rest of the draft is a huge success, too. Nine of the Saints Super Bowl XLIV starters were picked after the first round. A tenth, running back Pierre Thomas, was signed as an undrafted free agent. You can throw in an 11th "starter" with kicker Taylor Mehlhaff.
So far the Chiefs have that part right with Ryan Succop. If Scott Pioli and Todd Haley don't get the rest of it right, free agency isn't going to save them, no matter how much money they spend.
The False Hope Of Free Agency
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