Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for the Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs approach the offseason with no shortage of curious eyes tracking their every move. Through the 2013 NFL draft, head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey will craft a young nucleus to build around for seasons to come.
However, free agency will likely dictate whether the Chiefs make a push for the playoffs next season. Five priorities to address through free agency top the offseason to-do list.
With cuts, contracts and other personnel questions, Kansas City's current roster looks more like a cheese grater than a potential depth chart.
Although the Chiefs recruited Dorsey from a franchise notorious for turning blind eyes to free agency, Reid's right-hand man will be forced to dip his toes into the market throughout the upcoming months.
The majority of last offseason's key acquisitions proved why they were forced to the unemployment line to begin with. If history repeats itself, the Chiefs' 2013 chapter will ultimately end prematurely.
But, if Arrowhead's front office can steer clear of the bad apples, the next crop of free-agent signees could be a fruitful one for KC.
5. Address the Void at Strong-Side Linebacker
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When scrolling through the Chiefs depth chart, Kansas City's linebacking corps jumps off the page. Three of the team's four starters jetted away from the mainland as Pro Bowlers last January.
But defenses are only as strong as their weakest links. In Kansas City, that vulnerability resides within its vaunted group of linebackers.
With Brandon Siler departing for the free-agent market, Cory Greenwood is currently slotted to line up at strong-side linebacker beside All-Pro Derrick Johnson. Greenwood—who posts three years of experience to his name—averages two tackles per season, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Greenwood's lack of playing means he is more of a question mark than an answer for the Chiefs.
A number of highly touted inside linebackers, such Kevin Minter and Manti Te'o, could breach the second round of the draft. And while a prospect like Minter certainly warrants a No. 34 selection, Kansas City could look to trade down and stockpile picks. The Chiefs' ailing defensive backfield needs as much help as can be enlisted and April's class boasts a wealth of secondary talent.
A viable linebacking target is Brad Jones, who had spent his first four seasons as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Following a failed experiment on the outside, Jones reverted back to his collegiate position at strong-side linebacker last season. In 16 games, No. 59 tallied 77 combined tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble in 2012 (via Pro-Football-Reference.com).
Jones is a reliable run and pass defender and he won't ship to his new address with a hefty price tag attached.
4. Sign a Proven Starter at Cornerback
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Javier Arenas shows the potential to eventually prosper into a solid nickel back. But his 5'9" frame and average recovery speed will likely prohibit him from ever evolving into a No. 2 cornerback.
There are a slew of rookies with post-first-round projections whom flash the necessary skills to be a starting NFL defensive back. But relying on a second- or third-round rookie to mask the glaring weakness at cornerback would require a leap of faith from Andy Reid.
Unless salary-cap complications force him off the edge, rest assured that the head coach's feet will remain anchored on solid ground.
Kansas City's higher-ups could elect to roll the dice on a player like Sam Shields—another former Green Bay Packers defender. Leaving high school, Shields was originally recruited as a wide receiver. And after watching his Packers jersey transform to a blurred green light while sprinting, it's easy to see why. The speedster owns a recorded 4.24 40 time (via NFL Draft Scout)—if you lined Shields up against Greyhounds, the hare would be chasing him by the end of the race. He also stands roughly two inches taller than Arenas.
Due to his off-field antics, the soured reputations of Adam Jones and Aqib Talib raise more red flags than Beijing. But, if an athlete such as Jones or Talib can get onto the field, he or she will always find a home, regardless of the baggage that may shadow them. However, if there's one erratic personality that draws the interest of Reid, it may belong to a cornerback he coached last season: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
3. Re-Sign Dwayne Bowe and Replace Steve Breaston
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Quarterbacks normally double as the poster-boy for their respective team's passing game. Dwayne Bowe is the exception to the rule.
Throughout recent years, the wideout has continued to stare down the uphill struggle known as the Chiefs' aerial attack and post respectable numbers. With Bowe under contract, Reid is promised that, barring injuries, Kansas City will march onto Sunday fields with at least two offensive standouts, the other being Jamaal Charles.
Whether the two parties agree on a long-term deal or the front office resorts to pinning the franchise tag on Bowe, No. 82 is destined to enter 2013 draped in red.
But, if whispers of a departure were to begin circulating, Greg Jennings' popularity would skyrocket throughout the Kansas City area. Jennings combated a nagging sports hernia in 2012. But when he's healthy, he presents a sure-handed vertical threat with a side of crisp route-running. The skill set of the ex-Green Bay Packers receiver would enjoy a seamless fit into Andy Reid's offense.
Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Mike Wallace represents another buzz-worthy option. But his game isn't as balanced nor polished as that of Jennings'. Wallace's effectiveness would likely wither if paired with a quarterback like Alex Smith, whose biggest challenge comes in the form of downfield passing.
Regardless of Bowe's future, the Chiefs will still need to fill the shoes of recently released Steve Breaston.
Chiefs cut Steve Breaston, Kevin Boss wp.me/p14QSB-7jVZ— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 19, 2013
Kansas City could potentially address the issue by gambling a late-round pick on Marquess Wilson or Marcus Davis—two names shrouded in uncertainty.
2. Determine Branden Albert's Fate Before the Draft
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Left tackle Branden Albert's contract negotiations are puppeteering the results of April's No. 1 overall draft pick.
If Albert returns to Kansas City, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel will be following fresh footsteps while making his way towards NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Presuming the Chiefs stay cemented at the top of the board, the buzz will drift away from Joeckel and target West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and/or Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
But if Albert's negotiations linger, Joeckel will swing Radio City Music Hall's doors open as the consensus favorite to go No. 1.
The sooner Kansas City closes the ongoing chapter with Albert, the sooner dust begins to settle around the first selection. Reid's staff could then refocus its attention on other prospects projected to fall into the subsequent rounds.
1. Overhaul and Upgrade the Quarterback Position
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If Matt Cassel doesn't drastically restructure his contract, the curtains will close on his era in Kansas City.
Brady Quinn's 2012 record (1-7) paralleled that of his much-maligned predecessor, and he finished the year with a worse touchdown-to-interception ratio (two touchdowns, eight interceptions) than Cassel (six touchdowns, 12 interceptions). (via Pro-Football-Reference.com)
The stars are aligned for Kansas City to undergo a significant face-lift at quarterback—out with the old, in with the new.
Stemming from his successful track record, Andy Reid's signing—to many Chiefs fans—signified the beginning of the end for Kansas City's oppressively tenuous quarterback play.
Two names have continually trended on Kansas Citians' radios throughout February: Alex Smith and Nick Foles.
However, the status of Smith's availability has been muddied by contradicting reports:
49ers GM says all options are on the table for Alex Smith wp.me/p14QSB-7ksA— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 21, 2013
REPORT: Sources say 49ers are HIGHLY unlikely to release Alex Smith— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 21, 2013
The asking price for Foles has wildly fluctuated, as well.
If Reid doesn't land one of the passers before draft day, the press will collectively napalm the fuse underneath Geno Smith's stock.
No matter how the next handful of months unfold, the Kansas City Chiefs are bound to exit the offseason with a pair of new passers at checkout.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering