The Kansas City Chiefs and their limited cap space can still find some upgrades in key areas in 2017 NFL free agency.
The Kansas City Chiefs just signed Eric Berry to a huge deal and extended right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. They were fairly strapped for cash before the deals. One would think that these would possibly take them into the red with the salary cap—especially Berry’s monstrous deal to make him the league’s highest-paid safety.
As it turns out, the 2017 cap numbers (per The Kansas City Star) for the new contracts only add up to just over $7 million. That leaves roughly $8 million in cap space with the release of Jamaal Charles and the expected release of Nick Foles.
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Still, that isn’t much to work with so the Chiefs won’t be big players at the start of free agency. There could be some free agents that are available at a lower cost to the Chiefs yet still be upgrades to their current depth. There are really only three positions that are worth free agent risks to the team in defensive tackle, inside linebacker, and wide receiver. Ideally these positions are addressed in the draft. However, if you can get some veteran presence for a lower price you take that chance.
With the Chiefs electing not to use the franchise tag on Dontari Poe, it opens the door for him to go get big money. That is big money the Chiefs cannot afford. If Poe were to come back, it would have to be a very team-friendly contract. I just can’t see that happening. Poe should go out and get what any team is willing to give him. That leaves a big hole in the middle of the defensive line.
The Chiefs may decide to go back to a true 3-4, but both the draft and free agency lack a dominant nose guard to make that happen. Instead, a guy like Stacy McGee or Sylvester Williams could rotate with the current stable of defensive tackles/defensive ends to get back to a 4-3 defense.
McGee spent the early part of his career with the Oakland Raiders who run a similar 4-3 system. He works better as a pass rusher than a run defender so he would be used in certain situations. Drafted as a sixth-rounder in 2013, one could argue he has played past his expectation but not enough to claim big money.
On the other side, Sylvester Williams has not lived up to his potential for the Denver Broncos. He has somewhat similar career numbers to McGee’s, but with a much higher draft status. The larger difference is tackle numbers. Williams proved to be better at stopping the run than rushing the quarterback. Because of his first round billing, Williams is considered a disappointment in Denver—so he shouldn’t claim a big contract. Neither defensive tackle should cost more than $1.5 million a year.
The Chiefs have relied on the services of Derrick Johnson for 12 seasons. The rest of the inside linebackers currently under contract have a combined 19 starts. Kansas City needs experience at the position. Josh Mauga is a free agent and could be re-signed, but there are options out there that may not break the bank.
The best option for the Chiefs is Arizona’s Kevin Minter. Minter finished third on the team in tackles with 81 in 2016. It helps the Chiefs that Minter was actually a disappointment in his first two years. This experience should keep him off the high demand lists and keep his contract fairly low. He is young, but has experience on a defense that was tasked with a heavy load this season. The Chiefs get insurance for Johnson and experience while keeping youth in the front seven.
Kansas City has two legitimate threats at the wide receiver position, one potential target, and then there’s rest. It’s safe to say that, after Jeremy Maclin’s difficult 2016, the Chiefs are going to need someone to help take the pressure off of him and potential star Tyreek Hill. Chris Conley has yet to find a good rhythm with Alex Smith, so he simply suffers from a lack of targets. There are several free agent wide receivers that could make the wide receiving corps irresistible to throw to, even for Smith.
Wide receiver is generally more expensive in free agency. If the Chiefs want an impact player then they should expect to pay between $2-3 million per year. Terrance Williams and Robert Woods are two young suitors with great potential. Williams made people in Dallas notice in 2015 by filling in for injured Dez Bryant. He lost some clout in 2016 with the return of Bryant and the emergence of Cole Beasley. Without his 2015 production and limited cap space, Dallas should let Williams walk. There may be a team out there who will grossly over pay for his services, but he would provide solid competition for the No. 2 spot on the outside if not.
Meanwhile, Woods has just not lived up to his potential in Buffalo. Some of that could be the heavy run emphasis of the Bills under Rex Ryan, though some of it definitely falls on Woods. He is likely to be the cheaper option between him and Williams, but he still has the experience of a No. 2 wide receiver. Giving Smith as many weapons as possible is key to Kansas City’s success in 2017. It also gives whomever may be learning behind Smith the best chance to flourish.