KANSAS CITY — Brian Waters looks around the Kansas City locker room, and a feeling of nostalgia tugs at his heart.
The Pro Bowl left guard knows that with one game left in a bitterly disappointing season, he will soon say goodbye to a host of friends and teammates who don’t want to leave.
It’s the nature of the NFL, though. Year to year, all teams have player turnover. Frequently, outfits coming off the kind of year Waters and the Chiefs are going through will experience an avalanche of change.
“There are going to be some guys who won’t play (next year) in the NFL on this team right now,” Waters said. “And that’s hard. You feel for guys like that.”
For many of the Chiefs (7-8), the last chance to make a favorable impression and get at least a shot at a job for next year will come Sunday in San Diego. The Chargers have wrapped up the AFC West and the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs and might not let their best players complete the game.
Still, Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil insists the Chiefs will do all they can to close the season on a five-game winning streak.
“Many times out of severe disappointment you learn more,” Vermeil said. “You never remain the same. You either get worse or you get better and, for the most part, my experience has been guys that have handled adversity and losing properly get better.”
Everyone knows the biggest changes figure to be on defense. After re-signing several potential free agents last year on the defensive side of the ball and recycling Gunther Cunningham as coordinator, little improvement was made. The Chargers will be facing the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL, a defense that was key to a 1-4 start to the season and a ruinous four-game losing skid in November.
“Nobody knows who’s going to be here next year,” cornerback Eric Warfield said. “Everybody’s pretty sure some players are going to be shifted.”
The only defensive unit that might not see big adjustments is the defensive line. Still, it has had disappointments as well.
“There are going to be some changes around here,” said defensive end Eric Hicks. “But the guys who are still here will remember what we accomplished. We accomplished some big games on some national stages against good teams.”
It’s the third year in a row the Chiefs have wasted a powerful, high-scoring offensive machine on a bottom-feeding defense that’s unable to stop anyone. Yet, the infighting one might expect has never taken root.
An offense ranked second in the NFL does not seem to resent a defense that is ranked 30th.
“That’s a team concept,” said Waters, who was one of three Kansas City offensive linemen voted to the Pro Bowl.
“We all realize that coming into this season we didn’t ask our defense to be the best. We just asked them to be better than they were, and we think to this point, they are better. We on offense didn’t do as well as we should have done, especially in certain situations.”
Still, Waters knows there will be a lot of new faces next summer when the open camp.
“You feel for some of these young guys who didn’t get a great opportunity,” he said. “You feel for the old guys who had opportunities and it didn’t work out for them, and they’re kind of going out on a slide.
“You feel for those guys and you wish you could play more so that everybody could have an opportunity to prove they are better. Everybody wishes we had more games to prove that we’re a better football team than what our record shows.”