Kansas City, Mo. Todd Haley admits he was surprised that Kyle Orton’s name popped up on the waiver wire.
The fact it happened just after the Kansas City Chiefs lost starting quarterback Matt Cassel to a season-ending injury to his throwing hand made it almost serendipitous.
Orton finally joined the Chiefs on Friday, two days after he was claimed off waivers from the Denver Broncos. He’ll have the chance to compete for the starting job for the rest of the year, though it’s unlikely he’ll be up to speed in time for Sunday night’s game against Pittsburgh.
“We have to get Kyle assimilated into how we’re doing things,” Haley said, “and then make decisions as we get closer to the game, and then obviously next week.”
Haley wouldn’t rule out Orton being active against the Steelers, at least in a third quarterback role, assuming he learns enough of the playbook in just 48 hours.
But the coach said Tyler Palko will make his second career start, and fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi will remain the No. 2.
Palko threw for 230 yards and did a reasonable job of moving the Chiefs in a 34-3 loss to New England last Monday night, but he also threw three interceptions that foiled promising drives.
“I have great confidence in Tyler. I really believe that he will continue to get better and give us a chance to win a big game this week,” Haley said. “We had confidence in Tyler. That’s why we began the season the way we did. Had a number of opportunities to add people and we didn’t.”
In fact, general manager Scott Pioli was roundly criticized for failing to bring in a more experienced backup to Cassel during training camp, even though several were available.
Haley said that proved how much confidence the regime had in Palko, who was once cut by a UFL team and spent time playing in Canada before finally ending up on the Chiefs.
But when Cassel went down for the season late in a loss to Denver two weeks ago, Haley said the team decided it needed another quarterback simply for depth. The fact Orton was cast aside by Denver, where he threw for more than 3,000 yards each of the past two seasons, made the decision to put in a waiver claim on him a “no brainer,” Haley said.
Several other teams were interested in Orton, including the Chicago Bears, where he began his NFL career. But the Chiefs had the priority, along with plenty of room under the salary cap to absorb the roughly $2.6 million he’s owed through the rest of the season.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything at this point, other than Tyler is starting the game Sunday,” Haley said before practice Friday night. “We’ll just have to see.”
Palko said he wasn’t concerned about the arrival of Orton, who wasn’t made available to the media Friday. Palko has been on the practice squad and spent most of the season as the backup, and yet prepared the same each day. The son of a western Pennsylvania high school coach plans to approach practice as though he’s the starter, however long that might be.
“Todd told me after practice they claimed Kyle and that was pretty much it,” Palko said. “You can’t be sensitive, you can’t worry about things you can’t control.”
What Palko can control is how he performs Sunday night against the Steelers.
If the former University of Pittsburgh quarterback can lead Kansas City to a victory — no small task considering the 101⁄2-point spread — then he’ll have a good chance of starting the following week.
If he fails to perform well against the team he grew up watching, it might not matter who the starter is the rest of the way; the Chiefs (4-6) will likely be out of playoff contention.
“We understand the sense of urgency that we must have, and we understand that our margin of error is very small at this point,” Haley said. “We have to figure out a way to win a big game.”