KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has often said free agency is a flawed way to build a team, where players available are often overpriced or on the downward side of their careers.
Sure, it’s always necessary to sign a couple guys to plug holes, but Pioli would much rather draft the right guys, develop them from within the organization, and generate the kind of stability that has made franchises such as the Pittsburgh Steelers the model of NFL success.
Problems arise when you don’t draft the right guys, though.
The result can be a 1-8 record.
“It’s never just one thing. It’s always just a combination and a total,” said Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, who’s been a part of sustainable success with the Patriots and Giants.
“It’s drafting. It’s developing players. It’s coaching players – it is players taking ownership. It’s the whole gamut,” Crennel said. “When you talk about an organization being a solid, good organization, all of those things are involved in it.”
This year provides numerous examples.
The Indianapolis Colts managed to secure the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft, spent it on former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and are now making a run at the playoffs after having the league’s worst record. Luck is one of the favorites for offensive rookie of the year.
But just about everyone assumed Luck would be a star in the league, and that the Colts had no choice but to take him with the first overall selection.
Perhaps a better example of drafting to success is Cincinnati.
The Chiefs’ opponent on Sunday was just 4-12 in 2010, the third time in four years the Bengals had a losing record. Their first two picks the following year were spent on A.J. Green, who has developed into one of the best wide receivers in the league, and Andy Dalton, the former TCU quarterback who slipped to the second round and has emerged as one of that draft’s gems.
Together, the pass-catching combination helped the Bengals to a 9-7 finish and a berth in the playoffs last season. The Bengals are 4-5 after beating the Giants on Sunday, and with their next five games against teams below .500, they could make another run at the postseason.
“Guys have to mature into their jobs,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “Basically for anything to be successful, you have to get your job done. That’s the key: 11 guys believing in each other and getting their job done.”
Of course, it helps when those 11 guys have grown up together.
Seven of the Bengals’ 22 starters on offense and defense have been selected in the last three drafts – Kevin Zeitler is a rookie starting at right guard this year. Two more are key backups.
“If you draft a guy, you can mold him because he’s a lot younger and hasn’t been exposed to as much,” Crennel said. “Sometimes when you go get guys from other places, they have a predetermined notion about who they are and about how they should fit, and sometimes they have to adapt and adjust to your system. Some guys can make that transition smoothly; other guys struggle with the transition. You see it all the time in the NFL.”
It’s not quantity, though, so much as quality.
That’s where the Chiefs have suffered.
Their best offensive players, running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, were chosen in the draft. But they haven’t been able to find a quarterback who can get them the ball, eschewing an early round selection on the most important player on the field in favor of sticking with Matt Cassel, who lost his starting job to Brady Quinn earlier this year.
The deficiencies are even more glaring on defense.
With the exception of end, where homegrown guy Glenn Dorsey recently landed on injured reserve, everyone on that side of the ball was signed out of college by the Chiefs. That means stars such as linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, who have both been to the Pro Bowl, and solid players such as safety Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis.
Those are the hits.
The misses are obvious along the line, where Dorsey has been unspectacular in a system that doesn’t necessarily suit him; fellow end Tyson Jackson has earned a fraction of the money that came with being the third overall pick in 2009; and where this year’s first-round selection – defensive tackle Dontari Poe – is still trying to figure out things.
So while the Chiefs have certainly built their defense through the draft, just like Pioli wanted, they’ve apparently fallen short when it comes to drafting the right guy.