Kansas City, Mo. — This may be Kansas City’s most anticipated draft since Lamar Hunt hitched his franchise to a moving van 46 years ago and conceded Dallas to the Cowboys.
Coming off their worst season ever, the Chiefs have gaping needs up and down a talent-starved roster and own the third pick overall. That’s their highest in decades.
But what really has this town on edge, what everyone is most excited about, is a balding, powerfully built man named Scott Pioli.
For the first time since 1989, there’s a new general manager in town, a new draft-room guru, and he’s the very one who teamed with Bill Belichick to construct the dynasty known as the New England Patriots.
Powered by the farsighted Belichick-Pioli duo, no organization in recent years drafted, developed and traded with more successful flair.
Uncanny player pickups were the norm in New England, and K.C. fans are aware of this. Most are expecting nothing short of greatness from their new leader.
The Chiefs, keen to stoke interest after totaling only six victories the past two years, are doing nothing to dampen anyone’s ardor.
When a team employee introducing him at a recent event kept gushing, “He’s the best executive in the NFL and we’ve got him,” even Pioli seemed embarrassed.
“Wasn’t that a bit over the top?” he said as he took the microphone with a wan smile.
Maybe it was. But maybe it wasn’t.
The long-range picture will begin coming into focus Saturday as Pioli takes the first giant step in this new chapter of his career.
There’s no denying the enormous success he had with Belichick by his side. Known for shrewd trades as well as uncanny draft triumphs such as getting Tom Brady in the sixth round, Pioli has been cited more than once as NFL executive of the year.
But now he’s alone at the top — or at the bottom, if you will. Those will be decisions he makes, not suggestions. There’ll be no one to overrule anything he chooses to do.
Moreover, the rookie general manager is teamed with a rookie head coach. Shortly after firing Herm Edwards last January, Pioli hired Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley, an acquaintance from their days at the New York Jets when both worked in lower-rung positions for Bill Parcells, Pioli’s father-in-law.
“Todd and I have talked about this an awful lot,” Pioli said. “This is an exciting time for us.”
Said Haley, “Now, here we are back together again. I’ve said to him this is going to be good.”
In what could turn out to be one of the greatest trades in team history, Pioli has already addressed one of the Chiefs’ most pressing needs and obtained quarterback Matt Cassel from the Patriots for his second-round pick. He also got linebacker Mike Vrabel in a deal that seemed so one-sided, many wondered if the Patriots had packaged a sweetheart bargain as a sort of going-away present.
Many mock drafts have them taking Aaron Curry, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Wake Forest linebacker who would fit well if Haley decides to go to a mostly 3-4 defense. Other possibilities for that third overall pick include offensive tackles Eugene Monroe of Virginia or Jason Smith of Baylor, and defensive end Tyson Jackson of LSU.