While there are cases to be made that improvements are still needed at various positions, Scott Pioli has done a remarkable job for his work in remaking and upgrading the roster since the 2012 offseason began. The Kansas City Chiefs are stronger, faster, deeper and, well, better than they've been since he first arrived. The bottom line: you can't fault a GM when the talent improves year after year under his watch.
But of the positions where questions remain, tight end is one that can be fixed the easiest yet also requires the most attention. Quarterback debates will prevail as the most popular topic to discuss regarding the Chiefs roster, but that's a different issue for a different time. Tight end is not only problematic, but the market still yields possibilities, which means it's likely going to draw some attention from Pioli in the weeks to come leading up to training camp.
A quick survey of the position yields a major set of issues:
-Free agent signee Mike Rucker was lost for the season this week on IR for a knee injury
-Tony Moeaki is rehabbing and coming back from a lost 2011 season
-Kevin Boss has had injury concerns of his own in both 2010 and 2011, lasting one year with the Raiders
-Jake O'Connell just sprained his thumb and missed the rest of mini-camp
-Steve Maneri is a newly converted offensive lineman
While it's possible the Chiefs could be set at the position if all goes well, it's also very possible that everything could fall apart. Just a year ago, the Chiefs learned quickly that a season can turn in an instant and it's doubtful that Pioli and his staff are comfortable with all of these question marks going into the season.
On paper, Moeaki and Boss are a dynamic receiving duo that can provide mismatches for Matt Cassel to utilize. In reality, Cassel could become stuck with O'Connell and Maneri in a limited set that only stifles Brian Daboll's offensive plans. While that's a worst case scenario, it's equally as irresponsible to project a best case scenario. The likelihood is that 2012 will land somewhere in the middle, which means the Chiefs could use an additional veteran body to bolster the roster.
Romeo Crennel addressed the issue after mini-camp yesterday and admitted a move was likely. He said, "If Tony comes back, I think it'll be pretty good. But the guys we have are working good. We might have to look to add another guy for training camp. That might be what we have to do."
The good news is that there are options on the open market, and additional moves by other teams could add names to the list of free agents available. Here's a quick survey of the best available players:
1. Visanthe Shiancoe - 6-4, 250 lbs
2011 Stats: 36 catches, 409 yards, 3 touchdowns
Shiancoe was on fire with Brett Favre under center, catching 11 touchdowns in 2009 for the Vikings. He's still living a bit off of the reputation of that incredible season, but he still started 14 games last season for the Vikes. The team turned the corner this offseason and let him go, but he has a lot of experience and has good hands.
2. Jeremy Shockey - 6-5, 253 lbs
2011 Stats: 37 catches, 455 yards, 4 touchdowns
The measurables and stats are remarkably similar to Shiancoe here, and both are going to be solid pass catching options available this late in the open market for the Chiefs, if interested. Shockey is a four-time Pro Bowler and injury concerns linger here as well, but Shockey did 13 games last year for the Carolina Panthers. Another solid player to add to the mix of veterans.
3. Daniel Graham - 6-3, 257 lbs
2011 Stats: 2 catches, 25 yards, 1 touchdown
Graham is definitely known for his run blocking ability, and the most passes he's ever caught in a season was 38. However, he'd add a veteran presence who could help with bigger packages and provide an outlet for Cassel every now and then. If the Chiefs already have Boss and Moeaki in house and healthy, then adding a blocking option like Graham makes more sense of those possibilities on the free agent market.
It's possible the Chiefs go a different route and sign an unexpected player. After all, Rucker didn't even play in 2011 but still made the Chiefs before his injury. However there are some solid veterans available if Crennel is right and the front office explores more options given the concerns at the position.