3 in the Kee: Which Chiefs must deal with the most fallout from Flowers’ departure?

Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper had a tough time against the Broncos last season, but it should have been a good learning experience for him.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — And then there was one.

If you’re counting, now that cornerback Brandon Flowers is out the door, the Kansas City Chiefs have only one draft pick from the Class of 2008 left on the roster — running back Jamaal Charles.

Another number to note: 87.

As in, that’s how many career NFL starts Flowers, the former Virginia Tech product, had under his belt through the fall of 2013.

Persepective: The 10 cornerbacks left on the Chiefs’ roster have 105 NFL starts, combined. And veteran Sean Smith accounts for 71 of those, all by himself.

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So, yeah, there’s a financial savings for letting No. 24 go. But there’s plenty of risk, too, especially where these three on concerned …

THE THREE CHIEFS TYPES UNDER THE MOST PRESSURE FROM FLOWERS’ RELEASE

:03 … MARCUS COOPER, CB

Obviously. The learning curve for the second-year defensive back out of Rutgers just got accelerated, big-time.

No longer do we have to guess where the 24-year-old Cooper "fits" in the Chiefs’ defensive scheme this fall — it’s looking as if he’ll have the inside track on one of the starting outside cornerback slots, where he made six starts last fall after being picked up off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers.

Cooper has the size (6-foot-2), speed (a reported 4.45 in the spring of ’13) and physicality to fit the Chiefs’ defensive profile, and did well learning on the job during the first half of the 2013 campaign. But he’ll have to show that the painful lessons learned during the final eight tilts of last fall — Denver quarterback Peyton Manning made Cooper a one-man target late in the year — stuck. The Chiefs have been working with Cooper and Ron Parker as the first-team corners during organized team activities, but Smith — who was demoted after his arrest on DUI charges last week — is expected to return to his starting position in the fall.


:02 … BOB SUTTON, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Publicly, Flowers played the good soldier when he was moved from one of the Chiefs’ outside cornerback slots to the role of slot/nickel cornerback after the first month of the season. But what’s telling is that it took repeated torchings of Cooper by the likes of Manning and Philip Rivers to get the Chiefs to consider moving Flowers back outside.

Sutton likes physical cornerbacks who can disrupt a route and still run with the guy shooting past them. General manager John Dorsey likes guys taller than 5-11 who can also motor. Flowers had the motoring part down — most of the time — but couldn’t help being 5-9. With a -9.8 cumulative rating from ProFootballFocus.com and a -0.3 rating in run defense, Flowers wasn’t fulfilling either end of the bargain.

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That said, the pressure is also on Sutton more than ever to justify that his system, and finding fits for his system, are of more value, short term, than keeping Flowers on board. Considering that two of the Chiefs’ top reserve cornerbacks played at Newberry (Ron Parker) and Rice (Phillip Gaines), respectively, wish the man luck on that last bit. He’ll need it.

:01 … JOHN DORSEY, GENERAL MANAGER

But ultimately, the man whose neck is stuck out the most to start the week is the man who wields the ax.

Dorsey has a vision, and that vision is in the long view. The first step was eviscerating as much of the roster as he could, while blowing up and starting over at quarterback. The end result turned out to be much better than many Chiefs fans — and certainly most pundits — expected, with an 11-5 record and a wild-card berth right out of the chute. Alex Smith became more productive, more comfortable, with each passing week in Andy Reid’s offense. What Smith couldn’t do in the season’s first half, Charles and a strangling defense could.

Decisions such as the one with Flowers are being done with 2015 and ’16 and ’17 in mind — and maybe the three years after that. The formula for NFL success, continued success, is a simple notion that requires complex machinations: Get the coach right, the quarterback right and the defense mostly right, and the rest — more often than not — usually takes care of itself. But that also means making hard, unpopular choices with good or pretty good players (Flowers, Branden Albert, Tyson Jackson, Dexter McCluster, Geoff Schwartz) in order to hang on to franchise talents, pillars, the irreplaceable.

Of course, as with first-round quarterbacks, if you happen to miss on whom you designate as the latter, the house of cards implodes. The early returns are that Dorsey wound up burned by signing Dwayne Bowe to a five-year contact in March 2013 for $56 million, $26 million guaranteed, further handicapping a position with question marks while also limiting his cap flexibility to address other needs.

Such as, oh, the secondary.

Who could be counted on to catch the ball consistently was a giant question mark hanging over the club going into this week. Who can be counted on to shut down a big-time receiver is now sitting right next to that first query, lighting up the sky in giant, neon letters.

The Chiefs won now, which was always the point. But winning now while also drawing a contender’s schedule and trying to get out of salary-cap purgatory is a little like juggling a hacksaw, a hot poker and a shotgun at the same time.

Eventually, given deft enough hands, there may be equilibrium, sense, comfort and balance. But there may wind up being an awful lot of blood spilled first.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.