Most of the NFL universe is discussing where the next landing spot should be for Peyton Manning, arguably the greatest free agent in NFL history along with Reggie White. But we're going to take a look at the other side and give credit to Kansas City Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli for the job he's done in making Kansas City a place that could even be considered by the future hall of famer.
Just a few short years ago, Scott Pioli and company took over a team and organization that had won just six games in the previous two years before he was hired on as General Manager. He inherited a roster in 2008 that had some very young and very talented players, but also a whole lot of guys that wouldn't have started on any other NFL team. It wasn't a very deep team and it didn't seem to have a direction at the time. In comes Pioli and changes that perception.
Pioli has not been without fault, though, as it seems the overwhelming support for Matt Cassel as the future starting quarterback has at least diminished publicly for the time being. In what was his first big personnel move, Pioli traded for Cassel and Mike Vrabel from his former bosses in New England for a second-round pick in the 2009 draft.
It's easy to judge that move three years later but, at the time, it seemed like the right move for the Chiefs. It stabilized the most important position on the field for the Chiefs and filled a need while adding an established veteran on the defensive side of the ball in Vrabel. But after just 39 starts in Kansas City, it appears Cassel might be, at best, looking to compete with a veteran free agent for the starting position heading into the 2012 season. Whether that's Peyton Manning, Jason Campbell, Chad Henne or Kyle Orton, he's going to have to earn everything else he receives from this point. That didn't always seem to be the case.
Looking at Pioli's other moves begins to show the core of players he's interested in building this organization around. You have players like Brandon Flowers, Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Eric Berry and now Dwayne Bowe as the obvious ones. Besides Berry, all of those players are entering their second contracts with the Chiefs and are the main pieces of this puzzle moving forward. But you also have players like Andy Studebaker, Cory Greenwood, Steve Breaston and Ryan Lilja that have all signed multi-year deals with Kansas City and have roles on this team that are just as vital as the key guys mentioned above.
Scott Pioli has built this team to have tremendous balance from an offensive as well as defensive stand point. There are no glaring weaknesses with this team besides the lack of healthy ACLs right now, which they are working on. If Berry, Charles, and Tony Moeaki all return to form in 2012, you can't think the Chiefs won't already be considered as having a legitimate shot at an AFC West title and the playoffs next season. That's not even taking into consideration what an upgrade at the quarterback position might do for this team.
He's put this organization in the driver's seat not only with the young talent they've been able to re-sign to stay in Kansas City for the prime years of their careers, but he's done that without strapping the team from a salary-cap stand point. That's probably even more important than keeping the players here in the first place. This has put them in a position to be players in this years' free agent market if they choose to go that route.
The Chiefs came into this off-season with around $37 million available in cap space before making any moves. The Stanford Routt signing will go about $6 million against the cap in 2012 and they recently saved $2 million off the cap by cutting linebacker Demorrio Williams. Throw in Bowe's franchise number of $9.5 million and you're sitting there with around $24 million in available cap space right now. That makes the Chiefs suitors for the top free agents on the market this off-season. That would include the star free agent Peyton Manning, but also includes nose tackle Paul Soliai and running back Mike Tolbert.
Whatever ends up happening when free agency is over, one thing is very clear for the Kansas City Chiefs: Scott Pioli has helped bring this team back into relevance since coming over from the New England Patriots. While Peyton Manning would make a lot of teams better around the league, his decision to join the Kansas City Chiefs would make them instant favorites in the AFC West and enter the conversation of teams that could make a run in the AFC.