KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The phrase became the butt of jokes around the Kansas City Chiefs with every loss last season. It was mentioned in snarky headlines and glib comments every time there was locker room strife.
The phrase was “finding the right 53,” the promise that former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli made when he arrive in Kansas City. It didn’t always mean the strongest player, or the fastest player. But it meant that Pioli wanted to find the right mix of players to populate the locker room.
He never managed to do it, either. That’s why he was shown the door.
Now, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid are assembling what they believe is the right 53, and they made a slew of transactions on Sunday in pursuit of it.
They claimed cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker, wide receiver Chad Hall, defensive tackle Jaye Howard, tight end Sean McGrath, and linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Dezman Moses off waivers while releasing tight end Kevin Brock, cornerback Jalil Brown, linebacker Zac Diles, defensive tackle Jerrell Powe, wide receiver Devon Wylie and safety Bradley McDougald.
Parker, McGrath and Howard were waived by the Seahawks on Saturday.
In all, the Chiefs claimed seven players while releasing six. They had been one under the 53-man limit after trading linebacker Edgar Jones to the Dallas Cowboys for a draft pick Saturday night.
“We’ll see how things work out,” Reid said Sunday. “We’re early in it still.”
More than half of the roster has been turned over from the final game of last year. All three quarterbacks are new, as are all three tight ends, and there are 11 rookies on the roster.
Among the newcomers a pair of Ivy Leaguers: defensive end Mike Catapano, their seventh-round pick out of Princeton, and linebacker Josh Martin, an undrafted free agent out of Columbia.
Perhaps the right 53 means having the highest IQ in the league.
“This was a good bunch of guys. This team is very close,” Reid said. “I didn’t see any bad apples in the bunch here, they got along, and that was one of the strengths as a 90 unit.
“That was the easy part,” he said, “kind of blending this thing the way you wanted it. You didn’t have to worry about that. You could worry about who fit the team more as a player.”
Dorsey and Reid both have plenty of experience in trying to find the right 53.
In the case of Dorsey, it was as a longtime scout and front-office executive mostly with the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have been praised over the past two decades for building consistent winners using guys who weren’t necessarily household names — James Starks, Howard Green and Scott Wells, for example, all were key contributors to their last Super Bowl championship.
Reid went both directions — household names and superstars — during his time in Philadelphia. He built the Eagles into a perennial contender with savvy draft picks and wise free-agent moves, but the last few years went the route of established veterans such as Nnamdi Asomugha.
“You have a new offense, a new defense, everybody is new, and everybody is trying to work toward the mesh part of the first regular-season game,” Dorsey said. “It’s a challenge.”
Bring together a whole bunch of newcomers has its advantages, of course. They weren’t around the toxic atmosphere that enveloped the Chiefs last season. In many cases they come from accomplished teams and winning programs, so they know no better than to have success.
“I know we have a lot of potential here,” said tight end Anthony Fasano, who was part of the rebuilding job in Miami before signing with Kansas City as a free agent. “It doesn’t feel like a two-win team at all. I think a lot has changed from last year to now. That’s behind us.”
Indeed, the Chiefs seem to think they’re on the way toward the right 53.
“Even though the win column last year, we didn’t do very good, our confidence level is up,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “It starts from the coach down. The coach is a big representation of having that confidence, believing in his players, and Andy Reid sets a good example for us.”
Notes: The Chiefs worked out for about an hour in the indoor facility Sunday. OG Jon Asamoah (calf), S Sanders Commings (collarbone) and LB Nico Johnson (high ankle sprain) did not practice. … The Chiefs also signed eight players to the practice squad: LB Darin Drakeford, FB Toben Opurum, TE Demetrius Harris, WR Frankie Hammond Jr., S Malcolm Bronson, and OLs Rokevious Watkins, Matt Reynolds and Tommie Draheim.