Over the last two years, general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid have rebuilt the Kansas City Chiefs. When the two men took the job, they had a handful of talented players, but they needed a quarterback and a new direction.
The first year was a resounding success—the Chiefs made the playoffs and won 11 games after trading for quarterback Alex Smith. Expectations are obviously high for year two, but the Chiefs will have to replace a gaggle of players that have departed in free agency.
Notable are the departures on offense that include two starting-caliber offensive guards in Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, left tackle Branden Albert and wide receiver Dexter McCluster. They are players the cap-strapped Chiefs couldn’t afford to replace in free agency.
Dorsey will instead look to the draft to find replacements. It’s part of the philosophy Dorsey learned with the Green Bay Packers to draft and develop instead of waste resources on quick fixes.
Outside of re-signing some of their own free agents, the Chiefs targeted a few key players at affordable prices. Dorsey managed to avoid the overspending that often comes with the first few weeks of free agency.
Unlike last year, the activity level is down. Dorsey isn’t turning over a roster full of players that didn’t fit his new vision. By this time last year, Dorsey had signed seven free agents from other teams and traded for Smith.
The Chiefs did bring in defensive lineman Vance Walker, linebacker Joe Mays, cornerback Chris Owens and offensive guard Jeff Linkenbach, which all address key team needs. The only problem: The notable lack of offensive starters to replace the players the Chiefs lost.
|OG||Jeff Linkenbach||Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah|
|DE||Vance Walker||Tyson Jackson|
|FS||Husain Abdullah (re-signed)||Kendrick Lewis|
With just $4.375 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com, the Chiefs also don’t have a lot of wiggle room. The Chiefs had just enough cap space left for a few bargain signings and their rookie class.
If the Chiefs are going to sign any more offensive players, bargains like Linkenbach will be the norm. Even if the Chiefs get great production from Linkenbach and a similar player, it’s going to be very hard for them to replace the great play of Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah.
ProFootballFocus gave Schwartz and Asamoah a combined grade of 26.5 in 1,222 combined snaps. Linkenbach had a negative-8.1 grade in just 395 snaps. Unless the Chiefs sign veteran guard Travelle Wharton, the Chiefs would be taking a big step backward. Even if they do sign Wharton, they still may be taking a slight step backward from a depth perspective.
Of course, sometimes players surprise with good coaching and a good scheme fit. Linkenbach is just 27 and no one expected such a great season from Schwartz last season. Had the Chiefs expected it, they may have tried to sign him for more than one year.
Losing quality players in free agency isn’t always a bad thing over the long term. Assuming the Chiefs don’t get too active going forward, they would be eligible to receive compensatory draft selections in 2015. The NFL announced 32 picks were awarded to 13 teams in 2014 with the Chiefs receiving not a single extra draft pick.
What’s worth noting is that the Packers—Dorsey’s former employer—picked up two including a third-round pick No. 98 overall. The Packers have also stockpiled the second most compensatory picks since they started being awarded in 1994.
There is also a correlation between compensatory picks and overall win percentage. Perennial contenders like the Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are toward the top of the list. The Eagles are notable because they acquired many of those draft picks under Reid’s leadership from 1999 to 2012.
“We have a plan,” Dorsey told the team’s official website. “We’re going to stick to it; we’re going to execute it and we’re going to be very selective in free agency and we’re going to build the foundation of this club through the draft.”
Building Through the Draft
So far, the Chiefs are following the same model that the Packers have used in Green Bay for years. Patience is important, but the model doesn’t work if the team fails to draft and develop talent.
There is still a lot of hope for the talented Fisher, but his below-average rookie season is a concern. The Chiefs need to make sure they aren't just drafting talent, but talent that will have an immediate impact.
Finding impact starters in the draft is important this year because they need to replace the talent they just lost in free agency. Failure to do so could result in the Chiefs taking a slight step back before Dorsey has a chance to build a strong foundation.
In the first round, the Chiefs need to find a replacement for McCluster. Depending on who is available, that could be a player like McCluster, who lined up 79.5 percent of the time in the slot, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), or one who lines up outside the numbers. In either case, the Chiefs need a solid No. 2 option to complement Dwayne Bowe.
|3||Odell Beckham Jr.||LSU||5'11¼"||198||20||Jr|
|4||Brandin Cooks||Oregon State||5'9¾"||189||26||Jr|
|5||Allen Robinson||Penn State||6'2⅝"||220||28||Jr|
Wide receivers that may be available in that range include Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and Jordan Matthews. Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller currently has all five with an overall ranking between 20 and 37.
The sleeper pick could be a player like former Mississippi receiver Donte Moncrief, who Miller has ranked 80th overall. The Chiefs don’t have their second-round pick thanks to the trade for Smith, which means their next pick isn’t until 87th overall.
The Chiefs could take the risk of waiting on a wide receiver until the third round with the hopes that one that they like falls a little bit. It wouldn’t be too expensive to move up a few slots in the third round if necessary.
|All Pro Football Source (James Cobern)||7.02||.933||-.02||.026||1.3|
|Source||Size||Speed||Route Running||Hands||Run After Catch|
|Bleacher Report's Grade (Ryan McCrystal)||9/10||6/10||7/10||7/10||6/10|
|Bleacher Report's Grade (Ryan McCrystal)||9/10||7/10||8/10||6/10||9/10|
The draft is so deep at wide receiver that one is going to fall. The only question is if the one that falls is one that the Chiefs like. If the Chiefs pass on a wide receiver—which might make sense considering rookie wide receivers sometimes take some time to adjust to the pros—it’s a lot less clear what position would be a target in the first round.
Miller’s top-ranked guard is Stanford’s David Yankey who is ranked 40th. Unless the Chiefs plan to move a tackle to guard, there isn’t much value in taking one in the first round. The Chiefs shouldn't let need override value in a deep draft.
One option in the first round could be free safety. Last year’s starter Kendrick Lewis signed with the Houston Texans and the Chiefs brought back Husain Abdullah, but he may not be a long-term starter.
The Chiefs may be in position to draft Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor in the first round, but going defense leaves the offense weaker than it was last year. Without significant contributions from younger players, the offense could be an issue next season even with Reid working his magic.
Dorsey’s job in year two is considerably more difficult than it was in year one. There are now expectations and he has to figure out how to improve a team tight on resources. How Dorsey deals with the offensive losses this offseason will go a long way in determining how the Chiefs perform in 2014.