Losing players is a reality of free agency. But there is a difference between being a team that loses free agency and one that offsets its losses with smart, low-key moves.
The Kansas City Chiefs have been trying to strike that balance. For the most part they have succeeded.
Despite losing a clutch of key players, general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid have actually improved some areas of the roster.
Those areas are mostly on defense, where the addition of a capable interior pass-rusher boosts an already formidable front seven.
But things aren't as rosy on offense. The loss of three talented linemen has only been compensated for by the arrival of a barely serviceable starter.
Here's a closer look at what to expect from the free agents in Kansas City.
Husain Abdullah, FS
In a separate report, Paylor broke down the details of Abdullah's new deal:
So Abdullah, 28, signed a modest contract with the Chiefs and set about making an impact any way he could. He played on special teams, contributed in passing situations and generally won over the coaching staff and front office with his play.
He was rewarded this week by the Chiefs, who signed him to a two-year deal worth $2.27 million with a signing bonus of $750,000. The deal represents a raise on the one-year, $720,000 deal he signed in 2013.
Bringing back Abdullah is a smart move, considering problems at free safety as good as detonated the defense during the later stages of the 2013 season.
Expect Abdullah to be given every chance to replace last campaign's uninspiring starter, Kendrick Lewis. But he will likely face competition from Sanders Commings.
ESPN reporter Adam Teicher expects the 2013 fifth-round pick to get the first chance to replace Lewis.
But if Abdullah stays healthy he should beat Commings to the job. He started 24 games in two seasons for the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Chiefs.
Dorsey has paid him more money to bring a greater level of assurance and stability to the position than was present in 2013.
Frank Zombo, OLB
The return of Frank Zombo, surely a great title for a monster movie, was first announced by Fox Sports reporter Mike Garafolo:
Chiefs will retain LB Frank Zombo. He's agreed to terms, per a source.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 10, 2014
Keeping the 27-year-old obviously makes sense, since he's the only credible backup for outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
That's how things are going to stay, so don't expect Zombo to necessarily build on the two sacks he notched in 2013.
In fairness, Zombo seems to know and appreciate his use in Kansas City. During a conference call, he emphasized his role on a strong special teams unit, as reported by Reid Ferrin of KCChhiefs.com:
Obviously, my role was as a special teams player as well. Our special teams unit was a pleasure to be on. Guys played with a lot of pride. Our coach (Dave Toub) is, well it’s awesome playing with him; I’d say he’s the best special teams coach in the National Football League. It’s always nice playing for him. Those two things, with special teams, I obviously know my role. I look forward to being a part of that group again.
Zombo will continue to be of value on one of the NFL's most resourceful units.
Jeff Linkenbach, G/T
After watching interior O-linemen Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz leave town, Dorsey had to rebuild the trenches. He opted to sign ex-Indianapolis Colt Jeff Linkenbach to help him do it.
Linkenbach's agent, Andy Simms, first broke the news:
Congrats to client OL Jeff Linkenbach on signing with the Kansas City Chiefs today— Sports Agent (@andysimms) March 12, 2014
While Linkenbach has been an uninspiring starter, his versatility was a major selling point, according to a report from ESPN columnist Adam Teicher:
John Dorsey and Andy Reid appreciate versatility in offensive linemen maybe more than most general managers and coaches. That best explains why one of their first moves in free agency for the Kansas City Chiefs was to sign veteran Jeff Linkenbach.
Linkenbach has played everywhere on the offensive line except center. That versatility was attractive to the Chiefs as they remodel their offensive line after losing Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah in free agency.
But although they have a lot of holes to fill up front, it is dubious whether or not Linkenbach can really help Reid and Dorsey do that.
The 26-year-old spent most of the 2013 season acting as a supplementary tackle on the overloaded O-lines favored by Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Linkenbach has often struggled to handle physically imposing interior players during his career. The fact that he can be easily knocked off his spot is bad news in the AFC West.
The division is loaded with fearsome defensive tackles. The Denver Broncos use behemoth Terrance Knighton to clog up blocking schemes.
In San Diego, the Chargers have a more dynamic pair, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget. Both of whom, Liuget in particular, can split gaps and scare a quarterback off his spot.
So the Chiefs have reason to be cautious about starting Linkenbach inside. But one thing in his favor is a level of mobility and finesse technique Reid is likely to appreciate.
The Chiefs' head coach likes his O-linemen to have above-average move skills. That is especially important for an offense boasting as much speed in the backfield as the Chiefs.
Ideally, though, the Chiefs don't want Linkenbach starting regularly. But if they don't hit it big at the position in the draft, expect the former Colt to win a starting job.
Then get ready for a bumpy ride.
Joe Mays, ILB
ESPN Insider Adam Caplan first broke the news that Joe Mays had joined the Chiefs:
Veteran ILB Joe Mays agreed to a 2 yr, $6 m deal with the #Chiefs, source confirmed.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) March 12, 2014
This is one of the best deals the Chiefs have made. Mays is known as a special teams standout, but his value isn't limited to football's third phase.
The 28-year-old is an underrated thumper in the middle who should partner Derrick Johnson at the heart of this 3-4 defense. Mays is a good size fit at 5'11" and 244 pounds.
He can take on interior blockers if necessary but is short and quick enough to shoot through gaps and wreck plays in the backfield.
Mays spent last season playing inside for the Houston Texans. There he operated in a 1-gap-style 3-4 under coordinator Wade Phillips.
That is a more aggressive scheme, and Mays will bring a greater attacking mentality to the Kansas City version of the defense. The Chiefs need that since last year's fourth-round draft pick Nico Johnson struggled to see the field as a rookie.
Akeem Jordan, a former Eagle known to Reid, filled in admirably. But he has emerged as a target for the Washington Redskins, according to Chris Russell of ESPN 980 Washington:
And in other news...hearing #Redskins and veteran Chiefs/former Eagles LB Akeem Jordan have "mutual interest," in each other.— Chris Russell (@Russellmania980) March 13, 2014
Expect Mays to be Jordan's replacement this season and finish with 75-80 tackles and a pair of sacks.
Vance Walker, DT
Reid and Dorsey's best move in free agency is their most recent one. Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star reported the Chiefs signing ex-Oakland Raider Vance Walker, via his twitter account:
A source tells me the #Chiefs have signed Vance Walker to a three-year deal worth a maximum of $13 million, with $3.75 million guaranteed.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) March 14, 2014
Walker, previously a 4-3 defensive tackle, is expected to increase the pressure from the Kansas City front three. He had three sacks for the Raiders in 2013.
Paylor has tweeted some interesting quotes from the player's initial conference call about how he expects to boost the Chiefs' pass rush:
Walker on he, Poe, Hali and Houston: “They can’t double team all of us.” #Chiefs— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) March 17, 2014
Walker has hit the right note with that statement. If he can support Poe, who provided awesome push inside to start last season but soon faded, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton won't need to blitz as often.
With a two-man force collapsing the interior wall, while Hali and Houston crash the edges, the Chiefs can cut off the escape lanes for quarterbacks.
A dual threat inside from Poe and Walker will create more single blocking on the outside for Hali and Houston. If just one of this fearsome-looking quartet draws a double-team, another of its members will have a free rush to a quarterback.
A perfect illustration is provided by Walker taking down New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning in Week 10 of last season. The Raiders were in a standard, 4-2-5 nickel front.
It looks a lot like the way the Chiefs would align in a similar package. There were two standing, outside rushers, a la Houston and Hali. While on the inside, Walker, circled in yellow, created interior pressure.
In this example, both outside pass-rushers drew double-team blocks. That gave Walker a one-on-one matchup against guard Kevin Boothe.
Walker took advantage and hit Manning for a loss.
He can expect to face plenty of single blocking in Kansas City with Houston and Hali working the edges.
With Walker in the fold, the Chiefs now have enough weapons up front to reduce the need to send extra rushers. That could be the best tonic for an ailing secondary.
With greater pressure from a four-man front, Sutton won't have to rely on the single-high-coverage design so much. That will significantly ease the pressure on whomever plays free safety.
It's now up to Sutton to let his playmakers up front do what they do best. According to Paylor, writing for The Kansas City Star, that will mean taking advantage of Walker's versatility, as well as tweaking some alignments and techniques:
In Walker, the Chiefs are getting a player who was used all across the Raiders’ defensive line last season — when he wasn’t shooting gaps, he was lined head up over the guards, center or tackles — and, unlike [Tyson] Jackson, was a mainstay on passing downs, too. ...To complement Poe, Walker said he’ll probably line up on the outside shoulder of the guard or tackle this year, which will allow him to shoot gaps and use his quickness to make plays.
Signing Walker is likely to be the coup of the Chiefs' offseason. Expect him to at least double the three sacks he managed last season.
Weston Dressler, WR/KR
A final new arrival who bears watching in 2014 is former Canadian Football League standout Weston Dressler. The diminutive speedster could be tasked with replacing the "Joker" skills Dexter McCluster brought to the offense.
But ESPN writer Adam Teicher believes Dressler has a tough act to follow replacing McCluster's skills as a returner:
In the case of McCluster, the Chiefs might be able to replace his production as a slot receiver. His impact there wasn't immense. But his ability as a punt returner is and though the Chiefs have some candidates to replace him and could sign or draft others, they will find his value in that area most difficult to replace.
The pressure on Dressler to deliver in that area has been further increased by safety Quintin Demps joining the New York Giants, per the player's own Instagram account.
Dressler's most immediate contribution will likely come from the slot. This offense isn't short of outside speedsters like Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins.
But there certainly is a vacancy for a shrewd route-runner who can win underneath.
The Chiefs have stayed quiet but smart in the early period of free agency. In doing so, they have survived some key losses and landed a few additions who can surprise in 2014.