When the Kansas City Chiefs gathered for the first day of the 2014 offseason program on Monday, they started the new season by addressing what happened at the end of 2013 - a 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
It wasn't just finishing an 11-5 bounce-back season under head coach Andy Reid with a loss. It was going into Lucas Oil Stadium, holding a 28-point lead over the Colts with 28 minutes to play and blowing that lead. Typical of Reid's straight-ahead style, he immediately addressed the subject in the team's first meeting.
"There are great things you can learn from that football game as a young team," Reid said. "They came into a game, a game in the playoffs; got this great lead and you learn you've got to keep your foot on the accelerator for four quarters. You can't let up an inch against a good football team. You can't do it in the National Football League, particularly in the playoffs.
"We can take some things out of that game that will make us better this year."
The word repeated by a handful of players - finish - has already become a mantra for the 2014 Chiefs.
"The biggest thing we talked about was just finishing," said Pro Bowl strong safety Eric Berry. "I think that was the whole overlay of our season, especially on defense. We started out good and we kind of fizzled a little bit ... we just have to finish."
As with all NFL clubs, last year's Chiefs are history and a new team is forming in Kansas City. There are changes on both sides of the line of scrimmage and on special teams, where they excelled last season. The team entered the free agency period with a long list of players in need of new contracts, and most of those moved on. The Chiefs were hit especially hard on the offensive line, where starting left tackle Branden Albert and starting right guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah all signed elsewhere. With last year's NFL No. 1 draft choice Eric Fisher moving from right tackle to the left side to replace Albert; that makes three spots in the first five that are in transition.
Reid believes the Chiefs have talent on the roster to fill those holes.
"I think the thing that isn't obvious to people is we kept a load of offensive linemen on the roster," said Reid. "Knowing that something like this could happen, we kept some young guys that were with us last year (Rishaw Johnson, Rokevious Watkins, Eric Kush)."
There was a lot of talk about the Chiefs' defense since the blown lead in the playoffs. They must replace three starters in coordinator Bob Sutton's unit after losing defensive end Tyson Jackson, inside linebacker Akeem Jordan and free safety Kendrick Lewis in free agency. General manager John Dorsey and the front office did not make a serious attempt to sign any of those three.
Despite the fact the Chiefs sent a league-high 10 players to the Pro Bowl, the roster has holes that need to be filled. In free agency they signed offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach (Indianapolis), cornerback Chris Owens (Miami), defensive end Vance Walker (Oakland) and inside linebacker Joe Mays (Houston). There are no high-dollar contracts with that group. Same with Canadian Football League wide receiver Weston Dressler and street free agent running back Joe McKnight, formerly of the New York Jets.
Dorsey and Reid are determined to build a team through the draft. Since it was not very active in free agency, the team must make very good decisions on their six selections, starting with the No. 23 selection in the first round. They are without their second-round pick, given up last year in the trade with San Francisco that brought quarterback Alex Smith.
Offensively, help is needed at wide receiver, guard and tight end. Defensively, they have needs for a free safety, inside linebacker, defensive ends with pass-rush ability and like all teams, more cornerbacks. They also lost their two best returners in the kicking game, wide receiver Dexter McCluster on punts and safety Quintin Demps on kickoffs.
"I'm happy with what we've got," Reid said of his roster. "I like our team. We are going to continue to increase the competition level. I think that's important to grow as a football team ... what you are trying to do is increase the competition."
--Alex Smith acknowledged this week that discussions continue on a new contract with the Chiefs, led by his agent Tom Condon. Smith has just the 2014 season left on the contract Kansas City inherited when they traded with San Francisco for the quarterback last season. Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt has said publicly that an extension with Smith is a priority for general manager John Dorsey. Smith said he's prepared to play the coming season under his old deal.
"I didn't have any expectations and don't know when it will get done," Smith said. "I've played long enough, going into year 10 now; it's all year-to-year in my mind at this point. You have to continually prove yourself, so I don't think it changes anything as far as my mindset and approach to the game at all."
--As the Chiefs' offseason program began, the team talked for the first time about the shoulder surgery that last year's No. 1 draft choice Eric Fisher had after the 2013 season. Fisher actually had two surgeries since early January, one on his left shoulder, and another for a sports hernia that he suffered the week of the team's first-round game in the playoffs. Head coach Andy Reid said that Fisher's rehabilitation has gone well, but he's not been cleared yet for full upper body work in the weight room. That was one area of his game that Fisher planned to work on after his rookie season
"I'm just working hard and when they tell me I'm cleared, I'll be out doing my thing," Fisher said. "The weight is coming back; I'm already weighing more than I reported at last year and I haven't even started lifting upper body yet."
--Head coach Andy Reid updated the medical condition of several players on the roster that finished last season with injuries. Fisher had two surgeries in January, on his left shoulder and for a sports hernia. "He's been here the whole offseason rehabbing," Reid said. "Progress is being made." Running back Knile Davis suffered a lower leg injury in the loss in the playoffs to Indianapolis. "He did not need surgery," Reid said. "He's healed and doing everything." Safety Sanders Commings had January surgery on a twice injured shoulder from his rookie season. "He's been cleared for the offseason program," said Reid. The coach also said progress was being made by tight end Travis Kelce (knee), linebacker Dezman Moses (toe), linebacker James-Michael Johnson (ankle) and tight end Demetrius Harris (ankle).
--As the smoke cleared from free agency, the Chiefs lost starters at left tackle (Branden Albert/Miami), right guard (Geoff Schwartz/N.Y. Giants), left defensive end (Tyson Jackson/Atlanta), inside linebacker (Akeem Jordan/Washington) and free safety (Kendrick Lewis/Houston). At the start of the team's offseason program, head coach Andy Reid confirmed that Fisher would move from right tackle to the left side. Rishaw Johnson will have the first opportunity to claim right guard, free agent Vance Walker will open at defensive end, free agent Joe Mays will work at inside linebacker and Husain Abdullah will get the initial chance to hold the free safety position.
Reid made it clear that competition will drive the decisions. "We'll open it up and let them go," he said. "We'll let them all mix it up and come up with one that we feel can step in."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
WIDE RECEIVER: The Chiefs do not have enough weapons for quarterback Alex Smith, especially on the outside at the receiver position. Last year, Dexter McCluster handled the duties at slot receiver, but he left in free agency. Starters Dwayne Bowe (57-673-5) and Donnie Avery (40-596-2) averaged just 13.1 yards per catch and scored a touchdown on every 14 catches. Former 49ers first-round choice A.J. Jenkins is on the roster and could be a factor, but Smith needs another explosive catcher.
SAFETY: In the last four seasons, Kendrick Lewis was the Chiefs' starter at free safety when he wasn't dealing with an injury. A heady player, Lewis did a good job of serving as the air-traffic controller for the secondary, but his lack of speed did not allow him to provide the deep coverage man-to-man cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith needed as help. More than the defensive quarterback role, the Chiefs need a safety that can quickly go sideline to sideline.
GUARD: Last season Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah shared the right guard spot, with Jeff Allen on the left side. Schwartz and Asamoah both left in free agency. Allen remains, but he was the weakest link of the offensive line last season. Right now, the team has three guards on the roster along with Allen: Rishaw Johnson, Rokevious Watkins and Jeff Linkenbach.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--S Husain Abdullah: UFA; terms unknown.
--LS Thomas Gafford: Potential UFA; $730,000/1 yr.
--TE Richard Gordon: Potential RFA; $645,000/1 yr.
--WR Kyle Williams: UFA; terms unknown.
--LB Frank Zombo: Potential UFA; $1.625M/2 yrs, $100,000 SB.
--G/T Jeff Linkenbach: UFA Colts; terms unknown.
--ILB Joe Mays: UFA Texans; $6M/2 yrs.
--RB Joe McKnight: FA; $645,000/1 yr.
--CB Christopher Owens: UFA Dolphins; terms unknown.
--CB Kevin Rutland: FA; $570,000/1 yr.
--CB DeMarcus Van Dyke: FA; $645,000/1 yr.
--DT Vance Walker: UFA Raiders; $10.02M/3 yrs, $3M SB.
--T Branden Albert: UFA Dolphins; $46M/5 yrs, $8.5M SB/$25M guaranteed.
--G Jon Asamoah: UFA Chiefs; $22.5M/5 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--S Quintin Demps: UFA Giants; $1M/1 yr, $100,000 SB/$100,000 RB.
--LB Robert James (released).
--DT Tyson Jackson: UFA Falcons: $25M/5 yrs.
--TE Dominique Jones (released).
--LB Akeem Jordan: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Kendrick Lewis: UFA Texans; $795,000/1 yr, $100,000 guaranteed.
--WR Dexter McCluster: UFA Titans; $12M/3 yrs, $4.5M guaranteed.
--DE Brandon Moore (released).
--DT Jerrell Powe: Not tendered as ERFA/Texans; terms unknown.
--CB Dunta Robinson (released).
--G Geoff Schwartz: UFA Giants; $16.8M/4 yrs, $3.2M SB/$6.2M guaranteed.
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