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Bricks in The Wall

May 04, 2009
May 04, 2009

Table of Contents
May 4, 2009

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
NBA PLAYOFFS
  • The first-round series between Boston and Chicago proved to be a first-class fight as the upstart Bulls played without fear and the Celtics struggled to mount a title defense with one superstar very notably absent

BASEBALL
PRO FOOTBALL
NHL PLAYOFFS
  • The Canucks' Daniel and Henrik Sedin are beyond symbiotic: They skate on the same line, score the same number of points and play identity tricks on refs. They're also in the second round, so who cares if their coach can't tell them apart?

SURFING
Departments

Bricks in The Wall

For new regimes, the draft was a chance to put their blueprints to work. Case in point: Kansas City, whose Super Bowl--tested management set about building Patriots West

Midway throughthe second round of the NFL draft last Saturday, the brain trust of the Chiefs,from owner to general manager to coach to scouts, was getting antsy frominactivity. Kansas City had selected LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson with theNo. 3 pick just 25 minutes into the draft, and then, lacking a second-roundchoice or a trade partner with whom they could swing a deal that would allowthe Chiefs to move up, they spent five hours at the team's Arrowhead Stadiumheadquarters watching the selection process slowly play out on television."Hey," new G.M. Scott Pioli said to his colleagues, "we have toremind ourselves: We did get Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel for our second[pick]."

This is an article from the May 4, 2009 issue

Indeed, thattrade, plus one other major deal Pioli made after being lured from thePatriots' front office in January, has changed the makeup of a once-proud teamthat had become undisciplined in stumbling to a 6--26 record over the past twoseasons. Pioli dealt K.C.'s second-round pick to his former club for apresumptive quarterback of the future, Cassel, and a positive tone-setter inthe locker room, veteran linebacker Vrabel. Then, two days before the draft,Pioli sent All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons for a 2010second-round pick. If Cassel proves over the long haul to be as good as heshowed in New England last year—when, despite not having started a game sincehigh school, he led the Pats to an 11--5 season in place of the injured TomBrady—Pioli will have in effect given up an elite tight end with a good year ortwo left and gotten offensive and defensive leaders who can kick-start theprogram that Pioli and his hand-picked rookie coach, Todd Haley, are putting inplace.

Instead of goingfor a headliner to replace the juice lost with Gonzalez's departure, Piolidrafted blue-collar starting with the 6'5", 295-pound Jackson, who throughmost of the predraft process had not been projected to go in the top 10. He andGlenn Dorsey, the team's first-round pick last year and another LSU product,should wind up the starting ends in the 3--4. "I can play all three downs,sir, and I can play inside and outside," Jackson told SI, in a tone morebefitting a job interview. "They want a mean and physical player at thepoint of attack on all three downs, and that's what they'll get." One ofthe reasons Pioli wanted Jackson: his love of the game.

The youthfulrotation up front figures to include the Chiefs' third-round pick on Sunday,defensive tackle Alex Magee of Purdue. Fourth-round corner Donald Washington ofOhio State is a 6-foot battler who was a scouting-combine star and is expectedto be a special teams standout. Fifth-rounder Colin Brown of Missouri willcompete for the No. 3 tackle spot.

Kansas Cityhungers for the sort of organizational success with which Pioli made his nameduring eight years in New England, when he and Bill Belichick built athree-time Super Bowl champion. "Scott Pioli can own this town if theChiefs win," restaurateur Michael Garozzo said last Friday night."There's nothing the fans of this city want more than for the Chiefs tomatter again. The people who come in here like what they see so far."

All around theleague, new regimes put their stamps on teams through the draft.

• Lions G.M.Martin Mayhew, on the job for eight months, and rookie coach Jim Schwartz tookGeorgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 pick, then did him twofavors: They overpaid Stafford with a six-year, $72 million contract, includinga rookie-record $41.7 million guaranteed; and handed him the bestblocking-receiving tight end to come out in several years, Oklahoma State'sBrandon Pettigrew, the 20th pick.

• New Broncoscoach Josh McDaniels, already under fire for trading franchise passer JayCutler, broke with team tradition by drafting a running back, Georgia'sKnowshon Moreno, high (No. 12) in the first round. Six picks later he selectedTennessee's Robert Ayers, a one-year starter at defensive end, then traded upto No. 37 to grab a 5'9" corner, Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest.

• The Brownssaved probably $8 million in cap room by trading down 12 spots with the Jets,from No. 5 to 17, and picking up some of new coach Eric Mangini's favoritesfrom his old team in New York, including safety Abram Elam, who will startimmediately.

• Mangini'ssuccessor with the Jets, Rex Ryan, and G.M. Mike Tannenbaum dealt their twofirst-day picks (Nos. 17 and 29) to take USC quarterback Mark Sanchez at No. 5.On Sunday they moved up again to draft Iowa running back Shonn Greene with thefirst pick of the third round.

• Tampa Bay'sfirst-year tandem of G.M. Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris preferred KansasState quarterback Josh Freeman to Stafford and traded up two spots from No. 19to grab him.

Last year KansasCity had a 12-player draft haul, including four picks—Dorsey, left tackleBranden Albert and cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr—who started asrookies. But with Haley changing the defense to a 3--4 and going with a morevertical offense than 2008's, some incumbents no longer are great fits becauseof either the new schemes or their attitude. "This team sort of gotcomfortable with losing," one player said last Saturday. As good asGonzalez is at playing his position—he's the alltime NFL leader among tightends in receptions, yards and touchdowns—K.C. was five games under .500 andnever won a playoff game during his 12 seasons with the club.

Pioli and Haley,on the other hand, bring winning pedigrees to a franchise that has gone 39seasons without a trip to the Super Bowl. Pioli served under Bill Parcells withthe Jets (even married his daughter Dallas) and teamed with Belichick for 15with the Browns, Jets and Patriots. Haley's father, Dick, was director ofplayer personnel for the great Steelers teams of the '70s, and Todd worked forParcells as an assistant with the Giants and the Cowboys before turning aroundthe Cardinals offense as coordinator.

So last Thursdaynight, during a predraft feast at Jack Stack Barbecue, it figured that therewould be talk of Super Bowls past. And it's the losses in XLII (Pats to theGiants) and XLIII (Cardinals to the Steelers) that motivate Pioli and Haley,respectively, the most. In a strange coincidence both of their teams werebeaten in those Super Bowls on touchdown passes with 35 seconds left.

"Not a daygoes by that I don't think about it," said Haley, whose offense playedconservatively for most of three quarters because he wanted to keepPittsburgh's pass rush from abusing Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner. "Itstill bothers me. Did I wait too long to open up the offense?"

"You did whatyou had to do at the time," said Pioli, "what gave your team the bestchance to win."

Then the G.M.wadded up a napkin and flicked it onto the dinner table. "I still thinkabout our game, and I can't believe it," Pioli said, recalling with disgustDavid Tyree's miraculous grab for the Giants. "We lose when a guy catchesthe ball with his helmet."

Super Bowls are along way off for the Chiefs. Pioli and Haley are trying to build a winner onebrick at a time, and they're counting on veteran newcomers like Vrabel toprovide the mortar. Another is 35-year-old linebacker Zach Thomas. "Wesigned Zach, and he flew in on Easter, and he was one of the first guys at thefacility [the following] Monday morning," said Pioli. "When we ran therunning test we'll have in training camp just to show the players what it is[three 315-yard runs, each meant to be finished in under 58 seconds], Zach wonthe first two sprints in his group. Here he comes, off the street, and he's intop shape. That's called being a pro. That's what we want."

On Saturday,Thomas was still trying to find his way around Kansas City, looking for a placeto live. He was told the Chiefs had drafted Jackson at No. 3. "What do youthink?" he was asked.

"I don't knowhim," Thomas said, "but I know Scott and Todd. So I know he'll workhard. And I know he'll love football."

Now on SI.com
Andrew Perloff's 2010 mock draft and Tony Pauline's top prospects, atSI.com/bonus

NO. 1 MATTHEW STAFFORD
Quarterback Lions

Detroit bets $41.7 million that he's Matt Ryan.

NO. 3 TYSON JACKSON
Defensive end Chiefs

Maybe a reach; maybe the solid player K.C. wants.

NO. 5 MARK SANCHEZ
Quarterback Jets

The N.Y. team's highest-drafted QB since Namath.

NO. 12 KNOWSHON MORENO
Running back Broncos

Shanahan would never take a back in the firstround.

NO. 17 JOSH FREEMAN
Quarterback Buccaneers

Tampa Bay preferred him to Stafford.

NO. 20 BRANDON PETTIGREW
Tight end Lions

Major help for Stafford in a do-it-all TE.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYER (STAFFORD)PHOTOBRAD SCHLOSS/ICON SMI (JACKSON)PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (SANCHEZ)PHOTOBOB ROSATO (MORENO)PHOTODUSTIN BRADFORD/ICON SMI (FREEMAN)PHOTOBRODY SCHMIDT/OSTATEPHOTO.COM (PETTIGREW)PHOTOJOHN RIEGER/US PRESSWIRE (HALEY AND PIOLI)FRIENDS OF BILLS New Chiefs coach Haley (left) and G.M. Pioli were schooled in the Parcells-Belichick style.PHOTOTOM DIPACE (THOMAS)ROCK SOLID K.C. brought in Thomas (top) and Vrabel to provide leadership and instill discipline.PHOTOGREG ASHMAN/CAL SPORT MEDIA (VRABEL)[See caption above]SIX PHOTOS