KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Hiring a permanent head coach is only the first big choice the Chiefs will make in the next few weeks. Then come the decisions on whether to re-sign the 22 players who don't have contracts for the 2012 season.
Some are frontline players such as wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs' leading pass catcher for the last three seasons, and cornerback Brandon Carr,
Others are less crucial but still useful players like linebacker Jovan Belcher, safety Jon McGraw and pass rusher Wallace Gilberry. Then there's quarterback Kyle Orton, who led the Chiefs to two victories in his three starts at the end of the season.
"The team will get together and determine free agents that are on the list and prioritize those guys and try to go after them," interim head coach Romeo Crennel said last week at his season-ending news conference. "Just like every other team in the NFL, they are looking at the potential free agents and prioritizing those guys and determining who they may want to go after so then we'll have to see how it plays out.
"We as a team have to make determinations and go from there, so that's why every year is a new year. It's a different situation, and you have to start all over. That's what the organization will do, and we'll start pretty quickly."
The decisions with Bowe and Carr loom as the most important. If the Chiefs lose Bowe, they'll be down to Steve Breaston as a proven NFL receiver, though they drafted Jonathan Baldwin in the first round last year.
Carr figures to be easier for the Chiefs to replace but still is a major piece for a team that looks as if it will build around its defense next season.
The Chiefs' strategy with many of their key players has been to re-sign them to long-term contract extensions in the final year of their contracts. They did that in 2010 with linebacker Derrick Johnson and running back Jamaal Charles.
They re-signed cornerback Brandon Flowers and kicker Ryan Succop during this last season.
The fact they didn't reach a deal with either Bowe or Carr during the season could signal that the sides are far apart in their negotiations.
The Chiefs could make a franchise player of either one, but not both. It would cost the Chiefs somewhere between $9 million and $10 million to franchise Bowe on a one-year contract or about $10.5 million to do the same with Carr.
Belcher, an inside linebacker who was second to Johnson on the Chiefs in tackles last season, would be a restricted free agent. The Chiefs could get right of first refusal with him by making him a minimum one-year contract offer.
Others the Chiefs may want to keep include McGraw, a valuable piece as a reserve safety the last couple of seasons, fullback Le'Ron McClain and nose tackle Kelly Gregg.
Then there's Orton, who as one of the top available free-agent quarterbacks may not wish to re-sign with the Chiefs.
"Those guys will be investigating offers to see what is out there for them, whether staying here with the Chiefs is their best move or whether going to another team (is the best move)," Crennel said. "Each individual has to look at that himself and make his own determinations and then go from there."