|Dysfunctional Chiefs labor onward|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 28 October 2008 13:03|
Larry Johnson came jogging unannounced onto the practice field, just minutes after ending a 25-day holdout and signing a contract extension for a team-record $19 million guarantee.
Now, finally, the Kansas City Chiefs had practically everyone back from the previous year's playoff team. Optimism reigned. Delighted to be KC's highest-paid player, Johnson even promised to set aside his sullen ways and be a leader.
But since that August afternoon in 2007, the Chiefs have played 23 games and won only five.
In their last 16 games, the equivalent of an entire regular season, they're a shocking 1-15. No team in the NFL during that stretch has been worse. Not the Bengals, nor the Raiders nor the Lions, although Detroit does come closer to matching KC's futility than any other bottom feeder. The only thing standing between the Lions and 1-15 in their last 16 games is a 25-20 conquest last Dec. 23 of - you guessed it - Kansas City.
ason-ending injuries in the same game. Their punter, the only player on the team near the top of any meaningful statistical category, has been out with a groin injury.
They're laden with rookies in the first year of a rebuilding movement that should have started a year ago and the youngsters have committed mistake after mistake, with players getting caught out of position, forgetting assignments, getting mixed up on coverage, trying to do too much.
But all that addresses only the on-the-field setbacks that have beset a once-proud franchise that won 100 games in the 1990s.
Since that sunny August day in 2007, Johnson has led his team only in shocking behavior and faces court dates in two separate cases of simple assault against women. In the last one, a young woman alleges that Johnson spit his drink at her and threatened her boyfriend in a fashionable local nightspot.
Johnson was benched the last two games for missing team meetings but did show up on Tuesday for a meeting in New York with commissioner Roger Goodell. The Chiefs expect disciplinary action to be handed down as early as this week and will not comment when asked if the two-time Pro Bowler may have played his last game with them.
Signing Johnson to the huge contract was a gigantic mistake. So was making brittle Brodie Croyle their foundation quarterback. He's made eight starts and been injured four times and the Chiefs' rebuilding movement is floundering at the most important position.
For the Chiefs in what could turn into their worst season ever, even good things have a way of turning sour. At Carolina on Oct. 5, the great Tony Gonzalez officially became the most productive tight end in NFL history. But instead of creating levity and light, it led only to more controversy.
Angry that he hadn't been allowed to catch one 3-yard pass in the final minutes of the game the week before and break the record at home, Gonzalez asked to be traded. At 32, he also did not want to end his brilliant career with a team that can't win.
But the trade never happened, and now he and the embattled general manager are not speaking. Fans have taken Gonzalez's side.
Last week, behind third-string quarterback Tyler Thigpen, the underdog Chiefs almost pulled off an upset of Brett Favre and the New York Jets. They hatched an imaginative game plan, fought the good fight and held the lead in the final minutes.
But instead of heartening long-suffering fans, coaches only added to everyone's frustration by turning ultra conservative in the final decisive minutes, running into the line three straight times and quickly going three-and-out. Then they turned the ball over to Favre and watched him pull off fourth-quarter comeback No. 41 of his great career.
Everyone expected a bumpy ride after third-year coach Herm Edwards was given permission to blow up his aging team and start rebuilding from the ground up.
But nobody thought it would be this bad.
Injury, controversy and discontent have infected the entire franchise. A fan base that's been among the most loyal and enthusiastic in the league is howling for change. When the Chiefs host Tampa Bay this week, a remarkable string of 144 consecutive sellouts could come to an end, marking one more sign of a good organization gone bad.
Sitting atop all this chaos is 43-year-old Dallas resident Clark Hunt. The youngest owner in the NFL faces his first crisis since taking over for his late father in 2007 but is keeping his thoughts mostly to himself. He has refused virtually all interview requests but was quoted as saying he thought Edwards and president/general manager Carl Peterson were doing a good job.
In an interview with The Associated Press last August, Hunt said he would base his evaluation on how well the team played at the end of the year, whether young players were making improvement.
erited from the previous regime.
The defensive rebuilding is actually in its third year. But since trading All-Pro end Jared Allen, who demanded to go somewhere else after leading the league in sacks last season, KC's pass rush has been practically non-existent. So has the run defense.
There are two No. 1 draft picks, a No. 2 and a No. 3 on the starting defensive line and the entire unit has only one sack. Just about every week, somebody breaks off a 60- or 80-yard run, usually on a simple draw or handoff up the middle.
Edwards insists he sees steady, gradual improvement among the young players. But his friends are wondering if he'll be around next year to coach them.
Since that August day 14 months ago when Johnson happily jogged onto the practice field, much has happened. Almost all of it has been bad, very bad.