KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Peyton Hillis and Brady Quinn wanted fresh starts. Eric Winston and Kevin Boss wanted the chance to compete for championships like they had in the past.
Scott Pioli brought them all to Kansas City, where the Chiefs’ general manager is hoping a flurry of free-agent acquisitions will bolster an offense that struggled all of last season.
“I didn’t really have a whole lot of expectations. I didn’t really hear anything negatively or positively about the organization,” Boss said recently. “I really didn’t have any friends that I have gotten to know that have played here, so I didn’t really know what to expect.
“But definitely, when I came here it was like, ‘Wow, this is better than I expected. This is exactly what I’m looking for at this stage of my career.’ I wanted to sign right away.”
Pioli spent much of last season getting grilled for failing to establish enough depth in the organization to withstand an almost silly amount of injuries. Tight end Tony Moeaki, safety Eric Berry and running back Jamaal Charles all went down by Week 2, and quarterback Matt Cassel joined them on injured reserve midway through the season.
The Chiefs somehow managed to limp their way into playoff contention — even after coach Todd Haley was fired in December — before finally succumbing to Oakland in overtime in the penultimate game of the regular season.
Perhaps coming that close despite all the hardships steeled Pioli to upgrade the offense. Just maybe it was the notion that Kansas City could have made a deep run in January had it enough players to step in when the starters went by the wayside.
Whatever the case, Pioli was active in the initial weeks of free agency after standing pat last season, when the annual NFL meat market was condensed into a flurry of activity between the end of the lockout and the beginning of training camps.
Hillis was brought in to provide an element of thunder to the lightning-quick Charles, who is expected back after tearing the ACL in his left knee.
The fullback-turned-running back from the Browns who graced the cover of the Madden video game after becoming a pop culture phenomenon parted ways with his former team on less-than-amicable terms. The long and short of the dispute: He believed he was worth more than Cleveland did.
So instead of signing a long-term extension with the Browns, Hillis opted for a $3 million, one-year deal with Kansas City in an attempt to revitalize his career.
“You know, I don’t have to prove anything to anybody,” Hillis said Tuesday, “because I feel like if I just go somewhere and I get to play, I’m going to do my best and I’m going to be OK. As far as proving to everybody else, in my mindset, I’m always hardest on myself. I come out and prove stuff to myself more than I prove stuff to everyone else.”
Hillis is expected to play an integral role with the Chiefs, likely getting the majority of carries that went to Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle last season.
Quinn is there to provide insurance if Cassel goes down again.
When the Chiefs’ starter was hurt in Week 10 last season, the offense was turned over to journeyman Tyler Palko. It began a disastrous stretch of games that ultimately ruined the team’s postseason chances, and underscored the importance of having a serviceable backup.
Then there’s Winston, whose job it’ll be to make sure Cassel stays on his feet.
Winston started 87 games over six seasons in Houston, including every one over the past five years. His value rose to the point that the Texans signed him to an extension in 2008. But when the team was crunched by the salary cap, Winston was put on the chopping block.
Boss agreed to a $16 million, four-year deal with the Raiders about eight months before he was released. He ultimately signed a $9 million, three-year deal with the Chiefs.
“I don’t want to ever talk bad about Oakland,” Boss said, “but there was turmoil.”
There was turmoil in Kansas City last season, too, but much of that has subsided.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who was made interim coach after Haley was fired, has been made the head coach on a permanent basis. Pioli has brought in enough talent to make the Chiefs one of the favorites in the AFC West. The draft largely shored up the few remaining holes left from free agency, and offseason workouts are already under way.