The last bit of hope that this was anything other than a desperate dump of a wildly talented and valuable football player popped like a soap bubble the moment it became known that the Chiefs received just a second- and fourth-round draft pick for trading cornerback Marcus Peters.
But, hey. At least they also gave up a sixth.
And at least they save — gets calculator, punches numbers, scratches head because is this really the total amount? — $1.7 million in salary cap space.
This trade is indefensible as a football move, a white flag on ambition for the 2018 season, and leaves open some brutally ugly possibilities up and down the organization’s football structure.
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For Clark Hunt, did he push for this because he disagreed with Peters’ protests during the national anthem and grew wary of fan backlash? And if so, what does that do to his reputation in the locker room, where he’s already long been viewed as league-before-team?
For Andy Reid, did he push for this as a way to placate his longtime friend and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton? And if so, what does keeping the coordinator of one of the league’s worst defenses over one of the league’s best cornerbacks say about his pursuit of a Super Bowl?
For Brett Veach, how can he justify dropping a 25-year-old star on a rookie contract as part of his plan to remake the defense with youth? And what is his response to those who would see this as confirmation of the fear he would be Reid’s yes man?
A 72-hour gap between the initial unveiling of Peters being traded and Monday’s reports of the compensation allowed optimistic Chiefs fans to believe a haul of picks and talent would be on the way.
To be sure, there was a level of return that would make the trade worthwhile. Peters is a star, but he has faults, and no man’s value is limitless. If a first-round pick and a starter were coming back, something like that, well OK. We can debate the merits of the football impact.
But that was never likely, for a million reasons, including Peters’ value being diminished by a (deserved) suspension and likely desire to be the game’s highest-paid cornerback when he’s eligible in two or (if he’s franchised) three seasons.
Peters can be a difficult player to coach. He was kicked off his college team, punted balls into the stands, and in 2017 walked off the field without being ejected. The Chiefs promoted themselves as a place for second chances, and part of Reid’s reputation is as a man who gets the most from players other coaches might label risky.
If the Chiefs were cashing out on him, then why would another team pay fair value in a trade?
The Chiefs aren’t talking, and publicly they’re prohibited because the trade can’t be official until March 14. But these are all questions they’ll need to answer, or allow many to believe the worst.
The team is likely to position this as a difficult decision made necessary by salary cap problems, and the escalating cost of keeping Peters beyond this season and particularly into his second contract, which would begin in the 2020 season.
They will try to convince fans that this is part of a building process around quarterback Patrick Mahomes, to absorb the short-term pain of cap problems and surround a nucleus of stars with the best young talent possible.
It’ll be complete nonsense, in other words, if that’s how this goes down.
The Chiefs made themselves a tangibly worse team with this trade. They did it for reasons that simply cannot have anything to do with Peters’ ability or cost. It is a bet against the future of one of the league’s best young players, and at least on the surface a decision to keep a defensive coordinator who was exposed rather than a cornerback with more interceptions than anyone else since he entered the league.
Look, maybe there is much more to this story that will come out. Maybe Peters was as disruptive to the locker room as he was to opposing receivers. He had good relationships with many of the team’s most important figures, including Justin Houston and Eric Berry, but maybe it was all a house of cards.
That would all be a much better explanation if the Chiefs were a different franchise.
If the Chiefs were about the cold ruthlessness of the Patriots, for instance, or the unwavering structure of the Steelers, then this could be sold differently.
But Reid has always welcomed so-called “difficult” personalities, and he’s helped turn the Chiefs into a place known for getting the best from players who might struggle in a more rigid environment. Reid helped Travis Kelce become one of the league’s best tight ends, and Tyreek Hill is turning into a star.
Peters may have been a more difficult assignment, but he was also potentially worth the most of the three. He is a shutdown corner, not just with the interception numbers but a passer rating allowed that ranked him among the best at one of the sport’s most important positions.
He’s outspoken, and headstrong, but his problems have generally come from being too consumed by football. He’s never had a whiff of trouble off the field, and in fact has done positive work in both Kansas City and his hometown.
The Chiefs appeared to be a terrific match for Peters. A stable and strong coach, good culture on the defense with an able mentor and big brother in Eric Berry.
To whatever extent Peters’ inability to consistently stay focused instead of disruptive led him away from the team that drafted him, he is responsible for his own actions and may have to take less on his second contract because of it. That’s his consequence.
But this is also about the Chiefs failing at such a central part of how they viewed themselves and how they think they can win.
The Chiefs failed with Peters, and now they’re a lesser team because of it. Veach’s career as a GM is less than a year old, but it will largely be defined by how he navigates away from a problem the team welcomed and failed to satisfy.