In an unfortunately titled April post, I discussed the Chiefs tight end situation, and made a recommendation as to what I thought the appropriate course of action was:
“I’d like to see Cottam and Pope on the team. Drafting a tight end in round two or three, putting him in the mix and hoping he takes the starting job seems like a good plan to me.”
I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here. The only reason I got this right is because it was such an obvious move. If the Chiefs listened to all my ideas Mike Mazlowski would probably still be our starting middle linebacker. It’s nice to be on the same page this time though. We obviously needed an upgrade, but it was just as obvious that a premier upgrade was not within our grasp. A day 2 pick was clearly the way to go. And while I don’t think we necessarily had to trade up to get him, Tony Moeaki is a decent prospect with some upside. For this team at this time, I’ll gladly take that.
Not even the greatest personnel man in the history of football can bring in pro bowlers at every position. Even good teams have some spots that are weaker than others. The key to a successful roster, in my mind, is filling your weaknesses with players that could potentially become strengths. I’m not talking about top draft picks or marquee free agents. I’m talking, essentially, about players like Tony Moeaki and Brad Cottam.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not predicting breakout seasons from either of these guys. I’ve never seen Moeaki play and I’ve been scoffing at Cottam fans since the second he was drafted. Both are injury prone, and they’ve shown it so far this offseason. I don’t expect either to be the next Tony Gonzalez. A more likely scenario is the next Keith Cash. The point is, we don’t know. It’s possible Moeaki is a playmaker, or Cottam is fully healed and ready to show that 4-catch, 62 yard game was no mirage. Not likely, but possible.
I happen to like Lenny Pope. as I’ve said before, that play where he signalled first down ten yards short was one of my favorite moments from last season. And not just because I was laughing at him, either. This is going to sound stupid, but I liked that he was fired up, even if it did betray a total lack of game-awareness. There were a few other times it looked like Pope was fired up, too. I think he gives his all. I respect that. In short, I respect Lenny Pope.
The problem is, we already know what Pope is capable of. He’s a backup caliber tight end. If we start him, we can be pretty sure we’ll be getting a below average performance from the tight end position. He might not embarrass himself, but he’s likely to be worse than whoever is starting on the other end. Moeaki and Cottam might be too. But then again, they might not be. There is a chance, however small, that one of these guys breaks out. For a team like the Chiefs trying to rise from the depths without breaking the bank, that is a chance worth taking. At the very least we should go into next season with a much better idea of what we have. That might sound simple, but we definitely don’t know any more about Cottam now than we did at this time last year. Rather than take a chance on youth Todd Haley decided Sean Ryan was part of the right 53. He eventually learned his lesson and benched Ryan, but valuable reps at the tight end position were lost. That can’t happen again.
The story this offseason is that Todd Haley is much more calm and confident. People like to talk about how much he’s learned. That’s fine, but I’ve heard the same thing many, many times about many people who plainly hadn’t learned anything. Trey Hillman, Mike Solari, Allard Baird, Herm Edwards, Dayton Moore, Ryan Sims, Kris Wilson, Yuni Betancourt, Brodie Croyle, John Buck, Tank Tyler, the list could go on forever. There’s been a lot of learning going on in KC these last ten years. Our teams have been first-rate sports universities. Unfortunately, that hasn’t led to a lot of winning.
Just being at a job longer doesn’t necessarily make you better at it. Learning from mistakes requires actual correction of those mistakes in the future. If Todd Haley trots Lenny Pope out there as a starter in week one, we’ll know he didn’t learn the lesson Sean Ryan had to teach. Pope is this year’s Ryan. Is he better than Ryan was? Probably. But seeing as how he still isn’t good, that doesn’t really matter. Pope isn’t the answer. We need to find out who is. What’s the worst that could happen? Seriously, even if Brad Cottam was the worst tight end in NFL history, would we have lost more games last year with him starting over Ryan? No way. We could only have gained. Certainly in knowledge, and possibly in production, too.
Like I said, I want Pope on this team. But if I start reading stories during training camp about how hard he’s working, I’m going to be concerned. And if the phrase, “right 53” starts getting thrown around, I’m going to be very disappointed in Todd Haley.