Kansas City Chiefs: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities
That's more time than fans like, but less time than coaches want.
The pillars of a starting lineup are formed by a list of usual suspects. However, unsurprisingly, the roster isn't without its share of questions.
In ranking a club's offseason concerns, three elements come into play: urgency, long-term implications and economic (or cap) impact.
After weighing the trio, the Chiefs' list of priorities is fairly cut-and-dried.
5. Sift Through Undrafted Free Agents
Last season, Marcus Cooper was three selections away from being displaced to the league's undrafted outskirts. By season's end, he was named rookie of the year for a different team.
The point? While Cooper's play was erratic, he authored significant contributions, and San Francisco—a club whose 2013 secondary desperately lacked cornerback talent—uncharacteristically allowed him to slip through the cracks.
Undrafted free agents are far more than practice-squad sparring partners.
This offseason, the Chiefs have signed 10 undrafted free agents (UDFAs), and that number will prove to be tentative throughout the next handful of months.
It will be surprising if one of the 10 doesn't crack the active roster.
4. Decide Chase Daniel's Fate
Can Chase Daniel pilot a competitive offense? Certainly. Can he step in and improve the win column? Sure.
Can he be an effective starter throughout an entire season?
Eh, two out of three isn't bad.
Burdened with then-foreign coaches and personnel, Alex Smith not only met 2013's expectations but his Pro Bowl jersey lays claim that he exceeded them. He's not going anywhere.
Tyler Bray possesses one of the strongest arms in the NFL—since 2008, per Ourlads, only one combine quarterback, Logan Thomas, has flung an individual pass with greater velocity than Bray (59 mph). While Bray's off-field demeanor and work ethic relegated him to the ranks of the undrafted, his tangible traits are unquestioned.
The skill set of this season's fifth-rounder, Aaron Murray, is tailored for Andy Reid's offense. He has four years of experience in a pro-style system—Georgia also deployed a spread offense on occasion—and he's an accurate passer with undersold arm strength. He's also elusive enough to evade pressure and move the chains.
Bray and Murray are two developmental projects with starting potential. Given their respective experience, penciling them in as the No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks isn't ideal, though.
Having said that, as a rookie, Bray netted a higher passer rating (83.3, per Pro Football Focus [subscription required]) than Daniel (76) throughout the 2013 preseason. And while Daniel's Week 17 start at San Diego was a welcomed sight, only one other team, St. Louis, allowed more yards per pass than the Chargers did in 2013. Don't let that game pull the wool over your eyes.
In all likelihood, the best-case scenario for John Dorsey would be to trade Daniel to a championship contender (who has a franchise quarterback already in place) and garner a sixth- or seventh-round pick in return.
If that plan derails, Kansas City can still gain $1.4 million in 2014 cap space by severing ties with the six-year veteran.
With the apex of free agency in the rearview, some may argue that the risk (inexperienced backups) might outweigh the reward ($1.4 million in cap room). However, even if the Chiefs didn't spend the aforementioned cash in free agency, the collective bargaining agreement still allows clubs to carry additional cap space over to the subsequent season.
3. Determine the Starting Free Safety
Leading up to the draft, droves of enthusiasts claimed that the Chiefs needed to select a first-round free safety. Personally, I thought the "need" was overstated.
For a single-high safety, three attributes, in terms of importance, trump the field: closing speed, awareness and ball skills. Said defender is (more or less) the NFL equivalent of a center fielder.
And the center fielder thing? As the Athens Banner-Herald's Marc Weiszer alludes to, Commings was previously drafted into the MLB as exactly that:
A year ago, Husain Abdullah's role typically didn't fit the mold of a Cover 1 deep safety. He normally hovered in intermediate zone shells or crowded the line in press. If the vet proves that he still owns sufficient closing speed, however, a larger share of his snaps might reside in the back end of the defense.
Also, undrafted free agent David Van Dyke is another candidate to keep tabs on. If his pro-day results on NFL Draft Scout are juxtaposed with the combine numbers from this year's safety class, his measurables would have hypothetically ranked him No. 3 in the 20-yard shuttle, No. 2 in the 40-yard dash and No. 1 in the vertical jump.
Regardless of who headlines the position, he's hardly going to have a telepathic rapport with the rest of the starting secondary. Free safeties, particularly in a Cover 1, normally enjoy the most comprehensive view of the offense, which is why they often double as the eyes and brain—identifying looks, calling out checks, etc.—behind the secondary's operation.
2. Bolster the Offensive Line
If Scooby Doo unmasked the green Monstar from Space Jam, there are 2-1 odds that he'd reveal a wide-grinning J'Marcus Webb—an offensive tackle whom the club recently signed.
I've tossed around the term "mobile mountain" before, but it's never been more applicable than in this instance.
The Chicago Tribune's Vaughn McClure writes:
Mac McWhorter recalls how in 2006 his University of Texas football program kept a pair of size 22 cleats on display to amaze visiting recruits. Those shoes belonged to a certain freshman offensive tackle: J'Marcus Webb.
"Biggest feet I've ever seen,'' said McWhorter, formerly the Longhorns' offensive line coach and now in the same role at Penn State. "Most people thought they were just a prop. It's just something you didn't see, at least not with a human. But the guy wearing them actually could move his feet. He was one giant man.''
As a college freshman, the man's shoes were one size smaller than Shaq's. He is 327 pounds of monstrous, imposing, evolution-defying...jolliness?
Webb is a gentle giant whose carefree outlook has sparked concerns about his devotion. However, he's an athletically inclined skyscraper who has drool-worthy tangibles.
If the newcomer rededicates himself to football—and his timeline hints that he has—then Webb is an experienced swing tackle who can challenge starter Donald Stephenson down the road.
Did you know I'm running 4 miles a day? All 327 lbs of me!— J'Marcus Webb (@jmarcuswebb) May 14, 2014
The Chiefs also drafted guard Zach Fulton and tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The former is another road-grader who needs to polish his pass protection, but with a few offseasons under his belt, he has the ability to mature into a starting staple. The latter is another prospect who oozes with potential, but his acclimation to the American game will steepen his learning curve.
Reverting back to left tackle should accelerate Eric Fisher's progression, and working with LeCharles Bentley should do the same for Stephenson and Jeff Allen. That being said, entering the 2014 season, Rodney Hudson is the only starter who presents a smidgen of stability.
1. Extend Alex Smith And/or Justin Houston
Alex Smith and Justin Houston are the two most pivotal players on their respective sides of the ball. (Yes, Jamaal Charles is the best overall talent, but in terms of value, quarterback overshadows running back. And even without No. 25, the Chiefs hung 44 points on the Colts in their wild-card matchup.)
When Kansas City drafted Aaron Murray, my expression instantly snapped from deadpan to Two Face. Half of me commended a wise decision; the other half cringed due to the year-plus of "Two incompletions in a row! Why isn't Andy Reid putting Murray in! Idiot!" tweets that just booked yearly vacations to my timeline.
Will it take until October even for Aaron Murray to take Alex Smith's job?— Nick Shepkowski (@Shep670) May 10, 2014
If you're a Chiefs fan, expect tweets like the one above to mortar your Twitter feed every time that Smith proves his mortality.
Remember, his first (and thus far, only) playoff appearance as the Chiefs quarterback birthed an eye-opening stat line (30-of-46, 378 yards, 4 TDs)—not bad for a "game manager."
In all likelihood, Murray and Tyler Bray are at least two to three years away from demanding consideration as starters. So, barring the unforeseen, John Dorsey will try to extend Alex Smith with a back-loaded contract during the season.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, last year's defense was degraded to shambles after Houston's injury sidelined him for the final five games of the regular season.
The once-vaunted pass rush vanished in Houdini-like fashion, and Kansas City's secondary was slowly but surely exposed as a fraud.
Simply put, Houston, Pro Football Focus' top 3-4 outside linebacker of 2013, is the catalyst of the Chiefs defense. He's the straw that stirs the drink.
At age 25, he's also evolved into a perennial Pro Bowler who's scheduled to make $1.6 million less than his team's punter this season.
Time is money, and in light of the Chiefs' current return on said investment, Houston can rest assured that change is a-comin'.
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