The Kansas City Chiefs signed cornerback Dunta Robinson Friday just hours after the legal tampering period opened for players entering free agency.
Signing a cornerback made a lot of sense given the Chiefs' lack of depth at the position last season, but it wasn’t immediately clear if Robinson would play cornerback at all; if Robinson does play cornerback full-time, it’s a curious move for the new regime, as he wasn’t any better than Javier Arenas or Stanford Routt in coverage last season.
Robinson’s strength is supporting the run, which is somewhat of a rarity in cornerbacks. Robinson is also 30 years old—the age when many cornerbacks begin to decline. It’s clear that Robinson would be a better fit at free safety than cornerback, which is where he should play for the Chiefs.
There’s no telling exactly where Robinson will play, but the speculation is that he'll play safety or be a nickel cornerback. If Robinson’s contract is any indication, he won't likely be a starting cornerback for the Chiefs unless they face injury problems.
According to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Tribune, Robinson’s contract is worth more than $15 million and has more than $4 million guaranteed. The contract is also reportedly heavily back-loaded, which means Robinson’s cap hit in 2013 is minimal. As Jensen notes, starting cornerbacks typically get paid around $6 million per year, which indicates that Robinson may not be considered a starter.
By comparison, Routt’s three-year contract was over $6.5 million annually even if he made only a portion of it before being released. Robinson will come significantly cheaper than Routt, but the Chiefs hardly want to repeat a mistake by forcing Robinson to play cornerback.
One of the nice things about moving a cornerback to safety is they have the coverage skills, but they don’t lineup against No. 1 or No. 2 wide receivers. With the emergence of the tight end in the NFL passing game, safeties that can cover are more important than ever. Plus, one of the big problems the Chiefs had on defense last season was their inability to match teams who spread them out.
Getting Robinson to play safety and possibly cornerback in nickel and dime situations improves the Chiefs' versatility on defense. With the addition of another cornerback, inside linebacker and defensive end, the Chiefs will be very close to having the dominant defense they seek.
Robinson is a low-risk signing with a very predictable reward that gives the Chiefs' defense exactly what it needs. Signing free agents can be risky because of the cost associated with landing a player who's former team no longer felt was worth the money, but players like Robinson are known commodities.
The Chiefs should know that Robinson isn’t a starting-caliber cornerback anymore, which is why he should play safety and chip-in as an extra cornerback when necessary. As long as the Chiefs don’t force Robinson to cover No. 1 or No. 2 cornerbacks, he’s a great signing that will help the Chiefs significantly in 2013.