Creating Kansas City Chiefs' Free-Agency Fallback Plan

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2014

Creating Kansas City Chiefs' Free-Agency Fallback Plan

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    The Kansas City Chiefs will have already started at least one phase of their fallback plan for free agency after missing out on mammoth defensive end Red Bryant.

    That will naturally encourage head coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey to look at backup targets or promote from within. They will have to do the same if they fail to land a free-agent tight end already generating a lot of interest.

    The Chiefs could also face a larger than expected retooling of their offensive line. They have three prime free agents at the position, none of whom are expected to return.

    Solving these problems, as well as finding reinforcements at free safety and wide receiver, means Dorsey and Reid will have to get creative and acquaint themselves with the bargain bin.

    Here is the best fallback plan for the Chiefs in free agency if their primary strategy goes awry.

Find Hidden Gems at the Bargain End of the Market

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    Dorsey's eye for bargain alternatives to primary targets will be the central theme of the Kansas City fallback plan. The Chiefs only have $9,029,068 worth of salary cap space, according to numbers from

    That figure alone is enough to encourage more selective shopping. This is something the Chiefs are apparently aware of.

    Bellingham Herald  writer Dave Skretta believes that the range of moves made last offseason makes a quieter approach from Dorsey and Reid inevitable this year.

    But staying low key doesn't have to mean failing to fix pressing needs. There is always excellent value in the discount section of NFL free agency.

    It's up to Dorsey to earn his salary by consistently finding it.

Cheaper Alternatives to Tyson Jackson After Failed Red Bryant Pursuit

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    Starting at defensive end, the Chiefs need a contingency plan following their failed interest in Bryant. The ex-Seattle Seahawk would have been perfect as a 5-technique end in Kansas City's 3-4 scheme.

    Instead, he signed for the Jacksonville Jaguars, shunning the Chiefs.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of backup options for a team looking to replace limited starter Tyson Jackson. Three in particular stand out.

    Veterans Randy Starks, Pat Sims and Tony McDaniel all fit the bill as two-gap ends for a three-man line. Starks is certainly the pick of the bunch as a player who could provide more pressure, something the Chiefs anxiously want from the position.

    Dorsey told Kansas City Star reporter Terez A. Paylor that Jackson's lack of impact as a pass-rusher is a concern:

    I have great admiration for Tyson Jackson. I like his person and I like how he plays the game of football. I would like to see him step up a little bit as a pass rusher, I’d like to see him get some more pressure on the quarterback. With that being said, I think Tyson is a wonderful football player.

    Starks can generate more of a push inside. The 30-year-old has operated as a 4-3 tackle for the last two seasons. But Starks played 3-4 end for the Miami Dolphins for four seasons from 2008-12.

    The veteran is one of the true bargains on this year's market. But if the Chiefs can't land Starks, they could turn to bitter AFC West rivals the Oakland Raiders for help.

    Pat Sims had a solid season for the Silver and Black in 2013, but will be on the market again. At 6'2" and 310 pounds, he is a little shorter than most 3-4 ends, but certainly has the size to absorb double-teams.

    Health and consistency have been issues with Sims, and will likely keep his asking price low and in the Chiefs' range. His talent is beyond question though, making Sims worth a risk.

    A more durable, but just as reasonably priced, alternative would be Tony McDaniel. Like Starks, the 6'7", 305-pounder played 3-4 end for Dolphins.

    He also occupied a 5-technique role for the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. After spending big to re-sign Michael Bennett, the Seahawks are unlikely to be able to keep McDaniel, who made 15 starts for the Super Bowl champions.

    Landing any of these three D-linemen would let the Chiefs comfortably move on from Jackson and get over missing out on Bryant.

Promoting from Within to Plug Holes Along Front Seven

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    Of course, the Chiefs may feel they don't have to dip into the market to bolster their options along the defensive front. The same could apply for a potential Akeem Jordan-shaped hole at inside linebacker.

    Jackson's replacement could already be on the roster, in the form of situational lineman Allen Bailey. He is not as physically imposing as Jackson, but certainly offers more potential to make plays in the backfield.

    Bailey impressed in rotational duty at times last season. He could be given the chance to do much more in 2014.

    Things are a little less clear at inside linebacker. Jordan was a pleasant surprise as a low-key pickup last offseason. His steady play alongside the more dynamic Derrick Johnson has earned Jordan some attention.

    National Football Post writer Aaron Wilson believes as many as six teams will pursue Jordan on the market. That level of interest could pull the Chiefs into a bidding war.

    Paylor has tweeted that Dorsey and Reid want to keep the ex-Philadelphia Eagle in Kansas City (h/t Ben Nielsen of

    But if that can't happen, the Chiefs could rely on a pair of youngsters. James-Michael Johnson saw some action on special teams and even had a brief foray on defense in 2013.

    He also made eight starts in 2012 for the Cleveland Browns. The former Nevada standout is a good size fit, at 6'1" and 240 pounds, for the heart of a 3-4 scheme. He is the most likely in-house candidate to replace Jordan.

    But don't rule out last season's fourth-round pick Nico Johnson. The 249-pound bruiser disappointed as a rookie, but has the physical attributes to thrive in a 3-4. He played in a version of the system at the collegiate level with Alabama.

    If Jordan leaves, this could be an interesting and intense training camp battle.

Turn the Return Game over to Weston Dressler After Losing Dexter McCluster

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    The Chiefs could already have a fallback option to offset the loss of one key free agent. Return ace and dangerous slot receiver Dexter McCluster is very likely to leave, Paylor confirmed on Monday.

    McCluster's imminent departure could prompt strong interest in recently released Devin Hester, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (h/t Josh Hill of

    But reporter Adam Teicher believes his replacement has already been acquired:

    Dexter McCluster's future with the only NFL team he has known started to come into focus even before the Super Bowl, when the Kansas City Chiefs signed Canadian Football League wide receiver Weston Dressler. Dressler's addition made no sense if the Chiefs believed they would be able to re-sign McCluster, who is scheduled on Tuesday to become an unrestricted free agent.

    Dressler established a niche in the Canadian Football League doing the same things McCluster does. If they can't or won't meet Hester's price, trusting Dressler with return duties is a solid fallback option.

Target Jermichael Finley's Understudy

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    Reid needs a capable and athletic receiving tight end for his offense. His search will reportedly take him to Jermichael Finley, per Boston Globe reporter Ben Volin (h/t Josh Sanchez of

    But the supremely talented, yet alarmingly brittle and inconsistent Finley carries a lot of risk. Kansas City should be wary about entering a bidding war with the other four teams Volin credits with interest.

    They should also be concerned about the player's health. Finley has still not received final medical clearance ahead of free agency, according to USA Today reporter Tom Pelissero.

    Finley missed 10 games last season and needed neck surgery. He has also never completed a 16-game season since entering the NFL in 2008.

    A good backup target to consider is Finely's deputy with the Green Bay Packers. Andrew Quarless is younger and can be used as a "move" playmaker in the same way Finley can.

    Quarless demonstrated late last season that he can pose a major threat to defenses from multiple positions. Like Finley, Dorsey knows the 25-year-old from his own time with the Packers.

    If the Chiefs are put off by Finley's injury history, or simply beaten to a deal, Quarless makes sense as an excellent value alternative.

Look Beyond the Top-Tier Players at Safety

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    The Chiefs can't put off their need to radically make over the free safety position any longer. But they also can't escape the fact they won't be able to afford the top names on the market.

    That means no Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward for a team whose single-high coverage concepts were obliterated during the second half of last season.

    So Dorsey must identify the right second-tier target. In his own list of potential bargains, Kansas City Star writer Terez A. Paylor suggests Miami Dolphins veteran Chris Clemons.

    Paylor's suggestion is a smart one. Clemons is a savvy enough safety to patrol the deep zones with more assurance than last season's starter Kendrick Lewis.

    So would former New Orleans Saints starter Malcolm Jenkins. The point is Dorsey can upgrade possibly the most glaring weakness on his roster without breaking the bank.

Turn to an Old Friend at Wide Receiver

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    The Chiefs' passing attack could certainly use more dynamism at wide receiver. But just like at free safety, the top names on the market are going to be out of this team's fiscal reach.

    That is why the reported interest in Jason Avant make so much sense. Paylor tweeted that Reid has real interest in signing one of his former players from his days with the Eagles (h/t Jack Jorgensen of

    Avant won't offer the big-play capability of free agents like James Jones, or Hakeem Nicks. But the 30-year-old is a physical and dependable target.

    Reliability is not a trait with the "wow" factor many want in free-agent wide receivers. But it is something this position group needs.

    A short-term deal for Avant gives the Kansas City offense a steady pass-catcher with extensive knowledge of Reid and coordinator Doug Pederson's system.

    The Chiefs probably can't land a player like Nicks, or Golden Tate. With Jeremy Maclin, another former player of Reid's, now off the market, signing Avant is a move Dorsey has to make.

Scour the Veteran Market to Supplement the Offensive Line.

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    Sooner rather than later, the Chiefs are going to lose as many as three offensive linemen. Left tackle Branden Albert has already agreed to sign for the Dolphins, according to CBS Sports reporter Jason La Canfora.

    Paylor has reported that guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah are expected to follow Albert through the exit door. That will mean Dorsey and Reid have to scour the veteran ranks for a few experienced heads to plug the gaps.

    One old pro who should be of interest is Wade Smith. He has had a number of solid seasons in the Houston Texans' zone-based blocking schemes.

    Reid incorporated more zone principles in the way the Chiefs block as last season wore on. The 32-year-old Smith would seamlessly slot into that system.

    Another player to consider is Leroy Harris. The 29-year-old can line up at either center or guard and is a capable interior run-blocker.

    The Chiefs will need some stop-gap solutions to the hemorrhaging along their offensive front. There are plenty of veterans who could help if any final attempts to retain Asamoah and Schwartz fall flat.

    Limited funds and more positions of need than an 11-5 team might be expected to have, mean the Chiefs should have several fallback plans for navigating free agency.