Improving Defense Holds Key for Chiefs

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 11:30 AM

Offseason Roundup: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs didn't get Dick Vermeil back to the playoffs before he walked away from coaching for the third time. But they did get him a 10-win season, and he left the cupboard relatively full for his successor, Herman Edwards.

Chiefs President Carl Peterson once signed Edwards as a player for the Philadelphia Eagles, and he sent a fourth-round draft choice to the New York Jets in January to get Edwards released from his contract to succeed Vermeil. It's open to question whether the Chiefs' pursuit of a coach who had a 41-44 record for the Jets, including postseason play, should have been so breathless. But, clearly, Peterson got the coach he wanted, and he signed Edwards to a four-year contract worth $12 million. Edwards inherits a team that, at times, looked like one of the league's best last season, but failed to reach the playoffs in the rugged AFC.

The parts for a Super Bowl contender remain in place. The Chiefs faced a salary-cap crunch early in the offseason and released cornerbacks Eric Warfield and Dexter McCleon and linebackers Shawn Barber and Gary Stills. They cut veteran safety Jerome Woods later in the offseason, and they suffered some modest losses in free agency. Backup quarterback Todd Collins signed with the Washington Redskins to rejoin former Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who was passed over for the head-coaching job and ended up as Joe Gibbs's offensive boss. Fullback Tony Richardson and wide receivers Marc Boerigter and Chris Horn also exited.

The Chiefs re-signed one of their two reserve quarterbacks, Damon Huard, and also managed to keep defensive end Carlos Hall and defensive tackle Lional Dalton. The two mainstays of the offensive line, tackle Willie Roaf and guard Will Shields, decided against retiring.

The offense is fine as long as quarterback Trent Green, tight end Tony Gonzalez and tailback Larry Johnson stay healthy. Johnson established himself as the league's next great runner by rushing for 1,750 yards last season after taking over for Priest Holmes as the starter. He'll remain the Chiefs' centerpiece runner even if Holmes returns next season. That's less than a certainty. Peterson and Edwards have said they're counting on having Holmes back. But he hasn't yet been cleared to play by his doctors because of a neck injury. The Chiefs bolstered their depth at tailback by signing former Denver starter Quentin Griffin this offseason. The draft yielded a potential down-the-road replacement for the 35-year-old Green in Brodie Croyle, a third-round selection out of Alabama.

The Chiefs' biggest addition of the offseason could be still to come. They remain in the running for free agent cornerback Ty Law, the former standout for the New England Patriots who spent last season playing for Edwards with the Jets. The two remain close and have stayed in contact this offseason. Law and his agents, brothers Carl and Kevin Poston, have been seeking a big-money contract. The Chiefs and Law's other suitors -- including the Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks --have been wary of giving him a mega-deal, and it's possible that Law will wait until just before training camp to pick a team. If no club gives him the sort of money he's seeking, his relationship with Edwards perhaps could be the tie-breaker.

Defensive end Tamba Hali, the Chiefs' first-round draft pick, bolsters the pass rush, and gives the team another prospective impact player on defense a year after it used its first-round selection on linebacker Derrick Johnson. The defense showed signs of improvement last season. The Chiefs ranked only 25th in the league in total defense but were a much more respectable 16th in scoring defense. If the defense continues to get better and Green has another productive season left in him to keep opponents from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop Johnson, Edwards should be able to get the club back into the playoffs in his first season in Kansas City.

Around the League

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed David Boston, the former standout wide receiver whose career has been on a downward spiral during stints with the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins.

Boston, 27, had 98 catches for 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns for the Cardinals in 2001. Since then, he's totaled 106 catches in four seasons, and in December 2004 he was suspended by the NFL for a positive test under the league's steroid policy. Boston denied using steroids but said it was determined he tested positive for a "related substance." . . .

The Cincinnati Bengals claimed quarterback Dave Ragone, who'd been cut by Houston, off waivers . . .

The New Orleans Saints lost linebacker James Allen for the entire season because of a ruptured tendon in his knee suffered during a practice Tuesday.

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