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Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.

Jeff Herr: Chiefs Still the Cheapest?

A little while ago I wrote about how some narratives have gone awry with the Kansas City Chiefs.  In that post I discussed how players like Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and Dexter McCluster are unfairly criticized because of the narrative that developed from early in their careers.  While they may not be the players we wanted, they are all certainly good players.  Another narrative that exists that is bigger than any one player is the one about the Chiefs being an overtly cheap franchise.

As this narrative would have you believe, the Chiefs want many of the players that are available, but balk at signing any of them because it would decrease their profitability.  It would have you believe that players like Brandon Carr (and possibly Dwayne Bowe in the future) are allowed to leave on the basis that they Chiefs just didn’t want to spend the money to keep them.  While this is part of the answer, it’s not the whole answer.  
What’s made Scott Pioli unique as a general manager and what could ultimately lead to his success or his undoing is the way he values players.  I don’t know that there’s a more precise front office in terms of player valuation than the Chiefs.  It is for this reason that the Chiefs can be seen as stingy.

Some organizations will target a player and sign them at all costs.  Teams that jump out are the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins.  Cost matters little to these teams and, while they may be criticized on their decisions, their GMs are never criticized on their desire to win.  

Yet, the most consistent winning organizations rarely ever make a splash in the free agent market.  The Colts, Patriots, and Steelers, the only three teams to represent the AFC in the Super bowl in the last 9 years (Patriots: ’03, ’04, ’07, ’11; Colts: ’06, ’09; Steelers: ’05, ’08, ’10) rarely make splashy moves.  If you count signing hall of fame quarterbacks then Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s $100M+ contracts would suffice, but every organization would have made those moves, no matter how cheap.

Besides those, how often do these teams make big deals?  You’re more likely to see them pick up a player off the scrap heap of another team, plug them into their system and get them to excel than see them spend large money on a player they don’t deem to be worth it.  They also tend to spend money on the players they draft and develop, but never outside the bounds of what they are worth to the team at the time.  Players are routinely allowed to walk if they don’t fit into what the organization wants or needs.

The Steelers find themselves in the same situation with their #1 wideout Mike Wallace, as the Chiefs have with Dwayne Bowe.  The player thinks he is worth a certain amount, the market will invariably pay that amount, but the team that controls them doesn’t value them as highly as they do themselves.  Usually in this situation one of two things happens: (1) the player signs at a rate that is slightly discounted, (2) the player walks into free agency to test the market (this is of course assuming they are not given the franchise tag, or the franchise tag has been worn out with their current team).

Pioli values players to the minutest detail.  He ascribes them a worth based on how they fit into the puzzle of this team.  If a player wants more money than what Pioli thinks he’s worth, he won’t get paid.  We saw it with Brandon Carr.  It wasn’t a scenario in which Carr was good enough to keep, he just wasn’t valued by Pioli like the Cowboys valued him.

Time will ultimately tell who was right, but I have a feeling the Cowboys may be the ones who end up feeling like they overpaid.  They gave Carr number one cornerback type money and he isn’t a number one cornerback.  Pioli knew that and chose not to pay him as such.

On the other hand, Tamba Hali is one of the premiere pass rushers in the NFL.  Last offseason Pioli paid him the money a player like that deserves.  Brandon Flowers went the same way, his contract was equal to Carr’s and many believe him to be the better player.  

This shows the Chiefs don’t suffer from symptoms of cheapness, it’s symptoms of value.  The Chiefs and Pioli have chosen to value players at a certain level.  They stockpile their draft picks and waiver wire pickups and supplement with the occasional free agent piece, if the price is right.  This is how the Steelers, Colts, and Patriots built their teams over the years.

The discrepancy in salary cap space is mostly based on the elite quarterbacks the other teams have, but also related to the relatively young players on the Chiefs.  Dorsey, Jackson, Justin Houston, Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis, and Branden Albert are all starters that are still on their first contracts.  Not all of them will command big money, but if re-signed to the Chiefs at their prescribed value, will up the cap number in the coming years.

Two or three years from now what was a rallying cry will no longer be valid.  The Chiefs payroll will most likely be in the middle of the league and that narrative will no longer be accurate.  Further, even if I’m wrong, history has shown us that there isn’t a great correlation between the highest payroll and the winningest team anyway.  

In many ways this is a make or break season for the Chiefs.  If they break, many will point to the salary cap.  The low hanging fruit makes it easy to overlook the fact that this season truly rests on Matt Cassel and his ability, who happens to be one of the highest paid players on the team. 

Beyond that, it lies with Pioli and his ability to complete the very talented and deep roster he has constructed.  More than an aversion to spending money the Achilles heel of this team could be an aversion to admitting failure and moving on.  The season is less than a week away and if Pioli has valued these players right, it could be one of the best, or at least most complete, Chiefs teams we’ve seen here in a while.

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People : Branden AlbertBrandon CarrBrandon FlowersDexter McClusterDwayne BoweEric BerryGlen DorseyJeff HerrJustin HoustonKendrick LewisMike WallacePeyton ManningScott PioliTamba HaliTom BradyTyson Jackson

09/04/2012 4:42PM
Jeff Herr: Chiefs Still the Cheapest?
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09/07/2012 2:07PM
Couple of disagreements with your Chiefs are Cheap article
Your conclusions are based on two premises, which I don't think are true. One is that high salaries do not lead to better performance. The numbers prove that they do. If you add up the salaries of the playoff teams from last year, the average salary is way over the league's average salary. And, similarly, if you add up the team salaries for the bottom teams, those average to be way worse than the average team's salary. The Giants won the superbowl and have a high team salary. The Chiefs were near the bottom and were horrible. As to specifics? The Giants paid $126M and Packers $123M. Those are the last 2 winners. The Patriots paid $102M. The bottom 8 teams all paid less than $80M. That is conclusive evidence to law pay = low results. The second premise I disagree with is the idea that we are saving the cap space for later. This is ridiculous. We have been a bottom paying team for 4 years. All that cap space can never be used again. We COULD have singed 3 or 4 top players, either via trade, free agency, whatever, when Pioli got here, gave them 2 to 4 year contracts, and been MUCH BETTER the last 3 or 4 years. And, we'd still be able to re-sign the people we want to keep in the future. Also, in this SAME vein, is that we did not re-sign Carr. He was a home grown talent that we are supposed to be saving for, and we let him walk. He played great last night for Dallas, btw. Routt looks horrible in preseason. Time will tell. But, we could have re-signed Carr AND added Routt, be better off now, AND have plenty of money left over in the future to re-sign other players. A final discussion/argument point is that we can sign 3 additional Peyton Mannings and be under the salary cap limit. That is a lot of NFL talent we don't have. Thanks. Brian in Leawood
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