Heading into 2013, the Chiefs' biggest needs reside at quarterback, defensive end and cornerback. Inside linebacker or defensive tackle will also climb the list, depending on whether head coach Andy Reid decides to implement a 4-3 defense or remains content with the team's current 3-4 scheme.
The following list includes 14 players that would fill the aforementioned holes—as well as others—and only takes players' active contracts into account. In other words, you're not going to spot Alex Smith or Michael Vick in the rundown, as both players will walk into the 2013 offseason as signed members of their current organizations.
First impressions tend to leave lasting perceptions (see Scott Pioli trades for Matt Cassel). If John Dorsey recruits a pack of the following 14 free agents, Kansas City's general manager approval ratings will spike quicker than a (Rob) Gronkowski score.
Assuming the world doesn't spin off its axis, the Baltimore Ravens probably aren't going to part ways with quarterback Joe Flacco.
And assuming that the Eagles didn't incentivize Reid, via Jack Stack gift cards, to sabotage the Chiefs, the offensive mastermind will likely solve Kansas City's quarterback quandary through a trade and/or the 2013 NFL draft.
Considering that Matt Cassel regressed to an ineffective shell of himself and ranks as the league's 17th highest-paid quarterback, he's destined for a one-way ticket out of town. Brady Quinn's one-year contract will also expire, so he's likely packing his bags as well.
Their departures will mark the first time that the duo has moved anything through the air in 2012.
If Kansas City doesn't opt to trade for a quarterback and draft one as well, the franchise will embark on a search to find a backup.
Jason Campbell isn't a candidate to serve as Kansas City's starter, but he's a suitable Plan B. Injuries have limited Campbell's opportunities as of late, but he wouldn't be asked to play a 16-game slate as a member of the Chiefs.
He has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in five of his last six seasons and toppled the 3,000-yard mark during the two years in which he started every contest.
In an anemic pool of free-agent quarterbacks, Campbell stands out as one of the few proven veterans with an established identity.
Before the Miami Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore was given the keys to the franchise in 2011.
Skeptics believe that he is just another run-of-the-mill backup quarterback who's a hefty contract away from becoming a migraine.
Others tend to think that he wasn't given a fair shake in Miami, and Moore, at the very least, is capable of becoming a serviceable stopgap solution as a younger quarterback waits in the wings.
The jury's still out. Moore's arm strength is unthreateningly average, but he has shown that he's capable of flinging it down the field if need be. In 2011—the only season that Moore's starts reached double digits—the Dolphins quarterback completed 60.5 percent of his passes and converted 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
Like Campbell, he's not the answer to any long-term problems, but he's a reassuring insurance policy if disaster strikes. Given Kansas City's current alternatives, Moore would easily raise the city's limbo-like bar of expectations.
The Peyton Hillis experiment proved to be largely disappointing, as the stampeding bruiser was continually hampered by injuries and only accounted for two notable performances in 2012. He is likely to continue his road to redemption elsewhere.
But Hillis wouldn't have been an ideal fit for Reid's offense to begin with. It's no secret that the head coach is a keen believer in up-tempo, quick-strike offenses that air it out like Sunday morning laundry.
Felix Jones, when healthy, is a dynamic tailback that jets past would-be tacklers with Mach speed. Both on the ground and in the air, Jones is a threat to tack seven on the scoreboard every time that he cradles the ball.
The speedster has averaged 4.8 yards per carry throughout his career and posted a 10.2 yards per reception average in 2012.
Kansas City's rushing attack may not boast the same range of diversity that it did with Hillis, but Jones would give it an extra dose of game-breaking ability. Thunder intimidates; lightning kills.
If you're one of the Chiefs fans that stuck it out for the long haul—or have masochistic tendencies and live in the Kansas City area—there's a good chance that Cedric Peerman's name rings a bell.
The fourth-year running back's opportunities have been few and far between, but he has launched hardboiled eggs through their windows—and onto the face of Marvin Lewis, considering how little Peerman has been utilized—every time one presents itself.
With the aforementioned 41 carries, Peerman has gashed defenses for 274 rushing yards—a 6.7 yards per carry average.
In Week 8's dismantling of the Chiefs, he dashed for 71 yards on eight attempts. The following Sunday, the tailback gained 61 yards on, again, only eight carries. His longest rush of the season was a 44-yard gallop versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was also his lone handoff of the game.
For unknown reasons, Peerman has remained a shunned secret in Cincinnati. His new (and likely cheap) contract would result in a small price to pay for a potential home-run hitter to complement the team's current slugger, Jamaal Charles.
Reid is acutely aware of the scrutinizing mob that awaits him if he underutilizes Jamaal Charles.
In last season's Arrowhead finale, the Pro Bowler toyed with Indianapolis Colts defenders like an open-field puppeteer with enough anticipation to checkmate Nastradamus quicker than Charles' 40 time.
In the Week 16 nail-biter, Charles incinerated pursuers on his way to racking up 226 rushing yards on only 22 attempts, including an 86-yard beeline to the end zone.
That game served as the latest set of evidence that, when paired with effective lead blocking, Charles' lightning-quick speed evolves into a thunderstorm that rains on defensive coordinators' parades.
In the latter half of 2012, he was at his best when fullback Patrick DiMarco steamrolled defenders and paved the way.
If Reid hopes to maximize Charles' abilities, signing a top-tier fullback like Darrel Young will be essential. The Washington Redskins' bulldozer is a brutal lead blocker who turns lanes into highways.
But he's far from a conventional, one-dimensional escort guiding a two-man caravan.
Young has shown his ability to double as a rusher or receiver—he averaged 13.6 yards per reception in 2012.
Although the football ceases to spiral his way a lot, Young has proven that he will exploit defenses that don't respect his skill set. He would add another weapon to the arsenal at an affordable cost.
Minnesota Vikings fullback Jerome Felton doesn't possess the eclectic skill set that Darrel Young does, but he rivals the best blocking fullbacks in the game.
There are two reasons why, in 2012, Adrian Peterson fell only nine yards shy of the NFL's single-season rushing record. The primary reason: He's the athletic "missing link" between mortals and superheroes, whose sweat baptizes the field in holiness while trampling people like an amputated Minotaur. The secondary reason: Jerome Felton lined up in front of him for 402 snaps. (Side note: Comparing players to mythological figures tends to trivialize whatever comes after it.)
Felton lent a huge hand in Peterson's race against time and, in terms of blocking, is widely considered to reside in the same neighborhood as the Vonta Leechs of the world. He welcomes contact like an old friend, plows open-field horizons and seals edges like a muscle-bound, childproofing parent.
Jamaal Charles is the sport's all-time leader in yards per carry (5.8). If he conquered that feat in spite of a nonexistent passing game and a smattering of backfield blocking, imagine what No. 25 would be capable of when paired with a vertical threat and an angry Jerome Felton charging ahead like a crazed bull.
A gang of questions loom over the Chiefs' receiving corps.
Aerial playmaker Dwayne Bowe proved to be the team's only reliable outside threat, again. Scott Pioli refused to grant the receiver a longterm contract, despite the fact that Bowe has lined up as the franchise's first, second and third passing option throughout recent years.
Former first-rounder Jon Baldwin has illuminated stadiums at times, but the 6'4" starter can't seem to shake the shadows and rarely evolves into a target.
Kansas City has a tandem of young, talented slot receivers in Dexter McCluster and Devon Wylie. But injuries repeatedly nagged the duo—especially Wylie—throughout 2012.
Historically, many of Andy Reid's teams dominated the skies like the Red Baron. In comparison, the Chiefs' aerial impressiveness ranks somewhere between a circus walrus and a Red Bull Flugtag at Arizona State on St. Patrick's Day.
If Reid hopes to transform Kansas City's stale passing game into one of his signature blitzkriegs, a marquee receiver like Greg Jennings would lay a cornerstone for the foundation.
Oftentimes, receivers who play alongside elite quarterbacks have their accomplishments downplayed, as critics claim that their success is a byproduct of said thrower of pigskins. Rest assured that Jennings' success is primarily attributed to his own abilities.
The Green Bay fan favorite runs precise, textbook routes; clamps nearly impossible catches; and embodies enough speed to stretch the field and bypass defensive backs. As he gains experience, it's increasingly hard to pinpoint a blemish in Jennings' game.
Aaron Rodgers' go-to target has tallied 57 touchdowns in seven NFL seasons. A sports hernia limited Jennings' 2012 campaign to five starts, but the wideout still managed to haul in one more receiving touchdown (four total) than Kansas City's leader, Dwayne Bowe (three).
Domenik Hixon's game isn't as polished as Greg Jennings', but he would still thrive in Kansas City as a quality No. 2 receiver.
Being that Hixon pulled a New York Giants jersey over his pads for five of his six seasons, Andy Reid is well-acquianted with his former rival's X-factor.
New York's receiver would inject a downfield element into Kansas City's passing game and function nicely opposite of Dwayne Bowe.
However, he's not a No. 1 wideout by any stretch. If the Chiefs divorce Bowe's contract, the front office will be forced to mine for his replacement in the draft or trade for an equally disgruntled receiver like the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace. The only other headlining names on the market are the New England Patriots' Wes Welker—a 31-year-old slot receiver—and Hixon's teammate, Victor Cruz, who will be a restricted free agent.
If Andy Reid and Co. pull the trigger on a longterm contract for Bowe, though, Hixon will push Jon Baldwin for the second starting job. He averaged 14.5 yards per reception last year and ended the season as the Giants' most consistent pass-catcher, sticking 68 percent of the passes hurled his way as of December 16 (via NFL Draft Scout).
Ryan Clady may harbor the most stress of any NFL player on a down-to-down basis.
He's asked to protect the blindside of, arguably, the front-runner for this season's MVP, Peyton Manning. And it just so happens that Manning's 40 time rivals the record for your local YMCA's 50-and-up league.
The odds of Denver bidding farewell to Clady are comparable to those of Baltimore waving goodbye to Flacco. Actually, the latter is probably the more practical scenario.
Manning was only sacked 21 times throughout the year, and Clady was the most integral piece to that puzzle of protection.
There is little doubt that the Broncos will retain Clady and sign him to a lengthy contract or, at the very least, slap the club's franchise tag on him. But nobody predicted Eric Winston's release by the Houston Texans one season ago, either.
Assuming that Denver doesn't suffer from a lapse in judgment, Kansas City will likely echo the same move and re-sign its reliable left tackle, Branden Albert.
Year in and year out, Kansas City's roster reveals an annual void at defensive end. Former No. 3 overall pick Tyson Jackson began showing signs of promise in his last six games of 2012.
Due to injuries, ex-head coach Romeo Crennel began utilizing Jackson in various pass-rushing subsets. And for the first time in Jackson's NFL career, he was applying consistent quarterback pressure (at least by Kansas City's standards). With a year left on Jackson's contract, he's a virtual lock to stay on the team.
Glenn Dorsey, however, will likely find a new home in 2013. He battled injuries throughout the second half of last season and, like Jackson, nosedived while trying to reach his pre-draft expectations.
With No. 72 out of the picture, the Chiefs will look to upgrade the position. Kansas City could address the need in the second round of the draft, especially if a talent like Sam Montgomery falls in its lap. (Good luck in selling the fanbase on another LSU defensive lineman, though.)
The smartest choice would be to tackle the issue via free agency. Paul Kruger emerged as a feared edge rusher during starter Terrell Suggs' injury-induced absence.
His statistics have drastically improved in each of his past three seasons as he has become acclimated to the professional game. The Ravens' up-and-comer accounted for nine sacks, one interception and one forced fumble last year.
In order for Kruger to be considered as a premiere defensive end, he will need to continue working on his awareness against the run and sharpen his timing at the snap. But while doing so, he still remains an edge-rushing nightmare and will demand less money than other headlining (potential) defensive ends.
Assuming that Andy Reid repeats his trend of implementing 4-3 defenses, Kruger would be asked to make the jump from outside linebacker to defensive end.
Andy Reid and 4-3 defenses are virtually attached at the hip.
If the Chiefs' new head coach decides to flip the scheme, "defensive tackle" will skyrocket up the list of the team's needs. And Henry Melton is the whale in the pool of free-agent defensive tackles.
At 6'3" and 280 pounds, Melton is surprisingly athletic and nimble with his feet at the line of scrimmage. There's a reason for it: He made his college debut as a running back.
Chicago's interior road block was elected to his first Pro Bowl in 2012, corralling quarterbacks for six sacks and causing two fumbles.
Although Melton's an unrestricted free agent, the Bears could sign him to a one-year tender if the two parties can't find a happy medium during offseason negotiations.
But considering how bull-headed and stingy the Bears organization tends to be, no outcome should raise any eyebrows.
If Andy Reid undergoes a change of heart and deploys a 3-4 defense, only then will Kansas City's higher-ups scour free agency for a second starting inside linebacker.
Dannell Ellerbe started opposite of—and was mentored by—Ray Lewis. Ellerbe normally lined up as the weak-side linebacker, which is the same position that Derrick Johnson held in 2012.
Considering Johnson's success at the position, Ellerbe would likely be the one asked to move over and beef up his 238-pound frame.
If Reid announces that the 3-4 will make its return to Arrowhead next season, the Ravens inside linebacker should draw a considerable amount of interest. And the Chiefs should reside in the middle of the frenzy.
Aqib Talib is no stranger to the Kansas City area; he was one of the centerpieces in the University of Kansas' journey to the 2007 Orange Bowl.
Talib also isn't a stranger to off-field issues. No matter where he moves to, baggage follows the five-year veteran like a lost puppy.
But anyone who strictly evaluates Talib through the lens of an NFL camera will claim that, on the field, there's no limit to his potential.
From a physical standpoint, the now-New England Patriots defender epitomizes the ideal cornerback. Talib owns the kind of height (6'2"), speed and ball skills that scouts drool over.
Kansas City's second starting cornerback slot is wide open. And considering the gambles that Reid has followed through with in the past, it wouldn't be shocking for the Chiefs to contact Talib in the offseason.
Kendrick Lewis has combated various injuries dating back to the end of 2011 regular season.
This year, he never looked like the draft-day steal who caused nine combined turnovers in his first two seasons. Instead, Lewis failed to snag one interception or force one fumble in his nine contests of 2012.
The Chiefs aren't in dire need of an upgrade at free safety—at least, not when compared to the roster's more pressing needs.
But if the club doesn't trust that Lewis will revert to his pre-2012 self, Kansas City could—and would—make a splash in the free agency market by signing San Francisco 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson.
Goldson is a helmet-rattling vulture who seldom allows downfield completions; he's extremely disciplined when dropping back into coverage. There is little doubt that the safety will prove to be an annual Pro Bowl favorite for years to come.
But like Dwayne Bowe, the safety signed a one-year tender last offseason, as he and the 49ers failed to reach a compromise on a long-term deal. In other words, if 2011 is indicative of his current mindset, Goldson's services aren't going to come cheaply.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering