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Pioli knows staying atop division won't be easy

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Posted Jan. 20, 2011 @ 2:09 p.m. ET
By Michael Blunda

The Chiefs just completed a campaign in which they went 10-6 and won the AFC West. Coming off a 4-12 record and last-place finish in 2009, that's an accomplishment few thought within reach. It's a perfect example of the unpredictable nature of the NFL, and it's something GM Scott Pioli is fully aware of. That's why he's not taking anything for granted in 2011.

"One season doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the next season, because there's going to be this whole offseason," Pioli told PFW in an exclusive interview. "This season was what it was unto itself. It doesn't necessarily mean anything in next year's 16 games."

For Kansas City to remain atop the division, it not only has to upgrade the roster at a few critical spots, but it also must make sure that key free agents don't leave town. Based on last season's performance, that process likely starts with OLB Tamba Hali.

While Pioli wouldn't discuss specifics in regards to his offseason plans, we hear that Hali, who is set to hit free agency, is first in line for an extension. The fierce pass rusher led the AFC in sacks last season with 14½, adding four forced fumbles. However, we're also told that the two sides aren't remotely close in contract negotiations, which could lead to Hali being slapped with the franchise tag — something that wouldn't please the linebacker's camp.

Another name we're hearing will be re-signed is CB Brandon Carr, who is coming off a terrific campaign. Carr's 26 passes defended ranked him in the league's top five in 2010, and the third-year player also picked off a pass. About to become a restricted free agent, he will be back in Kansas City.

But these aren't the only major dilemmas facing Pioli. He'll also need to decide what to do with aging starters whose contracts are expiring, such as DT Ron Edwards, OLB Mike Vrabel and C Casey Wiegmann. It's going to be a busy time for the GM as he attempts to take the franchise to the next level.

"How far away we are (from being Super Bowl contenders), I don't necessarily look at things through that prism," Pioli said. "Here's what we know: We improved this year, and even with our improvement, it wasn't good enough. So what we know is we need to continue to get better."

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