Pioli & Personnel – Free Agents, Trades, Waivers

Over three days we are taking a comprehensive look at the player personnel decisions made by Chiefs GM Scott Pioli since he was appointed to the job in January 2009. We’ll look at the moves in three parts:

  • FIRST PART – Inherited players, here’s the link.
  • TODAY – Veteran players acquired as free agents, in trades and waiver claims.
  • NEXT – Draft picks and rookie free agents.


A sign of a good football organization, one that has all parts of the operation working together and complimenting each other, is a team that can take somebody else’s trash and turn it into precious football metals.

It’s about scouring the hinterlands, cities and suburbs for talent. At any given time there’s a world of 3,000-plus football players floating about the country. A team cannot build strictly through the NFL Draft – there are only seven rounds. They can add rookie free agents after the Draft, but there would remain large holes in the roster.

So teams must venture anywhere to find talent to help, whether it’s the waiver wire, the trade market, or signing free agents, not just the high-priced, well-known unrestricted free agents, but the street free agents. Those are players that have been found wanting by another team, and a currently “on the street” trying to find their next chance.

Since taking over the Chiefs in January of 2009, GM Scott Pioli has had a checkered record when it comes to finding diamonds in the rough. There have been 49 veterans of other teams that have come through the Chiefs roster in the last two seasons. We’ve broken those players into five categories based on what they were able to produce in the last 33 games for the franchise – excellent, good, average, poor and incomplete.

We’ve judged only six of those 49 players as excellent or good additions – RG Ryan Lilja (excellent) and QB Matt Cassel, OLB Mike Vrabel, RB Thomas Jones, DL Shaun Smith and C Casey Wiegmann (all good). Only Cassel and Vrabel were around for the 4-12 season in 2009, and there’s no question the addition of those other four players were key additions in turning around the record to 10-7 including a loss in the playoffs.

Another 10 of the 49 players are rated as average additions, based on contributions on all three units. They would be CB Travis Daniels, WR Terrance Copper, SS Mike Brown, RT Ryan O’Callaghan, TE Leonard Pope, LB David Herron, CB Michael Richardson; WR Chris Chambers, FB Tim Castille and S Reshard Langford.

But more than half of the 49 players were ranked poor, as they provided little or no help to the roster in any fashion during their time with the team. That group of 26 includes players who were starters in that ugly ’09 season – players like RG Mike Goff, TE Sean Ryan, RT Ikechuku Ndukwe and WR Bobby Wade. All lost their starting jobs by the end of that first Pioli/Haley season.

Another seven players were given grades of incomplete, largely because they did not get a chance to play, players like UFA WR Jerheme Urban who was signed for the ’10 season but spent the year on the injured-reserve list due to a damaged ligament in a finger.


While he scored with the trade that brought Cassel and Vrabel to the Chiefs – the first personnel move made once he took over – Pioli struck out with all the other re-tread Patriots that flowed through the roster, especially in 2009.

Whether because of familiarity with those ex-Pats, or the early belief that the players on site from the previous regime were terribly wanting, Pioli went overboard bringing guys he knew – WR C.J. Jones, LB Darrell Robertson, LB Corey Mays, LB Monty Beisel, WR Rodney Wright, LB Vince Redd, QB Matt Gutierrez, OT Ryan O’Callaghan, LB David Herron and CB Mike Richardson. At the end of year No. 2, only Mays and O’Callaghan were still around and neither one was a starter.

Head coach Todd Haley pushed plenty of players he knew with the Arizona Cardinals onto the roster as well, and with mixed results – TE Leonard Pope, FB Tim Castille, Beisel, WR Lance Long and WR Jerheme Urban. None of that group has significantly improved the talent level of the team.

In two seasons the Chiefs have played 33 games. That’s 22 starting positions per game, or 726 starting assignments. Here’s how it broke down for the Chiefs:

  • Starts by inherited players – 4-2, or 55 percent.
  • Starts by drafted players or rookie free agents – 101, or 14 percent.
  • Starts by free agents, trades and waiver claims – 223, or 31 percent.

Of the six additions that we rated as excellent or good, only two had not previously established themselves with their old teams – Cassel and Smith. What Cassel has been able to do in his development as a starting quarterback has been impressive, especially given how the offense had a lack of stability over the first two years with three different coordinators.

None of the other 43 players have established themselves as major NFL contributors while with the Chiefs. There have been contributions, but not a single player has come in and become a major factor or elevated the talent level. Here are some examples.

WIDE RECEIVER – When TE Tony Gonzalez was traded in April 2009, the Chiefs offense needed help at the receiver position, whether WR or TE. Pioli and Haley struggled to fill the holes and it led to a parade of washed up or never were receivers passing through the roster – C.J. Jones, Terrance Copper, Bobby Engram, Rodney Wright, Amani Toomer, Ashley Lelie, Bobby Wade, Lance Long, Chris Chambers, Jerheme Urban, David Grimes and Kevin Curtis.

Only Chambers in the last half of the ’09 season was a major contributor. Most of the others did not catch a single pass for the red and gold.

All those failures forced the Chiefs to grab WR Jonathan Baldwin with their first-round selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.

LINEBACKER – Moving to the 3-4 defense, there was going to be a new emphasis on bringing in linebackers, both inside and outside. Plus, Haley believes that linebackers can bring a coach the best options when it comes to special teams coverage. So as two years has flown off the football calendar quite a few LBs have rolled through as free agents, trades and waiver claims – Vrabel, Darrell Robertson, Corey Mays, Monty Beisel, Zach Thomas, Vince Redd, David Herron, Justin Rogers, John Russell, Charlie Anderson and Mark Simoneau.

Only Vrabel made a significant contribution to the defense. Few of the others played, or had a large number of snaps with the Kansas City defense.

BEST OF THE 49 ADDITIONS – That would be Lilja. He was cut loose by the Colts for economic reasons, and because Indianapolis said they wanted to go with bigger blockers upfront. Supposedly the 6-2, 290-pound Lilja wasn’t considered bulky enough. He signed on with the Chiefs and immediately established himself as the RG and solidified the position that had been in flux since Will Shields retired after the 2006 season. Players like John Welbourn, Adrian Jones, Mike Goff and Wade Smith had passed through the starting RG spot. None got the job done as well as Lilja did last year.


3 Responses to “Pioli & Personnel – Free Agents, Trades, Waivers”

  • July 21, 2011  - RW says:

    Excellent in-depth information from Bob. I don’t blame Pioli or Haley for touting the guys from their previous organizations as it’s not unlike the workplace where promoted managers look to bring in folks they’ve worked with in the past and know what they’re getting.

    Key phrase there: “Know what they’re getting”. Skills in the NFL as opposed to say, selling skills in the workplace, are far more volatile for the NFL player. A case in point would be the way Chambers fell off the map this past season.

    I’ll also give Pioli/Haley a pass in their past player judgments as it relates to them attempting to rebuild a team on the fly. However, at some point and I believe that point is NOW, accountability for evaluation decisions on players must weigh in.

    No one bats .1000 in this scale and never will but finding more hits than misses will separate the top tier franchises from the rest of the pack. How Pioli/Haley scores on this standard going forward from here will go a long way in writing their Chief’s report card.

  • July 21, 2011  - aPauled says:

    Part of what Pioli/Haley were up against was selling FAs on opportunity in KC after successive 4-12 and 2-14 seasons. What High or even Middle level FAs wanted to come to a franchise that was reeling in the wrong direction? Pioli/Haley have obviously done something right to take Peterson/Edwards reeling ship, right it, and make the playoffs in 2 years. FAs are once again going to want to come to KC and we won’t have to sift thru the leftovers looking for players.

  • July 21, 2011  - Blake says:

    I agree with most of your ratings except one, Corey Mays, I know Mays isnt great but he did start for one whole season at ILB. I mean you give guys like Mike Brown an average rating and he was only on the team for one season and played like crap, Herron, Richardson, and Langford have all done less than Corey Mays. I would at least give him an average rating. I also think that Pioli and Haley found out they need to build their OWN team and not sign every player that was on the Pats or Cardinals roster while they were there.

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