KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are stuck in that rut where they’ve been good enough to make the playoffs in three of the last four seasons but not good enough to go deep in the postseason, where they haven’t advanced past the divisional around in more than 20 years.
It’s going to take some bold remedies to get the Chiefs out of their hole. Here are five of them. All carry risks, but the Chiefs might have to live dangerously if they’re going to bust into the elite.
1. Acquire Tony Romo. The Chiefs seem to have gone as far as they can with Alex Smith as their starting quarterback. They’ve made the playoffs three times in his four seasons, but only once have they won an AFC West championship and only once have they won a playoff game. Every time they’ve put Smith up in the postseason against a top opposing quarterback (Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger), they’ve lost. So bringing in Romo might be the move that gets the Chiefs past the divisional-round hump. He would certainly give the Chiefs a better than reasonable chance at the kind of consistent offensive production that has been elusive with Smith at quarterback. But this would also be a risky move. Romo hasn’t survived a full season since 2014. He’ll be 37 in April. He’d be a short-term solution, if he’s even that.
2. Whether it’s this year or sometime in the near future, trade up to draft the eventual long-term starter at quarterback. Smith has provided much-needed stability at a most important position, but the Chiefs are overdue to solidify at quarterback for the long term. It’s going to be difficult to accomplish picking so late in the first round, as they’re scheduled to do at No. 27 this year. Sooner or later, maybe they’ll get fortunate and find their Russell Wilson in the third round or Brady in the sixth round. And maybe Santa Claus will slide down the chimney at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Eve. A better plan is to identify the quarterback they like and move up to get him. It’s going to cost a lot in terms of draft picks, so the Chiefs have to really like the QB. This may not be the right year because it’s not a great year for quarterbacks. Eventually, they’ll need to give it a shot.
3. Say goodbye to Jamaal Charles. I’m not convinced this is a good idea and won’t be until Charles has proven he’s no longer the back he was in his prime. Charles was so good that he may be one of those rare players it’s better to keep for a year too long than to get rid of him a year too early. On the other hand, the Chiefs would save $7 million against their salary cap by parting with Charles now. Doing so allows the Chiefs to move on rather than risk waiting another season for something that doesn’t come from Charles. The Chiefs’ deficiencies at running back without him in 2016 were clear. They need a better, faster back than either Spencer Ware or Charcandrick West. It’s risky for the Chiefs to expect that player to be Charles, who is 30 years old and by next summer will be almost two years removed from his last meaningful contribution.
4. Have Andy Reid give up the offensive playcalling. Again, I’m not sure this is the right way for the Chiefs to go. Reid is a strong playcaller and it’s one of the qualities that made him a successful head coach. But Reid’s game management is at times chaotic and that hurts the Chiefs. Perhaps handing off the playcalling duties to one of the offensive coordinators, Brad Childress or Matt Nagy, will give Reid the freedom to better handle things like time management, strategy and other matters that at game’s end can easily make the difference between a victory and a defeat. Being a head coach is too demanding for someone to be all in on calling the plays, offense or defense.
5. Start getting their salary cap in order by letting Eric Berry and Dontari Poe leave in free agency. This would be a most difficult move and one unpopular with Chiefs fans, particularly in the case of Berry. What the Chiefs would miss without Berry, a cancer survivor and the unquestioned voice of reason in their locker room, can’t be replaced with dollars spent on some other player. But the Chiefs in the last couple of seasons haven’t had the salary cap flexibility that other teams enjoyed, most notably division rivals like the Raiders and Broncos. Those teams have had more to spend in free agency and had the flexibility to be in more of a pay-as-you-go mode while the Chiefs have often had to push their bills into future years. Sooner or later, that’s going to come back to bite the Chiefs. They need to get back on a more even footing with their rivals in this regard. Losing two of their best defensive players is a difficult way to do that. But the Chiefs in Chris Jones, Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard and Rakeem Nunez-Roches have depth on the defensive line, though they might need to draft another lineman in an early round to replace the quality they would be losing with Poe. It won’t be so easy to replace Berry. I’m already on record as saying the Chiefs should re-sign him. At 28, he’s got a few good seasons remaining. But the pain they would feel in losing him now would be eased by having more money to spend in future seasons.