By all accounts, John Dorsey had a terrific first year since taking over as General Manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. He shaped a roster that went from 2-14 in 2012 to one that finished 11-5 in 2013. Though he retained 15 of 22 starting position players, he brought in 30 new players onto the 53 man roster in 2013.
The end result was the 7th youngest team in the league, with no starter older than inside linebacker Derrick Johnson—who turned 31 during the season.
Yet, this off season is the one that is likely to define Dorsey’s career in Kansas City. Dorsey has a team that is close to competing for a championship, yet the Chiefs are pushed up against the salary cap.
Website Overthecap.com shows the Chiefs with an estimated $3.09 million in cap space for 2014, with decisions remaining about pending free agents WR/KR Dexter McCluster, DE Tyson Jackson, FS Kendrick Lewis, G Jon Asamoah , G Geoff Schwartz, ILB Akeem Jordan, and pro-bowl LT Brandon Albert.
Dorsey has already made the key decision that will shape Kansas City’s near future: Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt told 610AM the team is pursuing a contract extension with QB Alex Smith.
Given Smith’s growth in the second half of last season and his play-making in the playoff loss to the Colts, that decision is something of a no-brainer. However, the specific terms of that extension will be critical in determining how much talent Dorsey can acquire to surround Smith. A poor contract could cripple the team for years to come.
I would like to see something on the order of an 8-year contract with $40 million guaranteed. The last two years would be tacked on with inflated base salaries to make the final numbers look big for Smith’s agent, and limit the true deal to 6 years (through Smith’s age 35 season).
Split the signing bonus into multiple tranches to prevent killing your cash and you can pay low base salaries in the first 3 years or so to keep Smith’s cap number down. A contract structured like that, could lower Smith’s cap number to the $6 million range down from his current $8 million and lock him up long-term.
Aside from Smith, Dorsey will need to decide where to spend his limited cap space on upgrades that could put his team over-the-top. To get room, he will need to consider restructures for high cap number veterans like Brandon Flowers ($10.5M), Tamba Hali ($11.6M), and Eric Berry ($11.4M).
Even then, Dorsey will have to get value for his dollar. He will not be able to resign all of his free agents. Brandon Albert is as good as gone given his contract demands last season and the presence of rookie Eric Fisher, who was drafted no. 1 overall to play LT.
FS Kendrick Lewis is also unlikely to return given his horrendous play in the 2nd half of last season. Other decisions are not so easy. Dorsey might be able to retain two or three of the remaining players, but he will need at least a couple of cheap substitutes.
Aside from replacing the losses, Dorsey will also need to upgrade the secondary (corner and free safety), the pass rush depth, and perhaps add another receiving target for Alex Smith. Dorsey does have the draft to fill holes with cheap rookie labor, but he also lacks a 2nd round pick due to the Alex Smith trade.
Dorsey faces significant challenges, but also has added fan expectations after last season’s ultimately frustrating playoff run in which the Chiefs again failed to break their 21-year playoff drought. After a league-record 8 consecutive playoff losses, the Kansas City fan base now has little patience. Fan discontent has a way of seeping into the building no matter how strong a culture top management can build.
To quell Kansas City’s cynicism, and build a new golden era, Dorsey will need to make all the right moves in the 2014 draft and free agency.