Firing widely respected general manager John Dorsey is not the Chiefs-iest move imaginable merely because of the bizarre decision and horrific timing: five weeks after letting a top assistant take another GM job, two months after the NFL Draft, and five months after the end of the season.
That’s when normal NFL franchises fire folks, you know. Well, that’s not true. With normal NFL franchises, GMs who build one of the league’s best top-to-bottom rosters aren’t let go at any point in the calendar.
But, beyond all of that, this is also the Chiefs-iest move imaginable because of the radio silence about what really happened.
There was an announcement about head coach Andy Reid’s contract extension (though they didn’t even bother saying for how long: it’s through the 2021 season) and then another about Dorsey agreeing “to part ways.” That’s it. Nothing from owner Clark Hunt, other than a vague quote in the press release and a letter to fans.
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Most messages left for people in Chiefs football operations past and present — including to Dorsey — went unreturned. The Chiefs have always been good at drawing the circle tight when they need to.
But, piecing together conversations with people in and out of the organization, plus some prior knowledge, here is what I know to be true:
▪ Reid, who was in charge of personnel toward the end in Philadelphia, will not do the same here.
▪ Reid was told about Dorsey, but not asked to approve or give input on the decision.
▪ The Chiefs’ structure of the coach, general manager, and team president reporting equally to Hunt will not change. Hunt will conduct the interviews and hire Dorsey’s replacement.
That’s what I know to be true. Additionally, here is what I believe to be true:
▪ Reid did not force Dorsey out, but Hunt didn’t come up with this idea by himself. He is far more in touch with the Chiefs day-to-day than many think, and would not have done this if he thought Reid or others in football operations would have a major problem. He must’ve heard or seen issues with how Dorsey did his job.
▪ This was not a reaction to the amateurish way that wide receiver Jeremy Maclin’s release was handled, the player saying he learned from a voicemail, and was never asked to take a pay cut. Hunt is not a reactionary, and besides, we haven’t heard Dorsey’s side of what happened.
▪ Hunt decided his team transitioning from abject embarrassment in 2012 immediately into its most successful run in two decades was done because of the coaching and perhaps even in spite of the personnel and salary cap management.
And, now, one thing I suspect could be true:
▪ Perhaps this all broke down around negotiations for a contract extension. Hunt had been consistent — even after the end of the 2016 season — that he expected a long-term deal for Dorsey, whose contract was to expire after the 2017 season. Dorsey could have asked for too much, whether in money or years or an out to take the job in Green Bay if it opened.
I want to be as clear as possible: I don’t know that to be true. But it is my working theory.
Because when a franchise surprises you like this, you try to come up with something that makes sense.
This is not a blanket defense of Dorsey. The Chiefs are seemingly always in salary cap hell, enough that cap specialist Trip MacCracken was let go last month. Dorsey often talked of being willing to spend for what he likes, and that’s often with good results, but the consequence of de-emphasizing bargains is that it’s harder to get out of mistakes.
Dorsey’s contract extension for wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was a disaster. He waited too long, which meant spending more than he should have, on extensions for linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry. Maclin underperformed a large contract.
Dorsey’s drafts have generally been good, but those aren’t one-man operations. Chris Ballard became one of the game’s top GM candidates largely by his part in drafting cornerback Marcus Peters. Ballard is now the Indianapolis Colts GM.
But a perpetually tight cap situation is hardly a reason to fire a guy who built a strong enough roster for three playoff appearances in four years after the franchise managed just three in the previous 15.
Hunt has always been deliberate by nature and process, but the NFL moves fast, and he just put his franchise in an unnecessarily difficult position. If this was a possibility, it would have been far better to do it after the end of the season, particularly with Ballard in line to make a smooth transition.
That’s why I keep going back to wondering about the contract talk. Reid got an extension, and so did president Mark Donovan. The timing aligns much more cleanly with a broken negotiation than anything else.
Dorsey had called being the Chiefs’ GM his dream job, and sometimes joked that he knew that because his house in Green Bay was on Arrowhead Drive. It made for a great story, and Dorsey likes to tell a good story.
But it’s certainly plausible to wonder whether the call of a place he called home for so long was strong as he talked about a long contract in Kansas City as his mentor Ted Thompson moves closer to retirement in Green Bay.
It could’ve been less direct, too. Maybe he asked for too much money, knowing he’d soon have other opportunities around the league, perhaps even including Green Bay.
That makes the most sense to me. Hard to believe this is solely about a tight cap or a voicemail, not when Dorsey has been a major part of more success than the Chiefs have seen since the 1990s.