Great teams are not built through free agency. They’re built through the draft.
A friend of mine asked me the other day, “Why do the Chiefs suck?” And the answer is really pretty straightforward. The Chiefs have done a poor job of drafting and developing talent.
How Did the Chiefs Get Here?
I have a theory. Are you surprised? I believe that one of the primary reasons that few men have succeeded at being both a head coach and a general manager at the same time is because the two roles have competing goals. A head coach needs to win now to keep his job. A general manager needs to put a system in place to win for the next ten years to keep his job. And it’s difficult to achieve a balance between these two competing goals.
During the early years of Marty Schottenheimer and Carl Peterson, these two strong-willed men balanced each others needs. Marty wanted to play veterans who could help his team win now. Carl wanted to draft and develop players who could help the team over the long haul. They found a balance. The team drafted and developed players such as Derrick Thomas, Tim Grunhard, Will Shields, Dale Carter, Donnie Edwards, Jerome Woods, Tony Gonzalez, David Szott and more. Like all teams, they had their share of misses in the drafts. But they also had their share of hits. Even out of the two Gunther Cunningham drafts, the Chiefs picked John Tait, Greg Wesley and Dante Hall.
When Peterson hired Dick Vermeil in 2001, the Chiefs sold out for the chance to win a Super Bowl. Carl stopped caring about a long-term plan. Vermeil’s plan was to put together a team of veterans and win the Super Bowl within three years. And by his third year he had constructed an offensive juggernaut that lead the team to a 13-3 record. Everyone believed that with just a little more tinkering to their defense, the Chiefs could finally win the big game. Vermeil stayed for two more years, but could never get the Chiefs over that last hurdle.
Why? Because the Chiefs forgot one simple fact: Great teams are not built through free agency. They’re built through the draft.
During the five years with Vermeil at the helm (2001-2005), the Chiefs drafted poorly. Out of these five drafts, the Chiefs drafted only four players who have played significant minutes in Kansas City: Larry Johnson (round 1, 2003), Jared Allen (round 4, 2004), Derrick Johnson (round 1, 2005) and Dustin Colquitt (round 3, 2005). By the beginning of 2007 and Herm Edward’s third season in Kansas City, the Chiefs had only THREE players from Vermeil’s drafts still on their roster (Johnson, Johnson and Colquitt).
Look through the rosters of the best teams in the NFL. Look at the Patriots, the Colts, the Eagles, the Saints, the Chargers. You’ll see something consistent. The majority of the contributors were drafted by their team. And the team has a core of players who are young veterans. Players who are hitting their best years (their late 20s). These teams round out their rosters with a few older veterans, a few young draft picks, and a few free agents. But the core of these teams were drafted by the teams several years earlier. The Chiefs are basically void of a core group of young veterans in their prime.
Free Agency Cannot Fix the Chiefs Ills
The great teams have never been built through free agency. You would think that the Washington Redskins would have learned this by now, but they have not. They continue to spend huge amounts of money signing players like Albert Haynesworth, and they’re still losers.
Last year, the Denver Broncos finished the season 8-8. The Chiefs finished the season 2-14. Both teams fired their head coaches. Denver went out and signed more than a dozen free agents. The Chiefs did not. When the Broncos started the season 6-0, fans and sports writers praised Denver for the signing of their free agents. Fans and sports writers criticized the Chiefs for sitting on the sidelines during free agency.
Today, Denver is likely to beat Kansas City in the season finale. Denver will finish the season 9-7, the Chiefs will be 3-13. Each team improved their record by one game. So how exactly did all the free agent signings help the Broncos?
What Do the Chiefs Need to Do Next?
It won’t make the fans happy, but the Chiefs need to stay the course. General manager Scott Pioli must draft high-quality players. And they must spend the next few years developing these players. While it’s too early to grade Pioli’s 2009 draft, so far the results have been underwhelming. The only rookie to make a significant impact this year has been their seventh round pick, kicker Ryan Succop. Mr. Irrelevant has proven to be a reliable NFL kicker. Other than that, the Chiefs have seen minimal contributions from their most recent draft class. Pioli must do better.
The Chiefs must remember one simple fact: Great teams are not built through free agency. They’re built through the draft.