The Kansas City Chiefs have echoed the sentiments of the many of their fans and the sportswriter who also covered them this offseason with public statements about the state of the quarterback position. During the 2011 season, Matt Cassel's third at the helm for the Chiefs, many were calling for this year to be his last, and wondered if the Chiefs would make a move in the upcoming offseason to address the level of competition and perhaps bring in a new starter.
When Cassel was injured halfway through the season, the Chiefs saw a glimpse of both how bad things could get and the possibility of something more with his replacements. The decision to start Tyler Palko for four consecutive games single-handedly cost the Chiefs the division title and ultimately cost Todd Haley his job (among many other factors). In that stretch, Matt Cassel looked like a godsend compared to Palko on the field, and a quick return from injury would have been welcomed with open arms.
Then came Kyle Orton. After the Chiefs claimed the former Denver Broncos quarterback on waivers, beating out other teams like the Chicago Bears, the team began to find a new rhythm on offense. While visions of Priest Holmes and offensive shootouts never appeared, the team moved the chains with greater frequency and carried a greater confidence about them with a new man in the huddle. At least that's the way it seemed from the outside looking in.
Whether that was due to Palko serving as the precursor or not, Orton gave Chiefs fans a sign of things to come. It was the first fresh option at quarterback in a few seasons, so it was heartening to hear the Chiefs brass believed the same thing.
The Chiefs surprised everyone this offseason with the level of candor with the press. Statements were made publicly about the plan to bring in competition at the quarterback position. Romeo Crennel went so far as to say he would be "crazy" not to want Peyton Manning as his quarterback, and Clark Hunt even made a statement saying the Chiefs were interested. Whether or not they were going to get Manning, the Chiefs were going to make a move between the Super Bowl and the kickoff of the 2012 season to change things at quarterback.
Thus far, the Chiefs have made some very impressive moves to shape their team. While they lost Brandon Carr to the Dallas Cowboys, the team replaced him with Stanford Routt preemptively and then buoyed their offense with another tight end in Kevin Boss, a tandem back for Jamaal Charles in Peyton Hillis and a replacement at right tackle in Eric Winston. Each of those adds not only some much needed security and depth on offense, but also represent a significant upgrade on the depth chart. The Chiefs, in short, are already much better on offense than any point in 2011.
Then there's Brady Quinn. He's the other free-agent signing the Chiefs made, and there's reason to like the move if we were discussing the back-up quarterback position. Given the difference between Tyler Palko and Brady Quinn, it's a nice move to strengthen the roster like the other ones made already this offseason. But when Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel and Clark Hunt were making statements about the quarterback position in one way or another, I believe it's safe to say that no one believed signing Quinn was the change they were talking about.
As of now, the major dominoes at quarterback have fallen. Some are left empty-handed and the quarterback situations in Cleveland and Miami are laughable. The Chiefs, in other words, have a better situation than others in the NFL. However, that doesn't negate the fact that change was expected and, thus far, not quite delivered. Given the dearth of free agent quarterbacks left on the market, it's likely that the NFL Draft is only place left for change (unless a trade magically opens up somehow).
Andrew Luck is spoken for. Robert Griffin III has been claimed as well. The top two picks in the draft have been cemented for some time ever since the Washington Redskins traded the future for the dynamic present in the form of this year's Heisman winner. And the draft class boasts only two surefire prospects. Luck and Griffin are both regarded as franchise quarterbacks. Everyone else, while promising, comes with a question mark or another.
Ryan Tannehill stands as the top of the "rest." Brandon Weeden is intriguing. Russell Wilson is celebrated despite his short height. Various scouts like Nick Foles, Brock Osewiler, Kirk Cousins and B.J. Coleman. However, Texas A&M's Tannehill is almost always listed as the third-best available quarterback and it's likely that someone moves up to take him in the top ten. Whether or not he is a top-ten talent is not the concern. It's all about the scarcity of hope at the most important position on the field.
The Chiefs have already addressed some of their biggest needs this offseason so far and they are likely to continue to do so. Defensive line needs to be addressed. Inside linebacker will likely garner help as well. Depth all around the secondary will also earn some draft nods. But the Chiefs have made enough moves that a move for quarterback could, at the very least, be considered.
While I am not interested in proposing specific trades to move up to Tannehill using the depth chart, my primary concern is with the interest of Tannehill in the first place. With only 19 career starts, his ceiling is actually unknown. Some scouts may love him, while others remain uncertain, but at the very least he is intriguing and the potential is there for greatness.
At 6-2, 222 lbs, Tannehill has the prototypical size of a pro quarterback, and his stats look good as well. This last year at A&M, Tannehill completed 327 of 531 throws for a 61.6 completion percentage. In total he threw for over 3,700 yards with 29 touchdowns to 15 interceptions. In a win over Robert Griffin and the Baylor Bears, Tannehill upstaged the Heisman winner in a 55-28 win with 6 touchdowns.
Wes Bunting of the National Football Post believes in him and writes, "With such limited experience at the quarterback position it's not a case of where this guy is right now, but where he can be in 2/3 years. I love the talent and the overall production from a guy who doesn't have much experience playing from under center as he plays way beyond his years. A potential franchise quarterback in my mind."
Matt Waldman also praises him and writes, "Counting on any rookie quarterback to play like Cam Newton or Andy Dalton is asking too much from an NFL rookie. However, Tannehill belongs in the top half of this draft and he’s not the project some people think."
Not everyone agrees with this synopsis, of course, which is why Tannehill is not being taken at No. 3 in mock drafts. Sideline Scouts compares him to Blaine Gabbert despite some positives they really like, which is a death knell given the Jags starter's performance last season. Drafttek looks and sees Alex Smith as a comparable player -- again, hardly a vote of confidence given the poor-to-middling results over Smith's first several seasons for the 49ers. At this rate, Cassel is the better choice.
If the Chiefs believe that Tannehill's upside is level with those comparisons, then they are likely to stay where they are at in the draft order and go with a Dontari Poe or Luke Kuechly addition. That would also be the correct move if Tannehill's future is no better than Alex Smith. However, some believe he can be the third franchise quarterback from this draft, and if the Chiefs agree with that through their own scouting observations, then a move needs to be made. After all, fans aren't the only ones calling for this. The Chiefs themselves have said they want to take action. If they like Tannehill enough, this is their chance.