Tuesday is the official kickoff of the new NFL calendar year which also doubles as the first day of free agency. While the Chiefs have made several moves in the past week, they still have several areas throughout the roster where they could use improvement. The draft will fill some of those needs but free agency is going to have to play a role in filling positional holes in the Chiefs roster. Here’s a look at the various position groups on offense and defense and where free agency will best fill Kansas City’s vacancies.
Kansas City has already made its move for a quarterback, making the trade for Alex Smith a two weeks before the beginning of free agency. The move is a good one, at least for this year, given what is available in free agency and the draft. There is no one available who would be able to lead the Chiefs to very many wins let alone playoff spot. So at least from a short term perspective, the Chiefs were better served paying the hefty price for Smith.
Even though they have their starter, they still need to find a suitable backup. Andy Reid has not had a problem using rookie quarterbacks as his primary backup (i.e. Nick Foles from last season) and this draft makes the most sense for the Chiefs and finding a backup quarterback.
Tyler Wilson, E.J. Manuel, Tyler Bray, and several other represent interesting tools but high risks, which makes them more suitable for backup roles than starting immediately. If the Chiefs can’t pick up a draft pick in the second round via a trade, they still may be able to find a solid quarterback option with their top pick in the third round (65th overall). Reid and John Dorsey have a solid history of finding backup quarterbacks in the middle and late rounds so there should be an element of trust from Chiefs fans about how the quarterback position will be handled.
Prediction: Chiefs will use a draft pick on a quarterback.
Jammal Charles is the starting running back. The need to sign any of the above names is unnecessary as the Chiefs could use the cap room elsewhere.
Dorsey has a long history of finding late round and undrafted free agent running backs at Green Bay, including James Starks and Ryan Grant. The Chiefs may be fine with they have in Shaun Draughn and Cyrus Gray. If not, they’ll likely look late in the draft or in undrafted free agency.
Prediction: The Chiefs stay put with what they have and take a flyer with a couple of running backs in training camp.
Here is a place where free agency makes sense for the Chiefs. Kansas City has invested high picks on Jonathan Baldwin and Dexter McCluster to be big play threats for the Chiefs, something that has yet to materialize. Devon Wylie, a pick many liked from last offseason, is also still available for the Chiefs. Kansas City needs to do something to give the offense another threat outside of Bowe while opening up the underneath routes for McCluster, Wylie, and Charles. As of right now, Baldwin is supposed to be that guy. That’s not going to cut it.
Jennings and Amendola make a lot of sense for the Chiefs. Both bring different skills to the table, but both are legitimate threats as number two receivers. If the Chiefs made only one signing of significance on the offensive side of the ball, this would be the position to do it. The scope of the Chiefs offense completely changes with a second receiver opposite of Bowe.
Prediction: Chiefs sign Greg Jennings.
Question: Aside from oft injured Tony Moeaki, who else is on the Chiefs depth chart? Trick question, there is nobody. The Chiefs need to add a tight end simply as a requirement of numbers, but the question is whether or not they should spend bigger dollars on a top end free agent.
If the Chiefs are going to sign anybody of significance the list should begin and end with Cook. Cook is 6-5, 250 pounds with a 4.5 40-yard dash time and 41 inch vertical leap. He would be a nightmare to cover if used properly and a pass oriented offense. An offensive set with both him and Moeaki at tight end, Bowe on the outside and Charles in the backfield should really help the Chiefs redzone problems.
If Cook proves too costly, Kansas City would be better off punting the position and looking for a cheap blocking tight end. There is no need to spend heftily on a tight end that cannot produce at a high level for an offense.
Prediction: Chiefs beat around the bushes of a few big name tight ends before settling with a low cost blocking tight end.
This is the position to keep the biggest eye on during the first wave of free agency. If Long, Vollmer, Loadholt or some of the bigger names sign with other teams, then you’ll know Kansas City is going with Luke Joeckel with the first overall pick. If a significant free agent is signed then it is anybody’s guess what the Chiefs will do with the pick.
It is my perspective that the Chiefs should trying to sign Jake Long. His versatility plus his ability to play at a pretty high level – even if it is not a pro bowl level – would be very useful for the Chiefs. He is probably one of the few options available to the Chiefs this offseason who would grade out as a better right tackle than Eric Winston.
Signing Long would also open up the ability for the Chiefs to trade the top overall pick and recover the picks they lost in the Smith trade. You could argue signing Long would save the Chiefs money because they could fill all of their other needs through the draft with cheaper players.
Prediction: The Chiefs will eventually opt to use the top pick on Joeckel.
Rumors suggest the Chiefs are on the verge of re-signing Glenn Dorsey, a move that would keep the Chiefs starting defensive line from last season in tact. Whether this is a good move or not is debatable but it would definately mean there would be no reason to draft or sign another defensive lineman of consequence.
Prediction: Dorsey signs and the nothing more is done at the position.
Middle linebacker is to the defense as wide receiver is to the offense the offseason. The Chiefs have been getting crushed up the middle in the run game the last few years, in part because of the play of the second middle linebacker next to Derrick Johnson. Most of the Chiefs rushing yards allowed come in the middle of the field. Last season, Kansas City’s defense allowed 4.24 adjusted yards per carry on running plays up the middle according to Football Outsiders. If the Chiefs are going to improve that number, they will need a stronger run defender next to Johnson.
Enter Ellerbe and Maualuga.
Ellerbe and Maualuga are the Jennings and Amendola of the Chiefs defensive priorities. Signing either of the two will be difficult as Baltimore is going to make a huge run at retaining Ellerbe. But the Chiefs should be as close to that discussion as possible to pry him away from the world champions.
Like wide receiver, finding the solution to the Chiefs middle linebacker problem in the draft is going to be difficult. If the Chiefs could only sign two free agents, some combination of Jennings/Amendola and Ellerbe/Maualuga would be the ideal situation.
Prediction: Chiefs sign Rey Maualuga.
There is no question the Chiefs need another corner back to play on the other side of Brandon Flowers. Kansas City signed Dunta Robinson over the weekend in an effort to bolster the unit but he is probably more likely a safety than a corner at this stage of is career.
The good news is the draft is deep with corners, so the need to spend a lot of money on a free agent is not necessary. Kansas City should make a deal that makes sense for them as oppose to forcing the issue like they may have to do at wide receiver or middle linebacker.
Prediction: Chiefs use a middle round pick on a corner.
In summary, the Chiefs need to be players for a top wide receiver and middle linebacker while taking a flier at Jared Cook. While they should sign a tackle like Jake Long to anchor the right side of the offensive line so they can trade their top overall pick, the Chiefs will likely instead use the pick on Joeckel.
The draft would be an excellent place for the Chiefs to find a second corner and a backup quarterback. If the Chiefs are stuck looking for their starting middle linebacker or another wide receiver in the draft then they are going to be in trouble.
There is a significant amount of potential on this team to challenge the Denver Broncos for the AFC West but they are still a handful of moves away from making that a reality.