Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
The Kansas City Chiefs are all but assured of having the first or second overall selection in next spring's NFL draft, but it is not at all certain what problem they will address first.
This is the time in the NFL season when a handful of teams are secure in the fact that they have clinched a spot in the postseason playoffs and another 8-10 teams are hopeful that the tide will tip their way in the final two games in the regular season and send them to the postseason party.
And then there are the lowly few, like the Kansas City Chiefs, that would just as soon pack it in now - quite a few folks would argue that already has happened - and bring to a swift end what will long be remembered as one of the worst, if not the worst, season in franchise history.
With games remaining at home this weekend against Indianapolis and a week from Sunday at Denver, a venue where the Chiefs rarely, if ever, win (although they finished the season with a win their last year), it's a good bet that Kansas City will end up at 2-14 for the season and with the first or second draft pick in next year's NFL draft.
If you have to go down in flames, as the Chiefs have this season after being picked in several 2012 season preview publications to come out on top in the American Football Conference West Division, at least you earn the opportunity to start making amends with a top selection in the following spring's NFL draft of the best college players. The problem is, the Chiefs have been in this position before, with a top-five draft selection, and it didn't work out all that well.
It has been over 20 years, when then Kansas City general manager Carl Peterson, in his first year with the Chiefs, took All-American linebacker Derrick Thomas in the first-round with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft, that a high first-round draft choice has lived up to or exceeded his potential while a member of the Chiefs. Although, you could also make a case for first-rounders Tamba Hali in 2006 and Derrick Johnson in 2005, both of whom have been stalwarts in the Chiefs' hot-and-cold defense of the past couple of years.
Overall, Kansas City's history with first-round draft selections has not been very impressive, to say the least. And that extends almost as long as the Chiefs have been in Kansas City, which this season marks 50 years, and through four different general managers: Scot Pioli currently, his predecessor Carl Peterson, Jim Schaaf and Jack Steadman. In fact, you could probably say that about the Chiefs top three or four draft selections in most years.
All of this signals an alarm of concern about what the team's top brass - not sure we can call them out by name at this point because they could well change before the next NFL Draft rolls around - will do with the Chief's top pick, when they presumably will have practically the pick of the litter.
Conventional wisdom and resounding fan reaction suggests that the Chiefs have little or no choice but to select a quarterback, but it can also be said that the crop of collegiate quarterbacks entering the 2013 draft is markedly weaker and not as talented as it has been the past several years. How this might factor into the Chiefs' selection criteria for their top pick in next spring's draft is uncertain, but there are unconfirmed reports coming from the team's practice facility that if a quarterback candidate the Chiefs are considering projects out as, say, a No. 8 or No. 9 overall pick, they may not take a QB with the No. 1 pick.
One thing that has been made abundantly clear over the years, you don't get to the Super Bowl, let alone the playoffs, and you certainly are not going to win consistently in the National Football League without a franchise quarterback. Once you have a Tom Brady, either of the Manning brothers, a Ben Roethlisberger, or even this year's rookie sensations Andrew Luck at Indianapolis or Washington's Robert Griffin III, in place, you build and structure the rest of the skill positions and the team around the guy at the quarterback position. The Chiefs have gone about it 180-degrees in complete reverse, treating the quarterback as a component piece but not the most important position on the field.
Kansas City missed an opportunity last spring to trade up for Ryan Tannehill (selected at No. 8 by Miami), or take Brandon Weeden (the 22nd overall pick by Cleveland), or even Russell Wilson (selected in the third round by Seattle) with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the draft. The Chiefs didn't select a quarterback among any of its seven 2012 draft picks. Pioli, whose job security, along with that head coach Romeo Crennel, is, or should be, on the line, was convinced that Cassel was the answer at quarterback and that Brady Quinn, who the Chiefs acquired in the offseason, and third-stringer Ricky Stanzi, who has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game, were serviceable as backups.
That brings us to the 2013 draft class. In anticipating the quarterback prospects that will be available among next year's draft candidates, it does not appear that the QB prospects are as strong a group as compared with the past two or three draft cycles. That could present a big challenge for the quarterback-needy Chiefs, but it cannot be an excuse.
Without belaboring the point, there is a good reason why Kansas City has not been to a Super Bowl since 1970 and only one conference championship. Perhaps the greatest Kansas City Chief of all, Len Dawson, who played his last game at quarterback in 1975, was the last franchise-type quarterback to man the position for this team. Rich Gannon in the mid-1990s, Trent Green in the early 2000s and even Joe Montana for a couple of years in the early 1990s piloted some winning Chiefs teams, but not over a sustained period.
If you'd like to know how successful the Chiefs have been over time in drafting quarterbacks, consider this infamous list: Brodie Croyle, Alabama, third round, 2006; James Killian, Tulsa, seventh round, 2005; Steve Senstrom, Stanford, fourth round, 1995; Pat Barnes, California, fourth round, 1997; Steve Matthews, Memphis, seventh round, 1994; Matt Blundin, Virginia, second round, 1992; Mike Elkins, Wake Forest, second round, 1989; Doug Hudson, Nichols State, seventh round, 1987. All eight of these drafted quarterbacks combined played in a total of 41 NFL games, and Croyle and Senstrom combined for 35 of them. End of story.
The last time the Chiefs selected a quarterback with its first pick in the draft was Todd Blackledge, out of Penn State, in 1983. Many of you will recall how well that turned out. Blackledge was with the Chiefs for nine seasons from 1983 through 1989, and saw action in 46 games. He is currently a color analyst on college football broadcasts for ABC/ESPN.
To refresh your memory, Kansas City had the seventh overall pick in the 1983 draft, John Elway was the No. 1 player taken in that draft (originally by the Baltimore Colts). There were a few other big names selected in that same year's draft after the Chiefs took Blackledge: Jim Kelly of the Buffalo Bills, Ken O'Brien of the New York Jets and Dan Marino, selected 27th overall by the Miami Dolphins. What could have been.
How does the old saying go? "Those who ignore history are doomed to relive it."
If the Chiefs don't select a top-rated quarterback with their first-round pick in next year's NFL draft, or execute a trade for a current or former starting quarterback in the league, it will be abundantly clear that the team leadership is either patently stubborn, stupid, or not the least bit interested in fielding or even building a championship caliber football team in Kansas City.
Here's hoping we're wrong on all three counts.
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