Kansas City, Mo. Having six of this year’s playoff teams on next year’s schedule will probably make it impossible for the Kansas City Chiefs to repeat their six-game improvement of 2010.
And if an undefeated Chiefs team seems a stretch, Todd Haley’s third Kansas City team will need to make significant improvement just to match the 10-6 record that carried the Chiefs to their first AFC West crown in seven years.
The first order of business will be finding a replacement for offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
The experienced Weis, leaving to take the same job at Florida, may be hard to follow after bringing instant credibility along with his three Super Bowl rings. In just one year, he helped Matt Cassel make great strides as an NFL quarterback, coaxed a Pro Bowl year out of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and tutored Jamaal Charles in becoming the league’s No. 2 rusher.
Also key will be getting rush linebacker Tamba Hali’s signature on a new contract. Hali burst into stardom in his fifth year by leading the AFC with 14 1/2 sacks and then took down Joe Flacco a couple of times on Sunday in one of the few bright spots for the Chiefs during a a 30-7 whipping by Baltimore in the first playoff round.
Through the draft and free agency, assuming the NFL avoids a lockout, the Chiefs will go into the offseason looking for help at wide receiver, offensive line and defensive line.
Even while they were preparing for the Ravens last week, general manager Scott Pioli was preparing for the April draft.
So far as Chiefs’ GM, Pioli is 1 for 1.
His first draft, with little time to get ready and conducted mostly with a scouting department left over from the previous regime, was poor. First-rounder Tyson Jackson has been spotty at defensive end and most of this year could not dislodge free agent acquisition Shaun Smith. The only significant contributor from the 2009 draft has been place kicker Ryan Succop.
Pioli’s second draft was terrific, and a big reason to think better days have come to stay in Kansas City.
Eric Berry shows all the signs of becoming one of the league’s outstanding safeties. The first-round pick from Tennessee led the Chiefs with four interceptions and nine passes broken up, and he played a terrific first half against the Ravens.
Dexter McCluster, if he can stay healthy, is a playmaker wherever the Chiefs line him up. Tony Moeaki was ranked second among rookie tight ends with 47 receptions for 556 yards.
Moeaki did not make the Chiefs forget Tony Gonzalez, their perennial Pro Bowler who was traded to Atlanta, but he did make them miss him much less with a knack for making the spectacular catch.
In addition, Javier Arenas led all NFL rookie defensive backs with three sacks and rookie safety Kendrick Lewis had three interceptions. Another draft like that could bring the Chiefs much closer to the sort of team that can compete with the Baltimores of the league.
Bowe made the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with 15 touchdown catches this season, but was completely shut down in three games and Cassel didn’t even throw to him on Sunday. Another threat at receiver would have made it difficult for the Ravens to double-team Bowe so much.
Hali, as well as he played, needs help on the other end, somebody who is able to add pressure on the quarterback.
The last two games — blowout losses at home to Oakland and Baltimore — demonstrated how much help the offensive line needs. The Raiders sacked Chiefs quarterbacks seven times and the Ravens sacked Cassel three times and harassed him much of the day.
Nevertheless, Cassel improved along with the rest of the team. Pioli and Haley have stamped their mark on the franchise and their credibility with players and most fans has been cast in stone. Romeo Crennel says he’ll be back for another year as defensive coordinator, which is another good sign of things to come.
Chiefs fans have every reason to be excited — even if the Chiefs struggle to repeat their 10-win season in 2011.
“Now that we’ve laid a foundation over these last two years, hopefully there’ll be some consistency,” said Cassel. “For me, just being now in my third year and knowing the routine and knowing what coach Haley expects of us, it’s just making sure guys are accountable and trying to improve myself.”
The first phase of Haley’s long-range plan seems to be achieved.
“I thought it was a really good year for us, year No. 2 of our program and what we’re trying to get done,” Haley said. “I thought we clearly got the ship turned around and going in the right direction.”