KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The front office of the Kansas City Chiefs has plenty of work to do and not much time to do it.
As the lockout ends and the tightly compressed league year begins, the daunting array of hurried decisions includes signing a right tackle to bolster the NFL's top rushing attack, getting AFC sack leader Tamba Hali to sign a long-term deal, and reaching agreement with wide receiver and first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin.
The good news is that the Chiefs were under the salary cap last year and general manager Scott Pioli will have plenty of money to spend.
Exactly how much under is open to speculation. But owner Clark Hunt, who was instrumental in negotiating the 10-year deal which owners and players have endorsed, agrees his team will be in better position than most.
"We do have some room, although there is probably a little misunderstanding about our spending last year," Hunt said. "We were much higher than has been reported."
Signing some veterans to long-term deals during the season, including Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, did increase the payroll.
"But we still have plenty of (cap) flexibility, and if we have a chance to add a player who we think can help us, both in the near term and long term, we won't hesitate," Hunt said.
The Chiefs are expected to open their second training camp in St. Joseph, Mo., on Thursday, 16 days before their first exhibition game on Aug. 12 against Tampa Bay.
And beginning at 9 a.m. today, players can begin reporting to the team complex in Kansas City for physicals and voluntary strength and conditioning work. Except for a few hours back in April, this will be the time Chiefs head coach Todd Haley and his staff have seen their players since early March. Pioli and his staff can also begin negotiating with and signing their 2011 draft picks as well as undrafted free agents and clubs will be free to make trades.
The Chiefs are counting on Baldwin to make immediate contributions alongside veteran Dwayne Bowe, who went to the Pro Bowl last year but was held without a single catch in the playoff loss to the Ravens. Pioli and representatives for Baldwin, a big, athletic wide receiver from Pittsburgh, have already set an appointment for Tuesday.
But they had better hurry. Pioli and the league's other 31 general managers will have a tightly compressed few weeks to get everything done as everybody scrambles to set rosters and get players signed. Whether that will create a buyer's or seller's market for players remains to be seen.
The Chiefs, who made a breakthrough last season with a 10-6 record and lost to Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs as AFC West champions, will be out to fill needs at right tackle and nose tackle, too.
Jerrell Powe, a 330-pound nose tackle the Chiefs drafted out of Mississippi in the sixth round, will get a long look in training camp. But Aubrayo Franklin, a free agent from the 49ers, could also get their attention. Another possibility would be to re-sign incumbent Ron Edwards.
The Chiefs led the NFL in rushing last year with 164 yards per game and could use an upgrade at right tackle — something that could be addressed in free agency. Two possibilities could be Doug Free of the Cowboys and Tyson Clabo from Atlanta.
A Chiefs spokesperson said Monday the ticket office had seen a spike in business since last week, when owners first announced they had agreed on a new labor deal. The Chiefs, like many clubs, are planning goodwill gestures to fans. An email went out on Monday telling season ticket holders that details would soon be announced on a special night just for them at training camp in St. Joseph.
"Most importantly, I want to thank our fans for their enduring passion for football and the tremendous patience they have demonstrated throughout the challenges of the last several months," Hunt said in a statement. "Our entire organization has been working hard to prepare for the 2011 season, and we are excited to get back to football."