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Ten moves that helped GM John Dorsey turn around Chiefs

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, at 8:11 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at 2:46 p.m.

When John Dorsey was hired as Chiefs general manager on Jan. 14, 2013, he laid out a plan for his team to reach the playoffs and beyond.

He just wasn’t sure it would happen in one season.

“As we’ve gone along, the guys are starting to believe in the constant message we were saying: It’s going to take everybody involved in this whole process to reach the goal of getting into the playoffs,” Dorsey said.

“We’ve accomplished the first goal, but by no means are we satisfied.”

Dorsey inherited an organization that had lost its way, but he also took over a team that had some talent. Dorsey and his staff, working in concert with new coach Andy Reid, assessed the team, determined its strengths and weaknesses and made some critical decisions, including bringing in 31 new players who helped the Chiefs bounce back from 2-14 to 11-5.

Here are Dorsey’s 10 biggest moves for the 2013 season:

1: Trading for quarterback Alex Smith

Dorsey’s first big decision was filling the quarterback position. The quarterbacks in 2012, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, combined for 20 interceptions and were clearly not the answer for Andy Reid’s offense.

Though the Chiefs had the first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, they determined there was not a quarterback worthy of the first choice “who could come in and take over,” Dorsey said. Nor was there another player in the draft who teams were willing to trade up to the No. 1 spot and take. The free-agent market for quarterbacks was barren, so Dorsey sent San Francisco a second-round pick in 2013 and a conditional pick — which became a second-rounder in 2014 — for Smith, who had lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick at the end of the 2012 season.

“I knew all along I’d take a little hit (for) the compensation (to the 49ers),” Dorsey said, “but I believe in the kid. I love the kid.”

Smith threw 23 touchdown passes, just seven interceptions and led the Chiefs to a 9-0 start and was 11-4 as the starter. And he’s just 29 years old.

“I love his competitive nature,” Dorsey said. “I love his leadership, his ability to be one of the teammates. He makes smart decisions. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s athletic. Guys believe in him. In today’s football … that’s one of the first components you need, a quarterback who can lead your team.”

2: Drafting offensive tackle Eric Fisher

The Chiefs, because of their 2-14 record of a year ago, owned the first overall pick in the NFL Draft for the first time in franchise history. The top two players on most draft boards were offensive tackles Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M.

Dorsey chose Fisher.

Fisher made the move from left tackle to the right side, for at least his rookie season. He’s had some rough moments, but he’s started 13 games, missing one because of a concussion and two because of a shoulder injury, and he'll miss Saturday's playoff game at Indianapolis because of a strained groin.

“It’s hard … people think you’re a first-round pick, and you’re going to walk in here and automatically dominate,” Dorsey said. “This is the National Football League. You can’t walk in here and do that. He’s everything I thought he’d be and more.

“The game has slowed down for him in the last five games, which is a normal progression. He switched from the left side to the right side, which is harder than people realize. He’s smart, he’s competitive, he’s tough and wants to get better.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d take the same guy.”

3: Front office hires

A general manager is usually only as good as the people he surrounds himself with, and Dorsey hired several key figures in helping turn over a roster that has 31 new players on the 53-man active roster.

Dorsey hired Chris Ballard as the Chiefs’ director of player personnel, Will Lewis as director of pro scouting and Marvin Allen as director of college scouting.

Ballard spent the previous 12 years in the Chicago Bears’ personnel department and is a leading candidate to become the new general manager at Tampa Bay, which just hired Lovie Smith as its new head coach.

Lewis spent 13 years in the Seattle Seahawks organization, and Allen spent four years with Atlanta and 16 seasons with New England.

“That personnel group has to be tight-knit,” Dorsey said. “Everybody has to understand what you’re trying to achieve. They, too, have a workmanlike mentality. There’s a degree of trust I have with them. When we make decisions, we make them as a group.”

4: Signing Bowe to extension

The Chiefs signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a contract for five years, worth up to $56 million — including $26 million guaranteed — on March 6, just before the deadline to place the franchise tag on players. Bowe, who had played the 2012 season as the club’s franchise player, became the league’s third-highest paid wide receiver, behind Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

Bowe had a mixed bag of a season. He caught 57 passes for 673 yards and five touchdowns, far below the his peak seasons of 2008, 2010, and 2011, when he averaged 80 receptions for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns, and he’s had some inopportune dropped passes.

But Bowe consistently drew double coverage that freed other receivers, and his blocking helped pave the way for the running game and screen-pass game for Jamaal Charles.

“The thing about Dwayne people don’t realize,” Dorsey said, “is he’s bought into the whole process. He’s bought into the concept of team. He’s going to be willing to do anything it takes to get to this goal, and that was the playoffs.

“Now, you get into the playoffs, it’s time for him to step up a little bit more. He’s done a nice job. Would I like to see him make a few more catches? Yeah. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, but when his number is called, he’ll stand up and make some plays.”

5: Placing franchise tag on Albert

The Chiefs’ signing Bowe allowed them to place the franchise tag on offensive left tackle Branden Albert on March 6. Albert signed his tender for $9.828 million on March 21, and once the Chiefs elected not to sign him to an extension last spring, he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the playoffs.

The Chiefs, concerned about Albert missing five starts of the 2012 season because of a back injury, were approached by the Dolphins for a trade for Albert, but Kansas City’s price was too high.

Sometimes the trades that aren’t made turn out to be the best ones. Though Albert, 29, missed the last four games of the season because of a hyperextended knee, he had a solid season protecting Smith and blocking for Charles and was rewarded with the first Pro Bowl berth of his six-year career.

The Chiefs have the option to place the franchise tag again on Albert, but they have some young tackles for the future in Fisher, who is a natural left tackle, and second-year man Donald Stephenson, who has started 14 career games on both sides.

“We’ll deal with that when we get to it,” Dorsey said of re-signing Albert. “Branden has played the game very well this year. I applaud him for the consistency. As we get closer to that mark, we’ll have to sit down and have some discussions.”

6: A free-agency bounty

The Chiefs signed seven unrestricted free agents during the offseason. Six made the team, and five became starters — tight end Anthony Fasano, wide receiver Donnie Avery, defensive end Mike DeVito, cornerback Sean Smith and guard Geoff Schwartz.

“That’s why you dig and dig and dig and watch film, knowing they fit exactly what you’re trying to do,” Dorsey said. “Not only are they good on the field, but they’re good guys, they’re passionate about the game and all the little characteristics you look for in terms of bringing that locker room together.”

The club also signed a host of veterans who had not been retained by their previous clubs, and several became critical contributors, including starting inside linebacker Akeem Jordan; outside linebacker Frank Zombo, who made five starts in place of injured Justin Houston; and safeties Quintin Demps, who led the AFC in kickoff returns, and Husain Abdullah, who had sat out the 2012 season while on a religious pilgrimage and became one of the Chiefs’ top special-teams performers.

“Abdullah was one of the first guys we signed early,” said Dorsey, who as a Green Bay Packers executive watched Abdullah twice a year playing for Minnesota. “He had played in the NFC North, and admiring the way he played the game of football, and admiring him as a person.”

7: Settling on Chase Daniel as backup QB

Daniel had barely played in five seasons with the New Orleans Saints, attempting a total of nine passes in mop-up roles, but the Chiefs signed him as a $10 million insurance policy to back up Smith.

Only a handful of quarterbacks make it through all 16 games in a season. Smith suffered a concussion in 2012 and had shoulder injuries earlier in his career with San Francisco. He played the first 15 games this season without injury, but when Reid rested his starters in the regular-season finale last week at San Diego, Daniel made his first NFL start and demonstrated the attributes Dorsey had seen in him.

“What you’re trying to do is protect one of the most important positions on the team,” Dorsey said. “Chase is the consummate No. 2. He is unbelievably competitive. He is great for the locker room, highly intelligent, he has great eyes, great vision and wonderful mobility. I was excited to see him play last weekend.”

8: Drafting RB Knile Davis

The Chiefs hoped to find a complement to Charles at running back and selected Davis of Arkansas in the third round. Davis had all the measurables of size and speed, but after a brilliant sophomore season in 2010, he missed 2011 because of a knee injury and started just six games in 2012.

Davis also had a history of fumbling, a problem that followed him to the NFL. But he’s also shown big-play ability, including a club-record 108-yard kickoff return, and three 17-yard touchdown runs in the last four games.

Davis, 22, could be the Chiefs’ feature back of the future.

“Everybody is trying to make a big deal about the fumbling,” Dorsey said. “When Jamaal came out (he had a fumbling issue). “I’ve seen this before. When you have a coach like Eric Bieniemy, he’s going to going to stress ball security, ball security …

“He’s done some really nice things … he will continue to be a complement to Jamaal Charles.”

9: Trading for Sherman, Jenkins

In May, Dorsey traded cornerback Javier Arenas to Arizona for fullback Anthony Sherman, a deal that nearly went unnoticed. Sherman appeared in all 16 games and was an ideal fit for Reid’s offense as a lead blocker for Charles, an outlet receiver for Smith and a top special-teams player.

Midway through the preseason, Dorsey made a higher-profile trade when he sent wide receiver Jon Baldwin to San Francisco for wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in a trade of underachieving first-round draft picks.

The jury is still out on that one. Jenkins appeared in all 16 games, starting the season finale at San Diego when the starters were rested. He caught eight passes for 130 yards, including three for 67 yards against the Chargers. Baldwin appeared in seven games for the 49ers, catching three passes for 28 yards.

“His number hasn’t been called as many times as he probably would have liked,” Dorsey said of Jenkins. “Athletically, he’s got everything you want in a receiver. He needs to get more reps and playing the game. As we go along into the postseason and into year two, I think he’ll begin to fit in.”

10: The second draft

Because the Chiefs’ 2-14 record in 2012 entitled them to the first pick of the draft, they also had first crack at every player who was waived by other teams for the first three weeks of the regular season.

On Sept. 1, a day after teams reduced their rosters to the NFL-mandated 53 players, Dorsey waived six players and claimed seven who had been released by other teams in what was tantamount to a second draft.

Those players filled key roles for the Chiefs, including cornerback Marcus Cooper, who appeared in all 16 games, including six starts; tight end Sean McGrath, who appeared in all 16 games with nine starts; and cornerback Ron Parker, who played in all 16 games and was one of the team’s top special-teams players.

“That’s the beauty of when you get that first spot and the ability to claim,” Dorsey said of a position he hopes never to occupy again. “A lot of credit goes to the personnel staff for doing their due diligence and their homework and identifying the talent.

“When you transition into your first year, you’re going to have to make moves like that. You only get one shot at it, so why not take advantage of it?”

To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/randycovitz.

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