A Free Agent Find? … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs

If Todd Haley has said it once, he’s said it a hundred times in the 16 months that he’s been the head coach of the Chiefs:

“It doesn’t matter how a player got here. It’s what we see once he’s here.”

All coaches like to say things like that, and sometimes it’s believable. Other times it’s just something a coach thinks he has to say. We all know that no matter how bad say Eric Berry may look before the start of the regular season, he’s not going to be released. No chance. The early draft choices will always get more chances than the undrafted college free agents.

But bad teams provide a greater opportunity for players on the fringe to make the roster. When a team doesn’t have enough talent, it’s really not going to matter to the decision makers where a player comes from; if he can play, he has a job.

Last year, Haley and GM Scott Pioli started the season with eight rookies on the 53-man roster. Two of those players were undrafted – LBs Jovan Belcher and Pierre Walters. Both spent the entire ’09 season on the active roster and they were joined at one point last year by S Rickey Price, G Daryl Harris and DL Dion Gales.

This season the Chiefs have signed 11 college free agents who will return on May 17th and work with the team in the OTAs and June’s full-team mini-camp. Most will go to training camp in St. Joe and take their shot at one of the most difficult tasks in the pro game – making the roster after all 32 teams passed you by in the NFL Draft multiple times.

As we’ve dug through the list of Chiefs signees, one player in that group stands out – OLB Justin Cole out of San Jose State (above).

Checking around the league in the 10 days since the Draft, we found that Cole was on most team’s boards as a draftable player. Some had him rated as high as a fifth-round choice. Others had him in the sixth or seventh-round. At least one time labeled him a “desirable signee” as an undrafted free agent.

Cole (right) signed on with the Chiefs and went through the team’s rookie camp last weekend. Wearing No. 57, he worked at outside linebacker along with fifth-round draft choice Cameron Sheffield. The Chiefs do not talk about their evaluations, but several other teams said there wasn’t a shade of difference between Sheffield and Cole. One scout allowed that Sheffield may be a better athlete, but Cole had the same skills and background.

A four-year starter at San Jose State as a defensive end (two years) and outside linebacker (two years), Cole expected to be selected in the Draft based on what he heard from his agent, friends and those around the NFL.

“I’m definitely excited to go to (training) camp and play with a chip on my shoulder,” Cole said. “I think they’re getting a versatile player, a person that fits well into three or four schemes.”

At 6-2¾, 242 pounds, Cole had a disappointing senior season, with 55 total tackles and three sacks while spending most of his time playing outside linebacker. The season before, when he was moved to OLB, Cole had 68 total tackles, five sacks and an interception that he returned 62 yards for a touchdown.

The big post-season all-star games (Shrine Game, Senior Bowl) ignored him. It took a torn ACL suffered by Wisconsin’s O’Brien Schofield on the first day of practices at the Senior Bowl to open up a slot for him in Mobile. It was there that teams got a chance to see him playing in a two-point stance.

Cole was invited to the NFL Combine, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.73 seconds, lifted 225 pounds in the bench press 22 times. He had a 34.5-inch vertical jump and 9-foot 9-inch in the broad jump. None of those numbers were in the outstanding to very good range; the numbers are average to below average for someone of his physical makeup.

Still he was on some team’s draft boards for multiple reasons. During four seasons with SJS, he never missed a game. He’s already graduated with a degree in marketing. He was never a prima donna and worked on special teams right through his senior season. He also served as one of the Spartans co-captain last year.

Ah yes, that captain’s role obviously was noticed by the Chiefs; they’ve proven this year that checking off that box on the draft form is going to lift a player in their estimations. Cole is another guy who was signed not so much for what he accomplished as a player, but who he is as a person.

Now, Cole has the chance to take those skills and compete and possibly make an NFL regular-season roster. That only recently become a goal for the California native.

“I did not go to college thinking about going to the next level,” Cole said. “My focus was just to be a good college football player. I lived in the present. I worked out for the present and my college career.

“Now that it’s over and you have the opportunity to continue, I’m definitely going to prepare at 120 percent to take advantage of that chance.”

LEARNING MORE ABOUT BIG BEN’S BEHAVIOR

During the last couple months I’ve heard a lot from readers about our postings on Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and his problems. Some folks thought I was too quick to indict the Steelers QB for his behavior, especially since he’s never been charged with a criminal act; innocent until proven guilty and all that. Some e-mailers accused me of jumping to conclusions on the case down in Georgia

Just about everything I’ve written about Roethlisberger and my opinions on his character and behavior were buttressed by a lot of information that I had from folks back in the ‘Burgh about the quarterback. None of this was relevant until he stepped in “it” again back in March with charges of sexual assault. That’s when the gossip about Roethlisberger went viral and his boorish behavior became known to more and more people.

If you want to read more, then Sports Illustrated this week has a cover story on the Pittsburgh QB and his escapades. Here’s a link to the si.com site where the story is up.

That’s why the Rooney family was so upset, why the fans of Pittsburgh have turned against their quarterback and why the Commish handed him a suspension. The incident in Georgia was just the tip of a very dirty and nasty iceberg. What’s in the SI article exposes some of his warts, but there are many more than those.

Roethlisberger apparently has checked into an evaluation center, where his problems are being cataloged by professionals. They will be very busy and it will be interesting to see just when Big Ben returns to the Steelers in any fashion. Until the Commissioner gets the report of the evaluators, he must stay away from the team.

PERSONNEL FILE/WEDNESDAY, MAY 5

  • BILLS – signed S Brett Johnson.
  • BRONCOS – released S Marty Bowman.
  • 49ERS – signed CB Will James (Jaguars).
  • SAINTS – signed S Darren Sharper to a 1-year, $2.5 million deal; re-signed RFA G Jahri Evans to a new 7-year, $56.7 million deal.
  • SEAHAWKS – signed CB Chris Richards.

18 Responses to “A Free Agent Find? … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • May 6, 2010  - Tracy says:

    Thanks for the Si.com link, Bob.
    Big Ben seems poised to be remembered as the type of guy who gives piggish, shortsighted, self absorbed, press-clipping-reading, serially-offensive turds a bad name.
    Perhaps his early success was too much for him to handle. Given the first Super Bowl victory, one wonders why he did not play at a major college. Did the college rank coaches see potential problems lurking?
    To a certain extent, he fell victim to the “leader of the posse” syndrome but he surpasses the the rancid behavior associated with most of those who have been surrounded by sycophants and enablers; fortunately for him, he has so far, unlike Michael Jackson, survived.
    And in that sense, there is something–that voice in your ear saying “Don’t do this.”–obviously lacking. He is a flawed human being who, if he lacked football skills, would likely be scorned by most of our socety.


  • May 6, 2010  - The Morning Fix | Arrowhead Addict | A Kansas City Chiefs blog says:

    [...] A Free Agent Find? … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs-BobGretz.com [...]


  • May 6, 2010  - KC_Guy says:

    Justin Cole – well, he’d have to beat out Vrable, Studebaker, Hali or 5th rounder Sheffield to make it to the roster – and if his physicality (is that a word at all?) is as limited as his Combine numbers indicate he’ll have a hard time doing that. Did he ever play inside? He might be a fit as the thumper complementing the rangier guys (Williams, Johnson) there – and beating out Mays might be easier than any of the outside guys.
    Whatever – he’d probably be happy to win a spot on the PS, and actually that’s where I’d expect an UDFA to start his career (with some exceptions allowed).


  • May 6, 2010  - Mad Chief says:

    Good write-up on Cole, Bob. Hopefully he’ll make the team, and be one of those undrafted “gems” for us.

    And, I’ve officially heard more about Ben Roethlisberger than I ever cared to. I would almost rather hear another Brett Favre “will he or won’t he retire?” story. Almost.


  • May 6, 2010  - jimbo says:

    It’s a shame that Cole is a OLB. We could stand a little more competition for the ILB position.
    I have to admit, it is very exciting to pick up a UDFA & he rocks it. If we find one this year, I would consider that a good omen for this team, for this year.
    I hate to say this, mostly because it has commomly been said before year after year. But… I’m gonna say it anyway. The Chiefs are putting together a special team this year, not complete yet, but much improved. The players are working out, together… almost all of them & OTA’s have’nt even begun yet.
    There is a true sense of purpose, dedication & direction with this team. Haley & Co. are methodically putting together 53 guys who “get it”. The Chiefs are seriously going to raise eyebrows across the league this year & I for one am stoked. Call it what you will, maybe I’m a little bit premature, but I’m gonna call it Greatness. Now, will somebody please pass me the Kool Aid.
    That is all. Go Chiefs.


  • May 6, 2010  - SG says:

    Seeing the continuing saga of Ben Roethlisberger makes me happy for one thing – we don’t see Matt Cassel in the bad news…ever. We didn’t with Trent Green either.


  • May 6, 2010  - Mad Chief says:

    Well, SG…let’s just hope Cassel’s first year here was much like Trent’s first year as a Chief. And that he’ll make us forget how terrible that first year was by playing really well for the next several years. That’s my hope, anyway.


  • May 6, 2010  - Mad Chief says:

    Jimbo,

    Here’s some Kool Aid for you…

    Yesterday, Thomas Jones said that it “was the energy in the building” that made him decide to sign with the Chiefs. He said he was also impressed that our guys were there working out (when he came to visit), BEFORE the offseason program even started.

    Coming from a vet like TJ…I think that means something. He must feel that “the Chiefs are putting together a special team this year”, too. Just like you said.


  • May 6, 2010  - Michael says:

    Cassel was not terrible last year. He played like a young quarterback on a young, rebuilding team with a new coach. Oh, and also with a new offensive coordinator installed just before the start of the season.


  • May 6, 2010  - Jody says:

    I liked what I heard about Cole, I hope they look at him as an ILB as well as outside.


  • May 6, 2010  - Mad Chief says:

    Michael,

    Cassel DID play terrible last year. I hope he can “step it up” this year. I really do. But, how you can say Cassel “was not terrible last year”? Geezus…what do you call “terrible”? Jamarcus “I just got cut by the Raiders” Russell? Maybe “completely below-average” is more fair…but whatever you want to call it, Cassel needs to play much better this year. Period.

    And just to be fair…I like Matt Cassel. I spent most of last season defending him. But, the time for excuses is over. It’s time to produce.


  • May 6, 2010  - Michael says:

    Didn’t say he played great, just not terrible. I guess we just see in different context. I thought he could have played better, but considering the situation I thought he did ok. I, too, hope he improves this season with a little more help from his friends. Yes, and Russell, now that’s terrible.

    Cole caught my eye as soon as KC signed him, and I checked him out as much as I could. Most reports said he has the necessary tools and just needs to make football number one in his life. If the Chiefs can get him there, he could be good. They need a thumper inside at LB, though. Maybe Michael Johnson can do something there as a two down player.


  • May 6, 2010  - writer says:

    Considering the comments about how bad our quarterback was…
    1) any consideration of his effectiveness must take into account the huge number of dropped balls that our recievers had. That alone would have increased his average completion rate dramatically.
    2) when recievers drop balls it influences the quarterbacks confidence so hence his performance is also affected not by necessarily how good he is but also by how much confidence he has in his recievers. I hope this point is clear as it is critical that the quarterback have confidence in ones recievers for him to perform well. I doubt any quarterback would be confident with the drops we had in the first part of the season.
    3) Changing offensive coordinators and offensive schemes 2 weeks before the start of the season was a huge factor in our slow offensive start during the first part of the season. I have never seen that done 2 weeks before the start of the season. This had a huge affect on timing and on performance with any quarterback. In fact Len Dawson stated this was a huge reason why our quarterback was struggling as any quarterback would struggle given the situation we started with.

    4) Changing multiple recievers throughout the first part of the season through timing off dramatically. Any quarterback would struggle had they been challenged with our group of recievers manyof which could not hold onto the ball…

    As a result anyone who suggests that our quarterback had a terrible season really is not looking at things with an objective viewpoint. Sorry but there were too many variables and obstacles put in the way for us to reliably judge the performance of our quarterback. Next season should a be a much better gauge of how good he is..

    in fact a strong case could be made how well he did since the odds were completely stacked against him….


  • May 7, 2010  - Mad Chief says:

    Valid points, writer. I took those things into account, though…and I still say Cassel played terrible overall. The whole Offense did…with the obvious exception of Charles and Chambers. I give Charles an ‘A’ for his year. Chambers, probably a ‘C’. Pretty average, really…but looked good compared to our other receivers. The rest of the Offense? Ranging from a ‘D’ to an ‘F’ for overall performance. And to me, that’s terrible. 4 wins is terrible. Sure, there were some moments of good play from most. But overall? Terrible.


  • May 7, 2010  - arrowhead1978 says:

    Are you kidding? Cassel was off target alot last year also. I would love to believe all of the nonsense reasons why Cassel blew hard last year, but really a good QB will make a team better! If McNabb came here he would make the receivers better, because good QB’s do that… Drew Brees went to the saints and the team instantly became better, not the other way around, Colston didn’t come in and make Brees better.

    Tyler Thigpen played on the same team, the offense was changed mid-season and he still looked better then Cassel did at the end of the season, how’s that for stacked odds. Cassel was lucky that in his first season he played on a team with the best WR’s in the league. I really hope he earns his paycheck this season, because last year wasn’t very pretty.


  • May 7, 2010  - Michael says:

    Somehow you’re confusing the words ok or good with really good and great. McNabb is an experienced Pro-bowl qb. Is Cassel there yet? No. Drew Brees is one of the top three QB’s in the game and, besides, he went to a much more experienced, developed and talented Saints team.

    I was a big Thigpen fan before he ever started a game for KC, and I would have been ok if they’d have kept him. I thought he could be Really Good with some more help around him. As it was, Thiggy was exciting to watch, but no more effective than Cassel. How many games did they win with Thigpen at QB? He gave the team a spark, but he will also very erratic. They installed different plays for him to take advantage of his strengths, but his coordinator and terminology weren’t changed.

    Did Cassel play up to his contract last year? No, but he got the contract because the team believes he will. He definintely must play better. He has to make his reads quicker and get rid of the ball for sure. I can’t tell you how many times I cussed and ranted and raved just that during the games last year. Still, from what I saw last year, there’s reason to be positive about how much better he can be this year, especially considering the differing contexts of last year and this.

    Bottom line is it really doesn’t matter what label you put on his play last year because everyone is agreed he has to play much better this year.


  • May 9, 2010  - Dean in Columbia says:

    How come we havn’t heard Tyson Jackson’s name this off season? A number one pick should be helping our team right away. I hope he is not a bust.


  • May 9, 2010  - ChiefGonzo says:

    If anything with Cassel, he barely has any experience playing except for that one year in NE on a much better team at the time. Before that he had not started a game since high school. So really, how good can you expect him to be on a mediocre team. This year should and will be much better for him and the others around him, especially with a much better tandem in the back field to take a lot of the pressure of the QB.




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