Kansas City Chiefs: State of Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
If you consider the Kansas City Chiefs' 2013 season a disappointment, chances are that you're saved in someone's iPhone as "That Guy."
Yes, the Wild Card Round collapse ripped your heart out quicker than Kano and stomped it like Kirk Franklin. In postseason context, last year was just a more scenic detour to another dead end. Different movie. Same ending.
But pause on your cynicism and rewind to opening day. Did you honestly think Arrowhead would house the league's lone undefeated team at midseason? Did you predict that Andy Reid would U-turn the ship and pen a turnaround so drastic that only two teams in NFL history have bested it?
Truth be told, if someone would've forecast a nine-win differential before Week 1, I would've handed them some sugar for their Kool-Aid. If said person speculated that the Chiefs would start 9-0, I would've advised them to use protection. If they told me that Alex Smith would lead a game-winning drive in the Pro Bowl, I would've made small talk while slowly backing away and scanning the room for sharp objects.
The point is that greatness doesn’t happen overnight. Nobody goes to bed an amateur and wakes up a champion. That being said, while some teams laid a few stepping stones of success last year, Reid built pillars.
So, let’s take a look in the rear-view before focusing on the road ahead.
Season in Review
I'm guessing the majority of you have every buzz-worthy 2013 moment engrained in your memory bank. With that in mind, I'll spare you the eye strain and condense this into the CliffsNotes version of Kansas City's year in review.
On Jan. 4, 2013, Andy Reid officially became the Chiefs head coach. Effervescence filled the air, news choppers followed suit, steakhouses rejoiced and cheesesteak vendors saw their doctor about Abilify.
Reid rescued John Dorsey from Silent Hill—now called Green Bay—and they triggered a trade for Alex Smith (street name: "not Matt Cassel"). The Chiefs selected Eric Fisher with the No. 1 pick in the draft, a tackle with a future nearly as bright as Reid's shirt.
Opening day, the regime debuted with a blowout victory at Jacksonville, but the fanbase was split on how to gauge it. A win was a win in the optimists' eyes; a Jacksonville was a Jacksonville in the skeptics'.
One win doubled to two, and two wins snowballed into nine. The offense showed sparks of promise yet never fired on all cylinders. The defense played like 11 Angry Birds.
As weeks passed, Smith and Jamaal Charles began lighting up the scoreboard, while the defense attacked less like Angry Birds and more like doves released by Prince.
Kansas City secured a playoff berth with time to spare, and bands of backups breached the starting lineup in Week 17. One missed field goal and two blown calls later, Philip Rivers freed his inner Walker Bobby.
Kansas City visited Indianapolis in the Wild Card Round. The Chiefs traded points for injuries, capturing a 28-point lead in the third quarter as starters flooded the injury report. Andrew Luck led a historic comeback, and Kansas Citians filed back into sports purgatory.
Andy Reid, Head Coach
Yes, in a few instances throughout the season, clock management wasn't Andy Reid's forte. And should he have called for more second-half rushes in the Wild Card collapse? Probably (although, Knile Davis' fumbling issues would give someone cause to pause).
However, the man inhabited an antiquated 2-14 train wreck, modernized the approach and upgraded Kansas City to an 11-5 playoff contender. In just one year—a year that started with groups of unfamiliar faces learning alien systems—Reid revamped and rebranded the arrowhead logo.
Give him his due.
Doug Pederson, Offensive Coordinator
Honestly, it's hard to gauge just how involved Doug Pederson is in preparing the offensive game plan. Being himself a former quarterback under Reid, Pederson obviously understands the nuances of the offense, which undoubtedly helped Alex Smith acclimate to it.
Bob Sutton, Defensive Coordinator
At times, Bob Sutton became too enamored with his "attack first, ask questions last" philosophy, particularly when Justin Houston and/or Tamba Hali were sidelined—Philip Rivers isn't sweating Frank Zombo.
But when the pass rush was at full force, Sutton's defense was a thing of beauty. By season's end, Kansas City ranked No. 2 in takeaways (36) and tied for No. 6 with 47 sacks.
Dave Toub, Special Teams Coordinator
Give this man a raise. Dave Toub might have been the most unsung hero of the Chiefs' 2013 makeover. Not only did Dexter McCluster earn his first Pro Bowl nod, but Kansas City etched a new single-season record for kickoff-return average.
However, the most overlooked facet of Kansas City's special teams can be traced to the coverage units (both punt and kickoff). Special teamers consistently showed lane discipline and sealed the edge, leaving returners to dodge incoming missiles and/or throw in the towel.
On Football Outsiders, Kansas City's special teams soared from No. 22 overall to leading the league within the span of a year.
Instead of just jotting down vague salary-cap estimates, let's delve into what they actually mean in the context of this offseason.
Obviously, all of the ins and outs of the NFL's convoluted system can't be explained in one slide. However, I'll try to detail the gist of what you need to know as it pertains to Kansas City's cap limitations.
First of all, know that guaranteed money is—excluding rare circumstances like that of Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin's—the focal point of contract negotiations. Regardless of what happens in the future, teams are obligated to dole out every cent of guaranteed agreements, which gives players some semblance of security going forward.
Guarantees usually come in the form of signing bonuses (although, they often shelter portions of base salaries as well). A signing bonus is, for all intents and purposes, a lump sum of protected money, only it's divided by the length of the contract, then disbursed in equal increments throughout every year of the deal (as opposed to a one-time payment).
When a player is cut, the remainder of his contract's guaranteed total then turns into "dead money," or money that counts against a team's cap even though the athlete's no longer with the organization. Not all cuts are created equal, though.
If a player is released before June 1, the totality of his deal's dead money will accelerate and immediately impact the current year's cap. If he's released after said date, that particular year's dead money dents the present cap, but the excess rolls over to the following season.
Also, each team can tag up to two players as post-June 1 designations. In other words, the departures are treated like post-June 1 releases—dead money stemming beyond the present season carries over to the next—despite the release occurring prior to the actual date.
The above headache is relative for two reasons. One, if Branden Albert re-signs (which I wouldn't bank on), John Dorsey will have to generate some serious elbow room, especially if he wants to reenlist any of the other in-house talents. Two, even if Albert packs his bags, Kansas City's $1.8 million in cap space needs to skyrocket.
Tagging Dunta Robinson as one of the post-June 1 designations would bump the figure up to $5.5 million. Doing the same with Donnie Avery would bring the total up to $6.9 million.
This is where restructuring comes into play. Converting part of a player's base salary to a signing bonus is normally a safe play that, assuming the GM isn't hollow-headed, works out for all parties involved. Ideally, you want to restructure a proven star whom you can't envision being released in the near future. The younger, the better.
Eric Berry's current contract includes a player option for 2015. If he agreed, the Chiefs could restructure $7 million over the final two years, which would leave $10.4 million between Kansas City and the cap ceiling.
Extending Alex Smith, depending on how the money is allocated, could also add to the surplus and help the Chiefs fill the gaps at receiver and free safety.
Offensive Spending: $55.8 million
Defensive Spending: $69.5 million
Projected Cap Room: $1.8 million
Impending Free Agents
There are three in-house free agents who, when given the opportunity, consistently outperformed their respective price tags: Geoff Schwartz, Akeem Jordan and Husain Abdullah.
All three were signed to one-year deals last offseason, and while they likely won't settle for the same in 2014 (which isn't a negative for either side, per se), their asking price(s) shouldn't steepen too radically. Sign them.
Obviously, the big fish is No. 76. In all likelihood, a team like the Miami Dolphins will woo Branden Albert—especially after the intra-squad debacle between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito—and, considering Kansas City would be foolish to franchise him again, do so more successfully.
Rest assured that Kansas City general manager John Dorsey isn't going to overpay for the veteran's services, particularly when the Chiefs are penny-pinching as it is, and last season's No. 1 pick happens to be a natural at the position.
If Albert departs from Kansas City, the front office will, barring delusional demands, surely renew Dexter McCluster's lease with the team. The same can't be said for longtime starters Tyson Jackson and Kendrick Lewis, who have clearly played their last downs in Chiefs uniforms.
Unrestricted Free Agents: T Branden Albert, WR Dexter McCluster, G Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, ILB Akeem Jordan, FS Kendrick Lewis, G Geoff Schwartz, FS Husain Abdullah, SS Quintin Demps, OLB Frank Zombo, DE Anthony Toribio, WR Kyle Williams, LS Thomas Gafford
Restricted Free Agents: TE Richard Gordon, G Ricky Henry
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: LB Robert James, DT Jerrell Powe
2014 Draft Preview
Let's start with the obvious: Wide receiver and free safety are the two glaring voids in Kansas City's roster, and cornerback, depending on Marcus Cooper's development, could potentially serve as a third. I'd be somewhat shocked if the Chiefs didn't address one of the above needs at pick No. 23.
Let's take a glimpse at a few talents who could answer the call.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
When Marqise Lee clutches the ball, eyes widen and decibels rise. However, on the heels of leading the nation with 118 catches as a sophomore, his receptions dwindled to 57 this past season. Lee's touchdown total plunged from 14 to four as well.
A nagging knee injury plagued the playmaker throughout 2013, and he was never able to fully recuperate until bowl season. With a few weeks of rest under his belt, though, Lee returned to vintage form in the Las Vegas Bowl and torched Fresno State's secondary for 118 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions.
The hands of USC's open-field illusionist have never been mistaken for Cris Carter's, and his injury-riddled 2013 campaign could drag him into the latter stages of the first round.
At No. 23, there's no question that the potential reward would trump the risk, and if there's one prospect whose game mirrors that of Andy Reid's former wideouts, Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, it's USC's game-changer.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
When someone tells me that they're "big on Kelvin Benjamin," I just assume they're going off of hearsay or clicked a YouTube link ending with "2013 Highlights!"
The first time that I saw Benjamin's name linked to Jon Baldwin, I understood where the comparison stemmed from and nodded along. The first time I saw his name linked to Calvin Johnson, I wanted to cover my eyes with Beats headphones and mute the Internet.
Yes, coming out of college, Johnson had a frame similar to Benjamin's. Anderson Silva has the physique of a Geek Squad consultant; that doesn't mean Milton's an axe-kicking assassin.
The lion’s share of Benjamin’s highlights emanate from go routes and deep posts—variations of vertical bombs—on plays with little to no safety help. Conversely, he’s stiff and sluggish when coming out of any remotely sharp breaks, and he rarely attacks the ball with his hands.
Textbook passes regularly slice between or ricochet off of his gloves. Also, despite his gargantuan frame, Benjamin tends to play less physical than his size would suggest.
Critics have also questioned his maturity and dedication.
Ring a bell?
5. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
If you haven't watched Calvin Pryor play football, you're doing yourself a disservice.
Time and again, he torpedoes across the screen and bruises people's souls. Pryor hits like someone who uses wrecking balls for kettlebells; a brand of downhill physicality that tends to be unique to strong safeties, not their deeper cohorts.
Pryor is anything but a one-dimensional player, though. When roaming between the hash marks, his feet react to the quarterback's eyes like the two are synchronized, and he flashes the necessary closing speed to seal vertical windows. In terms of safeties, his ball skills were second to none last year.
The cons? He'll probably be bankrupt by Week 8 due to weekly fines for helmet-to-helmet contact. His fearlessness is an asset, but at times he would be better served letting off the gas pedal. His eagerness can also result in him overpursuing the run.
Regardless, with Pryor and Eric Berry patrolling the middle, cutting on crossing routes would be like running through a minefield.
4. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham is a precise route-runner who boasts trustworthy hands and unique lateral agility. His projected 40 time(s) tend to sway between 4.4 and 4.5. If I had to guess, I'd imagine that his base combine 40 will split the difference at 4.45 (give or take, leaning toward the former).
Beckham is surprisingly physical for his size, and he rarely hits the ground without a fight. His anticipation might be the most distinctive facet of his game, as he creates open-field opportunities for himself out of seemingly thin air.
3. Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix might be the odds-on favorite for pick No. 23. He's not the human missile that Calvin Pryor is, which can actually be a pro, considering how prone to flags Pryor's mentality makes him.
Make no mistake, though, Clinton-Dix is definitely physical, and he'll add to a receiver's list of regrets if said wideout doesn't brace for the impact. He's just more disciplined in general, rarely overpursuing ball-carriers and keeping back-side responsibility.
Whereas Pyror could seamlessly switch to strong safety, Alabama's star was born to play deep. He mimics quarterbacks' eyes and flashes a rare brand of speed for the position, consistently closing out on sideline verticals in the nick of time.
Clinton-Dix is the perfect fit for Bob Sutton's Cover 1 love affair.
2. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
The needs at free safety and wide receiver are more urgent than cornerback, but a team normally can't land a lockdown artist of Justin Gilbert's quality at No. 23. This year, that might not be the case. Darqueze Dennard could go off the board as the first corner taken—although, I think that Gilbert is a slightly better all-around prospect—which could open the door for the Big 12 standout to fall.
Gilbert has the kind of size, length and athleticism that Sutton wants. He didn't play as much press-man as Dennard, but on the occasions that he did, there were no bumps in the road. Gilbert breaks on the ball in a heartbeat and has the hip flexibility to change directions without lagging behind targets.
Oklahoma State's playmaker takes pride in both his craft and shutting down the receiver opposite of him—Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham can attest.
1. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
For the most part, Brandin Cooks' skill set mirrors Odell Beckham's. His selling points are just slightly stronger (and I emphasize "slightly"), but he's also an inch or two shorter.
Could Beckham be plucked before Oregon State's human highlight? Sure. Beckham is nearly as gifted, and he has spent the past three seasons dissecting and finding zones in SEC coverage.
However, there's a reason why Cooks is the 2013 recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver (coincidentally, another target on the Chiefs' radar, Marqise Lee, was the 2012 winner). Judging from tape, Cooks looks a hair faster and more agile. Plus, he seems to have better balance and sideline awareness.
At 5'10", 187 pounds, he's roughly the same size as Donnie Avery and, like Beckham, is a crisp route-runner who can line up outside or in the slot. Cooks is a nightmare to guard on slants and screens, and he's a sure-handed speedster capable of coming down with the acrobatic grab that rewinds DVRs.
If, during offseason workouts, Cooks proves that he can gain a clean release against press-man—something he did against Utah's Keith McGill relatively easily—Sutton will have his hands full when trying to sell Andy Reid and John Dorsey on a defender.
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