Free Agency Diary

Chiefs Have Lots Of Decisions To Make In Free Agency

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The Kansas City Chiefs finished the 2015 regular season as the hottest team in football, winning their final 10 games of the year.  They kept the momentum going as they blasted the Houston Texans in the AFC Wildcard round, 30-0, before ending their season with a loss the next week in New England.

Quarterback Alex Smith played mostly mistake free football all season long, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin proved to be the big threat player they needed on the outside and Travis Kelce emerged as one of the best tight ends in football.

Defensively, the team finished fourth in the NFL in sacks and first-round pick Marcus Peters took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

With a relatively young core that somewhat resembles the Super Bowl champion Broncos, it looks like the Chiefs will be a force in 2016.

If they make the right moves.

When perusing Football Insiders Top 100 Free Agent list, you’ll notice that there are many more Chiefs than any other team represented.  In fact, Kansas City has three of our top 15 available unrestricted free agents.

With the salary cap reportedly being raised at least $12 million to approximately $155 million, the Chiefs will have some room to work, but they will need to be somewhat creative to keep their defense together.

Eric Berry is our highest rated Chiefs free agent and not only is he an inspirational story coming back from cancer, but he’s a legitimate Pro Bowl safety.  With safety becoming more and more important, Berry is a player who can’t be replaced with a cheaper free agent option or in a very weak safety class.

Football Insiders asked former Rams and Browns personnel man Russ Lande about what is making the safety position so difficult to find talent at.

“With the growth of the passing game, and the rules taking away the big hitters at the position, playing safety has become tougher and tougher,” Lande said. “It used to be an easier transition from cornerback, but you’re looking at the field in a completely different way and the responsibilities are completely different.  It’s becoming a premium position even if it’s not acknowledged that way.”

Berry is a priority for the Chiefs, and they will likely get a deal done by any means necessary.

The question is how much of a team-friendly deal might Berry take to keep the rest of the defensive core intact?

Kansas City still has to make a decision on Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson, who was tremendous in 2015 as well as defensive end Tamba Hali.

Inside linebackers can be found in the draft which would save the team money.  With that said, it would be difficult to find a player that can be the caliber of Johnson.  Even if they did, that rookie wouldn’t be as good as Johnson immediately and that would cause the defense to take a step back.

Speaking of taking a step back, are the Chiefs ready to part ways with Tamba Hali?  The veteran defensive end is 32 years old and the team invested a high draft pick on Dee Ford a couple of years ago, but is Ford ready to assume the pass rushing role opposite Justin Houston?  You can’t have enough pass rushers and despite Hali’s age, he will still be a commodity on the free agent market.

The next tier of free agents that Chiefs general manager John Dorsey has to make a decision on are cornerback Sean Smith and defensive end Mike DeVito.  Smith is a tall, 6-foot-3 cornerback that is built on a similar frame as Richard Sherman.  At just 28 years of age, he is still young enough to warrant plenty of interest around the league.

Mike DeVito is anything but a flashy player, but he fits in very well in Kansas City’s system.  The good news for the Chiefs is that the former University of Maine product’s best chance for success is in K.C., and he’s familiar with the scheme.  He will turn 32 years old before the beginning of training camp, and that should lower his marketability around the NFL.

Finally, the Chiefs have to make decisions on backup quarterback Chase Daniel and defensive tackle Jaye Howard.  Neither player will make for huge headlines in free agency, but Daniel runs Andy Reid’s system to perfection when he’s had to fill in for Alex Smith.  After a few more than solid preseasons, the word around the league is out that the former Missouri quarterback is one of the very best backups in the league and is better than a few starters around the league.  Although he doesn’t have a plus-arm, Daniel has very good mobility and accuracy and some team could see him as a potential starter (Houston, San Francisco or Los Angeles).

It’s difficult to make re-signing a backup quarterback a priority, but the drop-off between Smith and Daniel is negligible.

Finally, defensive tackle Jaye Howard is a player who is getting a lot of mentions around the NFL. Nobody believes that he’ll be a superstar in the near future, but it’s difficult to find legitimate defensive line depth and he has talent.

If you’re thinking that head coach Andy Reid has favorites on the roster and has a say in free agency, a Chiefs source told us otherwise.  Our source told us that Reid is happy to just be coaching and leaves the personnel part to the personnel people.

This will be the most important offseason in GM John Dorsey’s era at the position and his decisions on who he keeps and lets go will shape the team going forward.  Outside of signing Berry, there could be a mass exodus in Kansas City.


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.