As the days were being ripped off the calendar in the NFL’s march towards free agency, the Chiefs were busy trying to change public perception of the team being cheap.
In 72 hours, the Chiefs handed their current list of salaries and salary-cap numbers for the 2012 to the Kansas City Star, signed free-agent cornerback Stanford Routt to a three-year, $19.6 million contract and publicly said they still want to re-sign starting cornerback Brandon Carr who will soon become a free agent.
It was an attempt by team chairman Clark Hunt and general manager Scott Pioli to show wary Chiefs fans that they plan to do whatever they can to improve on last year’s 7-9 record for a team that failed to make the playoffs.
Let’s start with the salary-cap numbers that are normally guarded around Arrowhead Stadium tighter than nuclear launch codes are at the Pentagon. Pioli acknowledged that the Chiefs were $63 million under their expected cap number for 2012. That number was inflated by $24 million that was left over from the 2011 salary cap. Plus, still to be reconciled by the league were incentive bonuses earned in 2011 that count under the next year’s cap, along with dead money from players released and base salary escalators.
According to Pioli, once all that’s factored in, the Chiefs expect to have $38 million under the gap, still one of the highest available cap totals in the league for the coming season.
Some of that money was used to sign Routt, a starter in Oakland the last two seasons who was released for salary-cap reasons. Routt had a particularly bad season in 2011, as he was flagged for 17 penalties. The Chiefs think good coaching by Romeo Crennel and secondary coach Emmitt Thomas will help change Routt’s penalty binges.
The Routt signing left real doubt about the Chiefs desire/ability to re-sign Carr. A starter at right cornerback since joining the Chiefs as a fifth-round draft choice out of Grand Valley State, Carr has opened 64 consecutive games and by the end of the 2011 season, he was the team’s most productive defensive back.
With the other cornerback starter Brandon Flowers getting a big-money contract last year, a similar deal for Carr would have a lot of Chiefs money and cap room tied up at one position. Yet, Pioli said there remains interest in keeping Carr in a red and gold jersey.
“Romeo (Crennel) and I reached out to Brandon as this was unfolding,” Pioli said. “I spoke personally with Brandon. He’s someone we want to keep here, and he’s still someone we want to keep a Chief. Brandon knows that. He wants to be here. We want him here. If both sides find a deal that makes sense for one another, we’d love to have Brandon back.”
—Signing former Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt to a three-year, $19.6 million contract gave the Chiefs an early score in the offseason battle for free agents. Released in a salary-cap move by the Raiders, Routt received interest from seven different teams, visited three clubs and eventually had two teams in heavy bidding for him – Minnesota and the Chiefs. “Kansas City seemed like the right fit,” Routt said.
By signing Routt, the Chiefs diminished the chances of re-signing starting right cornerback Brandon Carr. The four-year veteran is about to become an unrestricted free agent and should draw heavy interest in the open market. General manager Scott Pioli said the team still hopes to sign Carr, although that would commit a significant amount of the team’s salary cap space to one position.
“We want to have him here,” Pioli said. “Brandon knows that. He wants to be here. We want him here. If both sides find a deal that makes sense for one another, we’d love to have Brandon back.”
—The Chiefs added a tight end to their roster in February, but he comes from within the team. Tackle Steve Maneri played tight end at Temple during his college days, but was moved to tackle when he signed with the NFL in 2010. Now, the Chiefs have issued him No. 87 and he’s working on catching the ball. “No more eating to gain weight,” Maneri tweeted. He was listed at 6-6, 290 pounds on the Chiefs’ end-of-season roster. At Temple in 45 games he caught 32 passes for eight touchdowns.
—Running back Jackie Battle becomes a free agent in March and he’s looking forward to testing the waters.
“They (Chiefs) said they wanted me back, but I was going to just see what my options were before I made that decision,” Battle said on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I don’t know what their strategy is, but I’m going to go out there and look around a little bit.”
Throughout his career with the Chiefs, Battle has largely contributed in the kicking game. He wants more opportunities to be a running back. “I’m a running back true and true,” Battle said. “I want to play as much running back as I can, for an opportunity to get a bigger running back role. Hopefully it’s with the Chiefs.”
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’ve always had a lot of respect for Romeo Crennel with his defensive expertise. When you look at that, and combine it with the pieces they have on offense, I don’t see why we can’t win.” — New Chiefs cornerback Stanford Routt.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Right tackle: The Chiefs have been concentrating on defense over the last few seasons and one victim of that attention has been the offense. They’ve used second- and third-round selections in the last two drafts on interior blockers with Jon Asamoah and Rodney Hudson. They’ve ignored a bookend tackle to play with starting left tackle Branden Albert. For the past two seasons, the right tackle spot has been held by Barry Richardson, a former sixth-round draft choice who showed improvement in 2010 but took a step backwards in 2011. There is no real option for a third tackle on the roster, as Steve Maneri has been moved back to his college position of tight end and David Mims made the team, but did not play as an undrafted Division II tackle. The Chiefs need immediate help at right tackle.
Nose tackle: In three seasons playing the 3-4 defense, the Chiefs have done it without solid play on the nose. Last year’s cadre of big bodies in the middle has been depleted by the apparent retirement of starter Kelly Gregg after 11 seasons. That leaves last year’s sixth-round draft choice Jerrell Powe and second-year journeyman Anthony Toribio. Romeo Crennel’s defense was the best part of the 2011 Chiefs but the run defense struggled at times and that’s going to require more early down help from the nose.
Running back: After a dozen seasons, the 33-year old Thomas Jones has reached the end of the line as a productive back. Jamaal Charles and Jackie Battle finished the 2011 season on the injured reserve list, with Battle missing all but two games due to a torn ACL in his left knee. The Chiefs would like to be able to run the football, but do it with explosion not only in the run game, but from the running backs in the passing game. Kansas City backs, including hybrid running back/wide receiver Dexter McCluster scored just seven touchdowns on the season and did not have a single offensive play that gained 50 yards or more. Even if Charles returns healthy and productive, the offense needs help out of the backfield.
Speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine, general manager Scott Pioli said the Chiefs’ trio of left knee/torn ACL patients are all making progress and are on schedule to be ready for the regular-season opener in September. TE Tony Moeaki, SS Eric Berry and RB Jamaal Charles are all “on course” Pioli said. “The players and our doctors are very encouraged,” added Pioli.