KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City Chiefs have aggressively sought to improve their offense this offseason, signing running back Peyton Hillis, tight end Kevin Boss and right tackle Eric Winston.
They missed out on the biggest name in the free-agent derby.
It turns out they never really had a chance.
Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said Tuesday that the franchise reached out to Peyton Manning shortly after he was let go by the Indianapolis Colts, but it quickly became evident the four-time MVP already had a list of likely destinations.
"Clearly he had a plan. He let me know that," Pioli said. "He didn't get into the details. He was up front about what he was doing, some of the visits he wanted to take, and we initially weren't a part of that."
Manning wound up agreeing a $96 million, five-year deal with AFC West rival Denver.
"I've spent a lot of time with him, around him, communicating with him, competing against his teams. He had a plan, he executed it and he never explained to me, nor did I ask," Pioli said.
The Chiefs were among the teams rumored to be in the running for Manning after owner Clark Hunt expressed his admiration for him during a television interview. Pioli had also said he wanted to create competition for Matt Cassel as the team's starting quarterback.
Cassel will be returning from a season-ending injury to his throwing hand. The team recently signed former Broncos backup Brady Quinn to create some depth.
Pioli refused to get into details about his conversations with Manning and his agent, but he did say Cassel was aware that discussions had taken place. Pioli also said he's comfortable with the three quarterbacks currently on the roster - he drafted Ricky Stanzi in the fifth round last season - which makes it unlikely the Chiefs will select another in the April draft.
"I think we have three quarterbacks on our roster who have the potential to be starting quarterbacks in the NFL," Pioli said. "There's always going to be competition."
Pioli also said he was in touch with Kyle Orton from the moment the season ended until the moment he signed with Dallas. It was Orton who was claimed off waivers from Denver when Cassel went down last season, leading the Chiefs to a pair of victories in three games as the starter.
One of them was the only regular-season defeat for Green Bay. The other was at Denver.
"We made it abundantly clear to Kyle before he left for the offseason - and when the offseason started - that we would like to have him back and have him in this situation," Pioli said.
Instead, Orton agreed to a three-year deal with the Cowboys.
"I can't speak for Kyle in saying why he chose that situation," Pioli said, "but I know it was one heck of a contract he received. A very, very generous contract, which he earned."
Pioli said he wasn't disappointed in a couple misses during free agency, primarily because he's been able to land a couple of pieces to fill glaring holes.
Hillis provides the bruising complement to speedster Jamaal Charles in the Kansas City backfield, while Boss is expected to team with Tony Moeaki to give the Chiefs a pair of tight ends equally adept at catching passes as they are blocking for the run.
Winston may be the biggest offseason acquisition. He's expected to help anchor an aging and often ineffective offensive line by taking over for Barry Richardson at right tackle. Winston was so taken by the job Kansas City did in courting him he almost immediately set about buying a house in town.
Coach Romeo Crennel said in an interview Tuesday he's happy with the way free agency has gone, though he conceded, "Lots of times you really don't know what you have until you get them on the field."
Hillis and Boss are coming off down seasons, while Winston has been slowed by injury.
"They were all areas of need for us, particularly on the offensive side," Crennel said.
Crennel said the Chiefs may not be done adding pieces, pointing out that Kansas City hasn't done much to upgrade the defense yet. The Chiefs signed cornerback Stanford Routt to replace the departed Brandon Carr, but still have holes at defensive tackle and middle linebacker.
Still, Crennel is pleased with the roster taking shape.
"If you look up and down it, you can pretty much put a team out there right now. We would know who is going to line up," he said. "That hasn't been the case the last couple of years."