Chiefs face key offseason questions with cornerstone players
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When they took over the Chiefs four years ago, general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid had the luxury of several cornerstones upon which to rebuild the ailing organization.
Those cornerstones could soon be playing elsewhere. Or not at all.
After a season-ending 27-20 defeat in New England on Saturday that snapped Kansas City’s franchise-record 11-game win streak, defensive stalwarts such as linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson and safeties Eric Berry and Husain Abdullah are due to become free agents.
So are cornerback Sean Smith, defensive tackles Mike DeVito and Jaye Howard, offensive linemen Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson, and even backup quarterback Chase Daniel.
"I can’t tell you I look at the list and it shocks me," Reid said. "That’s not where I am with it. I know some of these guys are going to return. That’s how it rolls. Which ones and how it works into the (salary) cap and all that, that’s Dorsey’s baby there."
Reid said that Dorsey is already at work on the situation, even though free agency doesn’t begin until March. But not all of the decisions will be entirely up to him.
Here are the biggest free-agency situations looming this offseason:
HALI TO RETIRE?
The linebacker said after Saturday’s game he will spend some time contemplating his future. He dealt with swelling in his knees much of the season, and rarely practiced. After more than a decade as one of the game’s top pass rushers, he could ultimately decide to call it quits.
But if he does come back, it would likely be with Kansas City. Hali values the organization that drafted him so much that he willingly restructured his deal to remain with it this season.
"I’m proud of the fact that we call ourselves family," he said. "I’m proud of the family. We rally and it’s unfortunate to end this way, but it’s a season that you can remember."
One of the only players to be with the Chiefs longer than Hali is Johnson, who returned from a season-ending Achilles tendon injury to prove he’s still among the NFL’s best. The 33-year-old linebacker has said many times he hopes to finish his career in Kansas City.
The 28-year-old Smith has become a standout in the secondary, a physical cornerback who perfectly fits the man-to-man defense of coordinator Bob Sutton. Smith was one of the first notable free agents to sign when Dorsey and Reid took over, and has professed his love for the club. Then again, physical cornerbacks in their prime demand a hefty price tag.
OTHER BIG NAMES
Also demanding hefty price tags are run-stuffing defensive tackles such as Howard, who earned a base salary of $660,000 during a breakout season. And versatile offensive linemen such as Allen, who can play guard or tackle and later this season finally started to show some of the mean streak Reid values so much. Kansas City needs to retain depth along both of its lines.
Of all the free-agent situations, Berry’s is the most intriguing.
The fifth overall pick of Kansas City in 2010, Berry has been among the game’s best safeties for years. But his relationship with the organization reached a different plateau this past year, when the Chiefs stood by him during his diagnosis, treatment and recovery from lymphoma.
Just months after his final round of treatment, Berry returned to the practice field, and he went on to have one of the best seasons of his career — he was voted an All-Pro for the second time.
"Obviously," Berry replied, when asked if he wants to return to the Chiefs. "This is family. At the same time, we’ll sit down and talk about it when we talk about it. But right now I’m just thankful for my teammates, my coaches and everybody that has something to do with me being back on the field this year. This is something special. Like I said, we’ll talk about it."
Reid declined to address the pending free agents specifically, but he did make an exception for Berry, another sign that their relationship has transcended the football field.
"I don’t want to get into ranking the guys, you can figure all that out," Reid said. "I think he wants to be here. We want him to be here. The agents and our people need to get with him, they’ll deal with all that, work through all that. But I like Eric Berry. I can tell you, I love Eric Berry."