The talk of Josh McDaniels to Kansas City was brilliant. It was pilloried by the vast majority of fans, so when GM Scott Pioli made the decision to stay in-house and give Romeo Crennel a 3-year deal, the masses were relieved. Crennel has done a great job with the Kansas City defense. The unit could have fallen apart after the Eric Berry loss, but instead the team stabilized, holding 6 of the last 8 opponents to 17 or fewer points (and the two that went over, New England and the Jets, largely did so because of the dreadful offense led by Tyler Palko).
It was the offensive side of the ball where the team struggled, after losing Jamaal Charles and then enduring the Palko project after Cassel got hurt and before Orton was healthy enough to play again. Kansas City was 31st in points scored, ahead of only the Rams, and the nominal offensive coordinator, Bill Muir, is “retiring,” while the real coordinator got fired with three games left.
Pioli and Crennel have some big questions at both quarterback and offensive coordinator that can define whether Romeo’s second stint as a head coach succeeds, and whether or not Pioli remains long term in Kansas City, where King Carl Peterson was given almost two decades in the same role. The defense has key parts at every level, pro bowl caliber players in edge rusher Tamba Hali, middle linebacker Derrick Johnson, cornerback Brandon Flowers and safety Eric Berry. Justin Houston looks like an emerging player opposite Hali, and . On defense, the team needs to address the interior line, where Kelly Gregg was a short term fix, and where Tyson Jackson has not lived up to the high pick, and figure out if they want to retain Brandon Carr at cornerback opposite Flowers. With a few tweaks at depth, this has the makings of an elite defense in the next few years. They were already flashing signs in the second half without Berry.
So, it is the offense with the major decisions. First, who will be offensive coordinator. Josh McDaniels has already committed to New England, recognizing where his Uggs are best scrambled. Crennel will clearly be focused on defense, and could use a strong coordinator type on the other side to basically be head coach of the offense. Charlie Weis has already left for Kansas. The Muir hire last year was a concession to Haley, but I would look for someone with strong coordinating experience. The target with Patriots ties could be Mike McCoy, currently the offensive coordinator in Denver.
The big question is at quarterback. Matt Cassel signed his 6 year, $63 million deal three years ago after being traded from New England. Most of the guaranteed money was front loaded and if they are going to cut ties, it will be this offseason, both based on the contract and the options. Of course, the base salary for 2012 is just over 5 million. That’s borderline starter money for one season, and would not preclude them from keeping Cassel and adding another option.
That other option is Kyle Orton, who is a free agent and who the team would have to re-sign. Orton played well in limited action in Kansas City, particularly in the Green Bay game. He struggled after Dwayne Bowe went out with a concussion in the Denver game, but still averaged 8 yards a pass in Kansas City and is over 7 for each of the last three years (Cassel is at 6.4 in three years in KC). I think Orton is the better option at quarterback, and would prove to win any fair quarterback battle.
Of course, the nuclear option, depending on what the Colts do when Peyton Manning’s bonus comes due in early March, is to get involved in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Kansas City went this route in 1993 when they acquired a 37 year old Joe Montana who had back problems, and got two playoff appearances and their last playoff win out of it. Manning has the neck concerns, but is a year younger. The defense may be good enough that adding a Manning for a two to three year run would be justified.
The quarterback will also need someone to throw to. Dwayne Bowe is a free agent, and while he certainly raises concerns at times, he has been a pretty dang good player for two years, and the team doesn’t have any clear replacements. Pioli would really have to trust that Jon Baldwin is going to make a big leap in year two to let Bowe walk. They could use both anyway, and need to address tight end (Tony Moeaki is due back from his knee injury, but has a long history of not staying healthy).
Peyton Manning, plus Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, and a pretty good defense with several stars still in their primes? Yes, please. I would settle for Orton as a consolation prize, and think the Chiefs can rebound quickly if the stars get healthy and they address depth at the interior of both lines in the draft.
[photo via Getty]