Examining Kansas City Chiefs' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles
Following a 2-14 campaign last season, team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt went to work on revamping the organization from the top down, beginning with changes at the general manager and head coaching positions.
Scott Pioli made a name for himself as a personnel man for the New England Patriots, but his time in Kansas City wasn’t quite as prosperous. While the Chiefs searched for a new head coach to replace Romeo Crennel, Pioli sat in on the interviews, presumably helping to pick the head coach who would necessitate his departure.
Kansas City hired former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid—a coach known for having a say in nearly every personnel decision made in Philadelphia. With Reid assuming the head coaching role in Kansas City, it was time for Pioli and the Chiefs to part ways.
John Dorsey replaced Pioli at the position, but the new GM isn’t likely to wield as much power as Pioli did in his time with the team. By all indications, Dorsey and Reid are working together on personnel matters, giving the new head coach an opportunity to mold his roster the way he sees fit.
Reid brought in an entirely new coaching staff, effectively cleaning house and starting fresh with a new identity. But perhaps his biggest offseason move came in the form of a trade for a new starting quarterback.
With Colin Kaepernick having taken the reins in San Francisco, the 49ers were willing to part ways with Alex Smith—a quarterback who saw a resurgence of sorts under head coach Jim Harbaugh. San Francisco simply wasn’t willing to facilitate a quarterback controversy or pay Smith top dollar, but the 49ers’ loss was Kansas City’s gain.
The Chiefs traded two draft picks for Smith (a 2013 second-rounder and 2014 conditional pick), but the potential reward was worth the risk. After all, the Chiefs finished the 2012 season ranked dead last in the NFL in passing.
Factor in the absence of an elite quarterback in the 2013 NFL draft class and it appears Kansas City made the right choice.
With a new quarterback at the helm, Dorsey and Reid went to work on filling in pieces around him. First they re-signed Dwayne Bowe to a five-year, $56 million contract extension, and then they gave offensive tackle Branden Albert the franchise tag.
While Kansas City did well to keep its in-house affairs in order this offseason, it also pieced together a tremendous free-agent class that included the likes of cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, tight end Anthony Fasano, wide receiver Donnie Avery and former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Akeem Jordan—a player with whom Reid was already familiar.
The Chiefs also put together a solid draft class, headlined by No. 1 overall offensive tackle Eric Fisher.
Fisher, a late riser in the predraft process, jumped Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel to earn that selection, and while the merits of Kansas City’s choice are still being discussed, Dorsey and Reid got the player they wanted at No. 1.
We’ll take a closer look at that decision and the rest of the Chiefs’ draft class, as well as a more involved look at some key free-agent signings, positions to watch and the Chiefs’ 2013 schedule. Read on.
2013 Nfl Draft
Round 1 (Pick 1): OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
Round 3 (Pick 63): TE Travis Kelce, Cincinnati
Round 3 (Pick 96): RB Knile Davis, Arkansas
Round 4 (Pick 99): LB Nico Johnson, Alabama
Round 5 (Pick 134): CB Sanders Commings, Georgia
Round 6 (Pick 170): C Eric Kush, California (PA)
Round 6 (Pick 204): FB Braden Wilson, Kansas State
Round 7 (Pick 207): DE Mike Catapano, Princeton
Matt Cassel wasn’t the answer in Kansas City, and everyone knew it. The biggest question following the 2012 campaign was this: In which direction would the Chiefs go at the quarterback position?
Many expected Andy Reid to identifying his favorite quarterback in the draft and pull the trigger at No. 1. Others believed the Chiefs would attempt to trade back in the first round and still select a future franchise quarterback.
But the Alex Smith trade allowed Kansas City to avoid that route. Reaching to fill a positional need is rarely a good idea, especially at the top of the first round.
With Smith’s arrival, Dorsey and Reid were able to address another positional need while still taking value into account, selecting Eric Fisher with the first overall pick.
Following the announcement of the Smith deal, the general consensus was that the Chiefs would opt for the best player available in the 2013 draft in Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. Despite Fisher’s impressive workout numbers and solid offseason at both the Senior Bowl and combine, few expected the Central Michigan product to actually jump Joeckel for the No. 1 selection.
But Reid saw something in Fisher that he perhaps didn’t see in Joeckel, and he pulled the trigger to get his guy. Given Branden Albert’s apparent offseason unrest, the Chiefs needed to select the player they believed would be the best long-term option at the left tackle position.
As it stands, Albert is under contract for the 2013 season and doesn’t appear to be moving from the left side to the right—meaning Fisher is going to be making a lot of money playing on the right side in 2013.
More on that later.
After trading their second-round pick in the deal that brought Smith to town, Dorsey and Reid needed to make the most of their last seven selections. Time will tell if their draft class will pan out, but there’s reason to be hopeful.
Tight end Travis Kelce was perhaps the highest-upside selection in the team’s entire draft class, and finding him in the third round was a potential steal. At 6’5” and 255 pounds, he has the frame of a traditional blocking tight end with the receiving skills of a much more athletic player. Kelce won’t wow anyone with his speed or explosiveness, but he has all the makings of a consistently productive tight end at the NFL level.
The Chiefs also needed to find a replacement for backup running back Peyton Hillis, who remains unsigned as an unrestricted free agent. With the 96th pick, they selected Arkansas running back Knile Davis—a player who clocked a terrific 4.37-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
While Davis isn’t the bruising complementary back Hillis was behind Jamaal Charles, he does give the Chiefs another high-upside option at the position.
Kansas City’s draft success continued on Day 3 with the selections of linebacker Nico Johnson and cornerback Sanders Commings. While neither player appears poised for a starting role to start the season, each has the potential to see significant playing time in 2013.
In all, it was a strong draft class for Reid and Dorsey, who found the players they wanted without reaching to fill positional needs. They opted for a relatively safe approach, but given their success in free agency, this draft class has very little chance of being tagged with the “bust” label.
Brandon Flowers is one of the best man-to-man cover corners in the NFL, but at 5’9”, both he and fellow 2012 starter Javier Arenas were at a disadvantage against big, physical NFL receivers—the kind of receivers division foes like the San Diego Chargers love to split out wide.
Kansas City fielded the league’s No. 12 passing defense last year, but there was room for improvement this offseason.
And Dorsey and Reid took full advantage of the opportunity.
The tandem signed former Miami Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith and former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson to augment the team’s cornerback group, effectively solidifying an undersized unit with more talent and depth, as well as some size in Smith.
At 6’3” and 218 pounds, Smith has the size and physicality to hold his own against the AFC West’s bigger receivers. While he struggled at times in man coverage with the Dolphins, Smith was a much-needed addition to Kansas City’s secondary.
As quoted by Adam Teicher of The Kansas City Star, Flowers is confident in Smith’s abilities and knows he adds plenty to the defense:
Hopefully we can throw him on all the 6-4, 6-5 receivers. He’s a great cover guy, a long cover guy. He adds great depth to this defense. He helps us throw different calls out there. We’ve got guys that can match up all over the field. We’ve got, like, five corners that can play.
Include Robinson in that group of “corners that can play.”
With nine years of NFL experience and 17 career interceptions, Robinson has proven himself as a starting-caliber corner and presents Kansas City with a lot of matchup options. He’s not especially big (5’10”, 183 pounds), but he has the speed and quickness to hang with the league’s best slot receivers—something he may be doing a lot of this season.
As it stands, Flowers and Smith look like the clear-cut favorites to lock down the outside in Bob Sutton’s man-heavy defense. Robinson has the talent to fill in at either starting position, but his best fit will likely be in the slot as the team’s nickel corner.
Still, the idea that a team’s third defender is always its nickel corner is outdated. As noted by Teicher, Flowers has also seen work in the slot in nickel packages this offseason:
The new era brings change for Flowers. He’s been unchallenged as a starter since joining the Chiefs and even now has little reason to believe he will wind up watching as Smith and Robinson work as the regulars.
But the Chiefs have options now. Even if he starts, Flowers has moved to cover the slot receiver for the first two practices when the Chiefs go to their nickel defense, a new chore for him.
Whatever the eventual alignment, this much is clear: The Chiefs now have three very capable starting cornerbacks with the potential to drastically improve the team’s passing defense in 2013.
Fifth-round pick Sanders Commings will likely see some time as a sub-package defender, as will 2011 fourth-round pick Jalil Brown and 2012 undrafted free agent Neiko Thorpe.
After starting a trio of Flowers, Stanford Routt and Arenas (whom Kansas City traded this offseason) last year, the Chiefs enter the 2013 season with similar experience, added depth and some intriguing youth further down on the depth chart.
Much of the defense’s success will depend on how Smith and Robinson adapt to the new scheme, but the talent is there. There’s no reason Kansas City can’t field a top-10 passing defense in 2013, especially if the pass rush lives up to expectations.
Improving the Pass Rush
Speaking of the pass rush, not much changed at the starting outside linebacker positions this season, but that group’s production can’t go unaddressed.
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali comprised one of the league’s best pass-rushing duos last season, combining for 19 of the team’s 27 sacks. While their production was impressive, the fact that the rest of the team combined for just eight sacks was not.
In a two-gap 3-4 front, most of a defense’s pressure comes from the edge and its primary pass-rushing outside linebackers. But the production can’t stop there, and Bob Sutton needs to find a way to re-energize the team’s pass rush this year.
That task won’t be so much a personnel issue as a schematic one. Kansas City didn’t make many changes to its core of pass-rushers this offseason, and Sutton needs to see this as an opportunity to put his defensive prowess to work.
Derrick Johnson returns at right inside linebacker, but he’ll be joined by free-agent acquisition Akeem Jordan, who notched 34 career starts in six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Neither player will be expected to make a huge impact on the pass rush this season, but again, Sutton’s scheme should be a major factor in that facet.
Not much will change on the defensive line, though Glenn Dorsey (now a member of the San Francisco 49ers) is gone, meaning Mike DeVito and Allen Bailey will see additional time at defensive end, along with 2009 third overall pick Tyson Jackson.
Jackson has been labeled a “bust” by many observers, but it’s important to remember what two-gap responsibilities in a three-man front do to a player’s production. Defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme rarely fill up the stat sheet, and Jackson (like Dorsey) has steadily improved as his career has progressed.
Still, Kansas City’s defensive line—particularly its bookends—needs to continue improving to solidify the team’s pass rush. Without the ability to tie up opposing offensive linemen (freeing up gaps for the team’s linebackers), Kansas City’s pass rush will suffer again this season.
The pieces are in place, though, and Sutton brings a new mentality to the defense as a whole. As quoted by Teicher, Sutton wants to facilitate a relentless pass rush that focuses on getting constant pressure on opposing passers:
That’s the M.O. of this system, to pressure the quarterback and make him feel uncomfortable, which is easy to say and hard to do. But we’ll continue down that road. You can’t give anybody in this league, especially the good quarterbacks, a steady diet of anything because they’ll usually figure it out. So you have to have some flexibility in what you do. There’s a lot of different ways that you can put pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s physical pressure or mental pressure, whatever. That’s the direction we’d like to head.
Romeo Crennel was a terrific NFL defensive coordinator, but his philosophies never really translated to defensive success as head coach of the team. With Reid and Sutton taking the reins, there’s reason to believe Kansas City can field a much more aggressive, productive pass rush in 2013.
Conventional NFL wisdom suggests never using a top-10 draft pick on a right tackle.
Throw that out the window.
In the modern NFL, defenses have adapted to that mentality, bringing pressure from both the right and left sides to attack a team’s weakest bookend. Left tackle should still be considered a franchise position, but there’s no reason to discount the value of right tackles in today’s game.
As such, the Chiefs made a smart decision in selecting an offensive tackle with the No. 1 overall pick, even if he ends up playing exclusively on the right side in 2013, as Andy Reid has already suggested.
As quoted by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Reid spoke with Bruce Murray and Rich Gannon of SiriusXM NFL Radio on the situation:
Well, yeah, that’s right. I’m gonna play the five best guys. You saw me do that with Shawn Andrews in Philadelphia. Shawn Andrews was as good an offensive lineman as I’ve ever seen at the college level and then he came to the pros and he was the same thing. He was one of the best I’ve ever coached, now, as far as being athletic and being a football player. Well, we had two veteran tackles who were two pretty stinking good players and so we put Shawn at guard and he ended up being a Pro Bowler there.
Fisher has the refined skill set and athleticism to play all over the offensive line, and with Albert reportedly not interested in moving to right tackle, per Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports, the decision was an easy one to make—especially after the release of starting right tackle Eric Winston.
With two very capable offensive tackles, it doesn’t really matter who plays on the left side and who plays on the right. At the end of the day, it all comes down to protecting the quarterback.
But the interior offensive line is much less defined, due in part to Reid’s insistence on fielding the five best offensive linemen the team has to offer. As a result, Kansas City’s interior offensive linemen are still battling it out for the starting roles.
As noted by Teicher, Jeff Allen, Jon Asamoah and Rodney Hudson—as well as Donald Stephenson and free-agent acquisition Geoff Schwartz—will all be vying for a starting position, and it’s unclear which players will ultimately land those gigs:
Kansas City has gone with a starting offensive line that included those two players at tackle, Jeff Allen and Jon Asamoah at guard and Rodney Hudson at center. While Fisher and Albert will remain the starting tackles when the regular season begins, some things may need to play out before the Chiefs are set at the middle three spots.
Coach Andy Reid has said he will go with the five best players and what the Chiefs are doing with their line in practice indicates that search is continuing. Donald Stephenson is getting plenty of work with the starters at guard on both sides of the line. Allen will occasionally shift over to center, replacing Hudson.
Hudson will likely remain at center, but the two guard positions are there for the taking.
Regardless of who ultimately wins those roles, the bottom line is this: The Chiefs have plenty of depth to work with this year, and the offensive line shouldn’t be a major concern.
|2013 Kansas City Chiefs Schedule|
|1||Sept. 8||@ Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m.||CBS|
|2||Sept. 15||vs. Dallas Cowboys||1 p.m.||FOX|
|3||Sept. 19||@ Philadelphia Eagles||8:25 p.m.||NFL|
|4||Sept. 29||vs. New York Giants||1 p.m.||FOX|
|5||Oct. 6||@ Tennessee Titans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|6||Oct. 13||vs. Oakland Raiders||1 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 20||vs. Houston Texans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|8||Oct. 27||vs. Cleveland Browns||1 p.m.||CBS|
|9||Nov. 3||@ Buffalo Bills||1 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 17||@ Denver Broncos||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|12||Nov. 24||vs. San Diego Chargers||1 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Dec. 1||vs. Denver Broncos||1 p.m.||CBS|
|14||Dec. 8||@ Washington Redskins||1 p.m.||CBS|
|15||Dec. 15||@ Oakland Raiders||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|16||Dec. 22||vs. Indianapolis Colts||1 p.m.||CBS|
|17||Dec. 29||@ San Diego Chargers||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
*For a complete look at Kansas City's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
With a tremendous offseason in the books, the Chiefs appear headed for a massive turnaround in the AFC West. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos also made improvements, but it’s hard to pinpoint a team in the league that made quite as many major moves.
Jamaal Charles should once again be the driving force of the offense after tallying 1,745 yards from scrimmage last season, but don’t sleep on Alex Smith and his overlooked success in San Francisco in recent years. With Dwayne Bowe locked up to a new contract and the likes of Jonathan Baldwin and Tony Moeaki also in the fold, the Chiefs’ passing attack should be much improved after finishing last in the league in 2012.
On the defensive side of the ball, changes in the secondary should also lead to a drastic improvement in production, but the team’s defensive success in 2013 relies heavily on Andy Reid and Bob Sutton and their ability to get the most out of the roster.
One way or another, the Chiefs are going to be much better this year. Don’t expect another abysmal two-win season.
Prediction: 8-8, Third in AFC West
In actuality, the Chiefs are one of my favorite sleeper picks this season. But massive changes often lead to some early unrest, and expectations should be tempered.
Realistically, Kansas City could win anywhere from six to 11 games this season. But again, it’s hard to count on a playoff-caliber turnaround with a new general manager, coaching staff and quarterback all trying to find their way in a short period of time.
Along with two difficult matchups against the division rival Denver Broncos, the Chiefs also face off with the NFC East, the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts this season. Kansas City could certainly split that stretch of the schedule, but it won’t be easy.
For the sake of clarity, I do believe the Chiefs can be a surprise playoff contender this season, but I’ll have to see some production before betting the farm.