The art of building a successful football team means a lot of sleepless nights, countless hours of watching tape and a lot of tough decisions for everyone involved.
The NFL requires teams to have their rosters trimmed down to 75 players by Tuesday, which means 15 current Chiefs players will be released.
“This is a very emotional time for all of us because these guys are all part of this journey,” Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel Chris Ballard said. “Everything that happens between now and the Super Bowl (every team’s goal), they were a part of it and they helped us get ready.”
Ballard, along with Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, is also tasked with eventually getting this current Chiefs roster to 53 players by August 30.
Ballard, who came to the Chiefs before last season after spending 12 years with the Chicago Bears, most recently as the director of pro scouting, doesn’t take these decisions lightly.
He also knows the better they do at their job in bringing in talent, the tougher the decisions become.
“You want to get to a point where these decisions are very difficult to make,” Ballard said. “And when they are hard to make, that means we’ve done our job very well.”
The balance of looking outside the current roster to add talent and comparing that to the young talent developing on the roster already sits among one of the top responsibilities for Ballard and the personnel department.
A good example of that is giving young players a chance to develop into contributing roles before they’re known by a lot of people outside of the organization.
“Just because everyone doesn’t know the name on the back of a jersey doesn’t mean that guy can’t play,” Ballard explained. “We put a lot of faith in our head coach, the offensive and defensive coordinators and all position coaches on both sides of the ball that they can develop players.
“In this league, you can’t pay everybody; you have to be able to develop young talent.”
Ballard went on to explain the Chiefs philosophy in building a successful football team.
“With John [Dorsey] coming from Green Bay and the way we do things here—we’re going to have young talent and we’re going to take time and develop it,” Ballard said.
Knowing development means things aren’t always smooth in bringing these young players along, Ballard said he believes in the process.
“They’re going to have bumps in the road,” Ballard said. “But over time, they’ll continue to get better and they’re going to be good Kansas City Chiefs.”
Echoing what Dorsey said in regards to positional flexibility back at training camp, Ballard agrees that non-starters have to be a factor on special teams, explaining the role special teams coach Dave Toub has on the process as well.
“If a guy is not a starter, he has to be able to contribute on at least two phases of special teams,” Ballard said. “So it’s very important. Also, I don’t ever want to underestimate how important Dave Toub is in the whole developmental process of a player. Usually, if a young player is having success with him on special teams and if they have enough talent, they go on to have success as a starter offensively or defensively.”
Ballard made in simple.
“The more the player can do on Sunday, the better chance he has at making the roster,” Ballard said.
In regards to how the personnel department goes about adding players to the roster, Ballard expressed how much work goes into the process.
“Player acquisition is a 365-day-a-year job,” Ballard explained. “Every day we’re in here, we’re constantly looking to find talent and bring it in the building. Are we always right? No. But you have to take shots at guys and so we’re constantly looking at free agents, guys on other rosters, the waiver wire—all that stuff comes into play.”
While looking everywhere possible to try and add talent to the roster, Ballard explained the hardest aspect of building a roster.
“Evaluating our own team—that might be the hardest thing to do,” Ballard said.
That process isn’t one that leaves any stone unturned.
“Everybody gets their say,” Ballard said. “From the day they started OTAs, we’ve met with our coaching staff at least once a week. During camp, we met every day. We get everybody’s perspective on how that player did that day. Then it filters all the way to the top with John [Dorsey] and Andy [Reid].”
Even though many voices are brought to the table, Ballard says personnel decisions are always well-thought-out.
“There’s never a line drawn in the sand,” Ballard said. “We make a collective decision on a player.”
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The amount of time these players spend with everyone involved in the organization makes these decisions extremely difficult for Dorsey, Ballard and the entire staff.
“It’s hard to say goodbye to somebody who stuck it on the line for you,” Ballard said. “But it’s part of the business [and] part of the process, so this next week or so is very difficult for all of us.
“We try to do everything as respectful as we can. We’re very transparent with the player and the agent of what the thought process was and what our thinking is.”
Even if it doesn’t work out with the Chiefs, Ballard lets the guys know there’s a bigger picture to their careers than stepping on the field for the Chiefs in a particular preseason game.
“If it doesn’t work out here, then [hopefully it does] with one of the 31 other teams,” Ballard said. “I tell [the players] all of the time that your calling card is on tape. We’re not the only ones seeing. Make sure when you step out there between the lines—that you’re putting good stuff on tape.”
The ability for teams to develop young talent was also given a boost with the recent news that teams can now sign 10 players to their practice squad, which is two more than was allowed in the past.
“It gives us a chance to develop a couple of more players, which is always beneficial,” Ballard said. “It’s a good thing on both sides of the fence. It’s good for some players who have had some time in the league but wouldn’t have been practice squad eligible [under old rules].”
Under the old rules, if a player had played in nine games or more during a season, they lost their eligibility. Now, teams can add players who have been in the league for up to two seasons to the practice squad.
It also gives 64 more players across the NFL jobs this season.
Dorsey, Ballard and the entire player personnel staff have a lot of tough decisions coming over the next week.
It may be part of the business, but after spending some time around the guys who have to make these difficult decisions, the respect and humility shown in having to make them is genuine.The Chiefs will have to cut down their roster to 75 players by 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday, August 26.