Despite Defensive Woes, Chiefs Stand Pat
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 19, 2004; 10:41 AM
One would have thought that the Kansas City Chiefs would have spent the offseason upgrading a defense that ranked 29th in the league last season and was embarrassed in a 38-31 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC semifinal, keeping a team that won 13 games from reaching even the conference championship.
One would have been wrong.
Coach Dick Vermeil tearfully accepted defensive coordinator Greg Robinson's resignation two days after the playoff loss to the Colts and replaced him with Gunther Cunningham, Vermeil's predecessor as Kansas City's head coach who most recently had served as the Tennessee Titans' linebackers coach.
But the defensive overhaul that many in the league expected never came. The Chiefs basically stood pat. They flirted with two big-name free agents, defensive tackle Warren Sapp and cornerback Troy Vincent. But Sapp signed with the Oakland Raiders and Vincent with the Buffalo Bills, and the Chiefs seemed to feel they had been used to increase both players' price tags. The only free agent signed by the Chiefs on defense was tackle Lional Dalton, cast off in the past year by the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins.
Kansas City even traded down out of the first round in the draft, then used its initial second-round selection on a defensive tackle that club officials acknowledge is a project, Oregon's Junior Siavii. The Chiefs' next choice, another second-rounder, was used on Pittsburgh tight end Kris Wilson. This is a team, remember, that has Tony Gonzalez playing tight end.
Vermeil said earlier in the offseason that the Chiefs decided to focus on keeping players rather than adding free agents from the outside. Their key to improving on defense, he said, is better coaching and getting players simply to play better.
The offensive pieces remain in place. The Chiefs kept offensive coordinator Al Saunders with a contract extension reportedly worth about $1 million per season. He is Vermeil's apparent successor-in-waiting, his new Mike Martz. The Chiefs lost one solid offensive lineman when tackle John Tait signed with the Chicago Bears; Kansas City declined to match a six-year, $33-million contract offer (including a $14-million signing bonus) to retain its transition free agent. But the Chiefs gained a solid offensive lineman by trading for disgruntled Philadelphia guard John Welbourn on the second day of the draft, surrendering only a fifth-round pick this year and a fourth-rounder next year. Kansas City also signed tackle Chris Bober as a free agent.
Vermeil, 67, signed a two-year contract extension in January but has not said how much longer he will coach. Another Super Bowl victory could send him off into retirement again, just as he left the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season -- only to be lured back to the sideline by his friend, Chiefs president Carl Peterson. The Chiefs will be a Super Bowl contender as long as they have Gonzalez, tailback Priest Holmes, quarterback Trent Green and kick returner Dante Hall to light up the scoreboard. They probably won't be a Super Bowl team, however, as long as they have their current defensive lineup.
Around the League
Collins Cancels Visit to Green Bay
Free-agent quarterback Kerry Collins's on-again, off-again interest in the Green Bay Packers is off again, at least temporarily. Collins at the last minute canceled a visit to Green Bay set for Tuesday night and today, an NFL source said this morning. The Packers apparently are leaving open the possibility that Collins will visit next week, but executives around the league still consider the Oakland Raiders his most likely landing spot.
Many in the NFL still think the Baltimore Ravens are a possibility for him, but Ravens officials have said they don't expect to sign Collins even though his former coach with the New York Giants, Jim Fassel, is serving as a consultant to Coach Brian Billick. The Dallas Cowboys likewise have said they don't expect to sign Collins even though their quarterbacks coach, Sean Payton, is the Giants' former offensive coordinator. The San Francisco 49ers have said they're unlikely to sign a high-profile veteran quarterback even after projected starter Tim Rattay recently suffered a torn groin muscle.
Collins initially rejected the Packers' overtures about serving as Brett Favre's backup, then agreed to a visit before backing out. The Packers continue to try to work out a new contract with Tim Couch to set the stage for a trade with Cleveland for the former top overall draft selection, and have expressed interest in free agent Damon Huard.
Browns Trying to Work Things Out With Northcutt
The Browns still hope to settle their dispute wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. Northcutt remained under contract to Cleveland when he and his agent, Jerome Stanley, missed a February deadline to file the necessary paperwork to void the remainder of his deal and make him an unrestricted free agent. Stanley said that Northcutt never would play for the Browns again. But the Ravens and Broncos have come and gone as potential trade partners, and going back to Cleveland might be Northcutt's only option. . . .
Drew Rosenhaus became the fifth different agent to represent Packers cornerback Mike McKenzie when he was hired this week. Rosenhaus says he will try to orchestrate a trade. Agent Brian Parker reportedly dropped McKenzie as a client a few weeks ago. . . .
Defensive end Kenny Holmes, one of the top players left on the picked-over unrestricted free agent market, has drawn some interest from Green Bay.
Gannon's Future With Raiders Uncertain
Quarterback Rich Gannon's future with the Raiders could hinge on whether he is willing to renegotiate his contract, which includes a $7-million salary for the upcoming season. If Gannon refuses to rework the contract, Oakland could release him and sign Collins. . . .
NFL officials and representatives for former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett and former USC wide receiver Mike Williams continue to await a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on the league's appeal of a February decision by a federal judge in Clarett's lawsuit against the NFL that temporarily made Clarett eligible for last month's draft. Williams entered the draft after the Feb. 5 ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin temporarily opened the draft to college freshmen and sophomores and high school players.
But a three-judge panel of the appeals court granted the NFL's request for a stay of Scheindlin's decision, keeping Clarett and Williams out of the draft, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices denied Clarett's application for emergency relief to have the stay lifted before the draft. NFL officials have promised to allow Clarett and Williams to enter the league via a supplemental draft if the appeals court upholds Scheindlin's ruling. But the judges said upon issuing the stay that the NFL had a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of its appeal.
People in both players' camps say the wait for a ruling has been agonizing. Williams's representatives previously have threatened legal action against the league if Williams is kept out of the NFL in the 2004 season because of developments in the Clarett case. They say that Williams's NFL eligibility should be considered separately. But NFL officials say they will keep Williams as well as Clarett out of the league if they're able to do so because they told Williams and his representatives from the outset that they would attempt to overturn Scheindlin's decision and would bar him from the draft if they did.
USC officials have said they will petition the NCAA on Williams's behalf to try to have his college eligibility restored if he expresses interest in returning to school. Ohio State officials have said they don't envision Clarett playing for the school again. Clarett's Canadian Football League rights are held by the Montreal Alouettes. . . .
NFL officials are moving slowly and deliberately in determining how the league will honor Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety who was killed in combat in Afghanistan last month as a member of the U.S. Army Rangers. League officials say they want to make sure their tributes are appropriate.
Next: Miami Dolphins
© 2004 washingtonpost.com