Nearly two full days after Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt’s stunning decision to fire general manager John Dorsey in the middle of the offseason with a full season left on his contract, NFL personnel inside and out of the organization are still wrapping their minds around the move.
“I think it’s kind of weird,” one NFC executive told The Star. “Draft’s over, the talent’s in place and all of a sudden, you’re out a GM and one of your top talent evaluators? The timing is strange.”
The decision could prevent the Chiefs from interviewing external candidates, because teams might not grant the permission to speak to their staff members so close to training camp and the regular season.
But Andrew Brandt, who spent 10 years as a Green Bay Packers vice president and writes for TheMMQB.com, doesn’t expect that to have much of an impact.
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“The Chiefs are a legacy franchise in the NFL, and I think people understand that,” Brandt said. “There will be no shortage of qualified people interested in that position.”
Nearly a dozen NFL front-office executives, who all spoke to The Star on the condition of anonymity and came from a wide range of management — from decision-making, player evaluation and coaching — agreed with Brandt’s assessment. Their overwhelming consensus: Taking over as Chiefs general manager is not only a good job, it might even be an ideal one.
“I think it’s an attractive position,” one NFC coach explained, “and a tough act to follow.”
“It is viewed as a great job,” another NFC executive said. “Very attractive.”
“People will jump at the job,” an AFC executive said. “KC is set up for years to come.”
Why? A widely respected, experienced coach in Andy Reid makes a general manager’s job easier. And the roster that Dorsey leaves behind is also a plus. Those factors likely will overwhelm any concerns about how Dorsey was fired despite his 43-21 regular-season record in four years, a tight salary cap situation and the lack of traditional “buck-stops-here” power.
“Guys under contract with other clubs might look and see that the pay is probably less than others, and there’s limited flexibility with the staff because it’s so close to the season, and they might not have control of the 53-man,” one longtime NFL evaluator noted. “Someone might want to wait until they can have those things.
“But in my opinion, I still think it’s a great job.”
Reid’s presence a plus
To succeed, general managers need coaches with clear, defined ideas for what they’re looking for in players, and how those players can fit into the coach’s offensive and defensive systems.
With Andy Reid, who is known for being meticulously organized, that is not a problem.
“You’ve got an established coach that knows how to coach, and has an extremely good track record of knowing how to build offenses and knowing what he needs to do that,” said an NFC talent evaluator. “When you have someone like that, and they can tell you exactly what they’re looking for, it makes an evaluator’s job so easy because he has a blueprint for the athlete he wants.”
Reid effectively coached the likes of Terrell Owens and DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia, and in Kansas City, he’s not only managed the rambunctious personalities of Marcus Peters and Travis Kelce — both of whom had character concerns coming out of college.
“It speaks for himself that he’s been able to work with a lot of those players, and they’ve been able to shine with him,” said Rick Mueller, who was the Philadelphia Eagles’ director of pro personnel from 2014-16. “He’s a good guy, he’s a good person, he believes in second chances and in a way, he’s a family figure for his players. A lot of guys don’t want those type of players in their locker rooms, but he’s not afraid of it.”
Reid’s ability to handle players opens up the draft pool to general managers, allowing them to take more chances, character-wise. Dorsey drafted Tyreek Hill, who admitted to domestic abuse of his then-pregnant girlfriend while in college. In his rookie season, Hill became a star kick returner and Pro Bowler.
Ready-made roster a boon
Each of Dorsey’s first picks from 2013-16 — Eric Fisher, Dee Ford, Peters and Chris Jones — have produced for the Chiefs, and they still have a number of Pro Bowlers on the roster, including two bonafide defensive stars in their prime, outside linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry.
“A lot of really good pieces to build on,” an NFC executive said. “It’s a team that, if you took over, it’s not unrealistic you’ll go to the playoffs and maybe even deep.”
Most of the men who talked for this story noted how unusual it would be to inherit a roster like the Chiefs, which not only features a steady, reliable starting quarterback in Alex Smith, but a young, strong-armed gunslinger in Patrick Mahomes II, who caused league types to swoon during the draft evaluation process.
“This is hard to find, man,” an NFC evaluator said. “These types of jobs don’t come open often. Normally you’re going in there and rebuilding; you’re gutting the place. Here, you’ve got to keep the ship in the ocean, just keep it afloat. Just don’t screw it up.”
Yet, the Chiefs job is also concerning in a way, because it could lead candidates to wonder whether they might share Dorsey’s fate one day, even if they win at the rate he did. Hunt is making his third GM hire in nine years.
“You’d have to find out what happened here, the whole deal, because it caught everybody by surprise,” the NFC evaluator said. “It seemed like they wanted John and John wanted to be there and I can’t think of any time where there’s not a happy medium.
“The only concern is how did that happen, and how could we avoid that?”
Dorsey’s departure a concern
The Chiefs have not said much publicly or privately about the reasons for Dorsey’s dismissal, other than Hunt saying he made the decision “after thorough examination of the entire football operation,” even though he’d said multiple times since December that he wanted both Reid and Dorsey back after their original five-year contracts expired following the 2017 season..
“I’m very satisfied with the job both of them have done, and I really like the way the two of them have worked together,” Hunt told The Star at the Super Bowl in February.
A popular theory inside the building and out was something happened recently to cause the split, most likely regarding money in contract negotiations. One source even says there’s internal speculation the two sides were “way” off, though others have privately combated that notion.
Regardless, potential candidates will be asking what occurred.
“You want to have an open and honest understanding of what just happened,” Brandt said. “Instead of speculation.”
Brandt said you not only want to know what you’re walking into, but understand the amount of power you’ll be able to wield.
“I’d want to know what the heck happened there and if there was anything else going on between Andy and John, which I don’t think there was,” the NFC executive said.
There has been little internal speculation regarding a power struggle. Since Dorsey’s firing, three separate team sources who dealt with both men said Reid and Dorsey appeared to work well together.
“I never saw anything to the contrary,” one said. “Always seemed to get along well.”
“They got along great,” another said. “It was never about power.”
“If they had an issue,” another concluded, “it was behind closed doors.”
Whoever takes the job will have to work in harmony with Reid, who signed an extension through 2021 on Thursday. Reid has personnel experience and often worked in conjunction with Dorsey the last four years.
“Andy and John made a lot of decisions together,” another source with knowledge of their relationship said. “Andy had a lot of say, but they worked together ... They were pretty tight at the hip.”
Organizational structure remains the same
The new general manager in Kansas City won’t be a GM in the traditional boss-of-everyone, coach-reports-to-him sense. Hunt plans on maintaining the same organizational structure — with the coach and GM each reporting to him directly — he put in place when Reid and Dorsey arrived in 2013.
None of the NFL sources reached for this story had an issue with Hunt’s structure. Some liked the direct accountability it gave each man with the ultimate decision maker.
“If you’re not making those decisions together with your coach, you’re not going to make it long anyway,” the NFC evaluator said. “If it was a first-time head coach, you might be in trouble. But not someone experienced like Andy.”
Some feel a younger general manager wouldn’t necessarily be an impediment. Though highly regarded, neither of the two men believed to be the Chiefs’ top internal candidates — co-directors of player personnel Brett Veach and Mike Borgonzi — have been NFL general managers.
“If it’s a younger GM that really puts his ego aside and let’s Andy do what he wants from a coaching standpoint, I think it will be a good relationship,” the NFC executive said. “From what I hear with Andy, he’s not super, super involved in wanting to be the GM, but it should be somebody he’s familiar with. They won’t just bring in somebody he doesn’t have familiarity with.”
Whoever the Chiefs bring in will need to manage a less-than-ideal salary cap.
Though the team currently sits about $11 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com, the Chiefs are projected to be about $1.8 million over the projected 2018 cap, and they haven’t even signed first-round pick Mahomes.
“I don’t think it’s a problem,” the NFC executive said. “Any potential general manager that comes in there, he’ll evaluate and make rough decisions like any GM and clean it up the way he wants. I don’t think something like that would turn anyone off.”
A bigger deterrent for a Chiefs GM candidate, he and others reiterated, is if he didn’t like how Dorsey was relieved of his duties or somehow didn’t see a way to co-exist with Reid.
“Those things would be more of a turnoff than the cap situation,” the NFC executive said. “But if the owner gives you resources and he’s on board, it’s a great situation for somebody.”