KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s difficult to find anyone not stunned by the departure of Chiefs general manager John Dorsey from the organization just more than a month before the opening of training camp, yet once the haze and smoke dissipates from the breakup the focus turns to examining what kind of job awaits the team’s next personnel decision maker.
Dorsey leaves big shoes to fill but also leaves a cupboard stocked with both veteran leaders and rising stars. Most general manager opportunities occur with teams suffering from one or more crippling problems. The Chiefs have few if any blemishes making this an unattractive opening.
There are, however, pros and cons for the next Chiefs general manger:
Deep playoff roster
Most new general managers inherit clunkers — teams coming off successive seasons with putrid records. Very rarely does a team coming off a 12-win season and a back-to-back playoff bids go searching for a new personnel leader.
Yes, the Chiefs offer limited opportunities for a new GM to put their stamp on the roster. Most team executives, however, would gladly take this roster as is. Tinkering with a winning formula is much easier than starting from scratch. The new GM gets all of the glory while Dorsey gets any of the blame.
NFL coaches and general managers usually live and die by the decisions they make at quarterback. The good news for the next GM is that any blame for quarterback problems the next few seasons fall primarily on Dorsey.
The Chiefs enter 2017 with no doubt Alex Smith remains the starting quarterback. Whether Smith returns next season matters little to the next GM with Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. No new hire wears the blame if Mahomes falls short.
The new general manager may be into a second four- or five-year contract before needing to make a decision at quarterback. If Reid grooms Mahomes into an elite starter, the team may not worry about quarterback for more than a decade.
The Hunt family holds a reasonably sterling reputation in NFL circles, the recent messy Dorsey divorce notwithstanding. The team is not for sale and not relocating. Discussion on a new stadium remain on the horizon but not eminent. The organization does not have a reputation for hasty moves, although it my be developing a penchant for drama. The fan base remains solidly behind the team, and with Andy Reid at the helm at 2-14 season does not appear likely.
The new general manager should get a generous honeymoon period and a fairly long length of rope.
Salary cap crunch
The latest salary cap report from the NFLPA shows the Chiefs with just under $12.4 million in available salary cap space following the release of Jeremy Maclin.
That seems like a lot, but that number erodes quickly once the season begins. The current number includes only the top 51 contracts. Finalizing a contract with first-round pick Mahomes eliminates some of that cushion. Once the season starts in September, all 53 players hit against the cap along with practice squad players and injured reserve players. That can easily chew up half of the remaining cap.
The real challenge, however, lies in 2018. The team holds cap commitments of $179.8 million heading into the 2018 season. The team’s salary cap this season sits at $162.3 million. Next year’s numbers do not include potential free agents such as P Dustin Colquitt, K Cairo Santos, DL Bennie Logan and FB Anthony Sherman.
QB Alex Smith and LB Justin Houston carry cap hits of $20.6 million next season. Navigating the cap crunch means the new general manager’s first substantial decisions may focus on cutting new deals with key starters or releasing team veterans.
Limited roster flexibility
The next general manager must navigate future financial challenges while owning very little impact on the present state of the team.
Kansas City’s roster is not set in stone, but it’s close. The next general manager gets to field a practice squad, and can certainly put a stamp on the last handful of roster spots. But the die is cast for 2017, and there is little a new GM can do this season to change the course.
Injuries occur, but few if any impact free agents remain on the market for a team up against the salary cap. The most immediate impact a new general manager can make on the team’s roster stands largely limited to preparing for 2018 free agency and next season’s draft.
The Hunt family’s stewardship with the Chiefs offers a great positive but the search for a fourth general manager in 10 seasons may cause some external candidates pause. The team historically holds a reputation for patience at the top.
Yet it six wins over just two seasons before the ushering of GM Carl Peterson and head coach Herm Edwards out the door in 2009.
The team suffered then through a tumultuous tenure under GM Scott Pioli and now a messy breakup from Dorsey. Hunt himself faulted the team’s organizational structure under Pioli and head coach Todd Hailey. The format of the general manager and coach reporting directly to Hunt seemed to work — until now — and still seems favored by the club’s CEO.
External candidates may need a firm explanation of what went south between Dorsey and the Chiefs before taking the plunge.