Kansas City Chiefs Offseason State of the Union
The Kansas City Chiefs' offseason has been a maze riddled with valleys, peaks and face-palming detours.
Basically, the Chiefs have been a marble, and the recent schedule has been its Labyrinth board. (I don't know who made that game, but they're allergic to happiness.)
Prior to free agency, time passed and everything unfolded as planned. Your once-shred of faith in stability grew into a molehill. Despite a few bumps in the road, nothing rocked the boat. Consistency breeds conviction.
Then, just when you've developed the ability to trust again, the script got flipped. Everything veered off course: the O-line imploded, Brandon Flowers joined the enemy and suddenly every question in your household became unbearably annoying.
("Do you want some cake, Honey?" Cake? Who the **** eats cake? Am I a princess? Are you questioning my manhood? I thought I just bought a hat, but apparently I spent $29.95 on a ******* tiara. Cake...)
Nobody claimed that fans are rational. One second, a sports ticker to a non-supporter is a sports ticker. Fifteen minutes and one Pro Bowler's release later, they discover it's actually a fuse to a vein-inflating, in-law-ranting time bomb.
For Chiefs fans, three offseason events have triggered "woosahhh..." sessions: the mass exodus of free agents, the unwillingness to draft an outside-the-numbers wideout and the abrupt exit of Flowers—a cornerbacking cornerstone.
However, if John Dorsey proved anything last year, it's that doubting the man behind the curtain usually paves a one-way trip to regret.
Dexter McCluster: Pro Bowl returner. Dynamic weapon. Average slot receiver.
In fact, last season, per Pro Football Focus, there were 110 receivers who partook in at least 25 percent of their team's offensive snaps—only 11, which included McCluster, recorded a single-digit average (9.7) in yards per catch.
Having said that, whomever the team uses to replace McCluster, who left for Tennessee via free agency this offseason, probably won't be apparent until the latter half of the 2014 schedule unfolds—especially when the list of candidates is comprised of a former running back, CFL import, undrafted free agent (UDFA) and 225-pound enigma.
With time, though, any nostalgia linked to No. 22 will be muddied by De'Anthony Thomas' tread marks.
As Thomas' predecessor learned, a full-time transition to the slot comes packaged with its share of lumps. But once Thomas—whose 40-time at Oregon's pro day was clocked between 4.35 and 4.39 seconds, per Oregon Live—digests the ins and outs of Andy Reid's system, the rookie will evolve into a weekly game-changer.
In his five-year stint at Kansas City, Tyson Jackson, part-time run-stuffer and full-time cash cow, never came within arm's reach of warranting the type of production that would have made him worthy of his No. 3 overall selection in 2009.
With his departure, Allen Bailey, "Swagger" Vance Walker and Mike "Place at the Table!" Catapano now find themselves vying for first-team snaps.
As TWC SportsChannel's Nick Jacobs shows, Bailey and Catapano have both (healthily) ballooned from a year ago, hoping to shed the stigma of "situational pass-rusher" along the way:
Walker, meanwhile, is adjusting to life within a 3-4. (Throughout both college and the NFL, the newcomer has always played within a base 4-3 scheme.)
In terms of run defense, he and Catapano will need to earn the trust of their coaches. On the other hand, a season ago, PFF ranked Bailey No. 16 out of 45 (qualifying) 3-4 defensive ends versus the run.
If Kansas City assigned over-the-top assistance last year, odds are that it was Kendrick Lewis and/or Quintin Demps filling that ole. And if that proved to be the case, odds are that the down ended with a celebrating receiver.
This season, regardless of coverage, the deep help will (presumably) be supplied by Husain Abdullah, Sanders Commings and/or Eric Berry—which will be a slight transition for all three.
In 2013, a fractured collarbone limited Commings' campaign to three snaps. Abdullah's opportunities were sparse, and even when they arose, he was normally pressing at the line or roaming intermediate zones.
Berry saw a variety of tasks, but they rarely entailed dropping back as a single-high safety.
The trio's synergy remains a work in progress. Their respective speed, however, is leagues above Lewis', while their football IQ surpasses that of Demps.
Say what you want about Branden Albert. At his worst, he's an injury-prone, subpar run-blocker. However, he's also a top-10 pass-protector. Throughout 800 snaps (12 regular-season games) last season, Albert surrendered just 13 quarterback hurries.
His successor, former No. 1 pick Eric Fisher, serves as an uncrackable roster riddle. Reverting to his natural position, particularly with a year under his belt, should accelerate his progression.
That being said, Fisher's debut season penned more questions than answers, and two offseason surgeries (left shoulder and sports hernia) only lengthened the list.
During the latter stages of his rookie campaign, the Chiefs' mobile mountain showed signs of promise, though, as he was victimized for just one sack throughout his final five contests (208 snaps).
Over the span of his four-year stay in Kansas City, Jon Asamoah developed into one of the most efficient names on the annual depth chart. Before the curtains closed on 2013, then-first-year addition Geoff Schwartz became the most well-rounded starter—usurping the oft-inured Asamoah in the process—among Kansas City's front five.
Hours after the floodgates of free agency opened this spring, both departed KCI on one-way flights.
Initially, with Jeff Allen cemented at left guard, Rishaw Johnson was expected to start on the other side of the team;s center this upcoming season. Thus far, rookie Zach Fulton has had other plans, as the Kansas City Star's Randy Covitz cites:
#Chiefs inserted rookie Zach Fulton at RG next to free agent J'Marcus Webb at RT with No. 1 offense— Randy Covitz (@randycovitz) June 4, 2014
Both tout drool-worthy tangibles, but they're not exempt from occasional technique-related flaws. However, Johnson is largely regarded as an underachiever, while Fulton is deemed anything but.
Just as there's no doubt that the veteran owns a starting-caliber skill set, Fulton totes an on- and off-field repertoire that screams "long-time starter."
Irrespective of outcomes, in 2014 the rotational tag team will pale in comparison to Schwartz and Asamoah.
Cover 1 or Cover 2. Press-man or zone. Slot or outside. No matter the circumstance, Brandon Flowers was the best corner on Kansas City's roster.
His undersized frame was a liability in Bob Sutton's defense, but his footwork and general know-how compensated for lackluster height.
Now, outside of the numbers—Chris Owens will shadow the slot—the secondary hosts a cornerback quartet that's as talented as it is unproven.
A year ago, among qualifying corners, Sean Smith and Chiefs Rookie of the Year Marcus Cooper ranked within the top 15 in target-to-reception ratio. Conversely, they graded out in the bottom 12 in terms of yards per catch.
Ron Parker only tallied more than 10 snaps in one game, but in that matchup (Week 17 at San Diego), Philip Rivers was 2-for-7 for 38 yards to go along with a touchdown and an interception when targeting the unsung vet.
This year's third-round selection Phillip Gaines is a lengthy prospect with fluid hips and Road Runner recovery speed.
However, while he possesses a unique knack for batting passes, his hands are less secure than Martin Payne's window. And if Gaines hopes to excel in a Cover 1-friendly defense, he also needs to pitch a tent in the weight room.
Demetrius Harris, Tight End
Demetrius Harris is a 6'7" former power forward who, per Pro Football Talks' Mike Florio, ran a 4.52-second 40-yard-dash time at a private workout for the Chiefs in April. There's a lot to like.
But unsurprisingly, his hands are inconsistent. On any given play, he's just as likely to snatch an eye-opening reception as he is to drop a spiral between the numbers.
And like any other tight end, if Harris plans to play on Sundays, his chances will ultimately hinge on pass protection and road-grading. According to The Kansas City Star's Terez Paylor, the second-year pro tipped the scales 32 pounds heavier than he had the prior offseason, which is certain to help the aforementioned cause:
Had a good convo with TE Demetrius Harris today. Been looking good - he has the height (6-7) and is now 257 after reporting at 225 last year— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 28, 2014
For Harris, last year revolved around laying a foundation. This year, the raw but reputed pro returned with a hard hat.
Ron Parker, Cornerback
Ron Parker's name gradually gained traction throughout Kansas City last season, but there seems to be a growing misconception that he's a spring chicken. In reality, he's a 26-year-old veteran who, prior to last year's local arrival, was a nomadic corner, trekking between three teams throughout his previous four seasons.
However, in 2013, he steadily carved out a niche on special teams, regularly downing punts inside the 10-yard line and even blocking the occasional punt. His defensive snaps came few and far between (excluding Week 17), but he made the most of his opportunities.
Parker surrendered 20.7 yards per reception, which, among 182 corners who logged a snap last season, served as the 10th-highest average. On the other hand, when targeting him throughout 60 pass-coverage snaps, quarterbacks totaled a 33.3 completion percentage (3-for-9), one touchdown, two interceptions and a 56.0 passer rating.
Being that Parker fell victim to the same trend—stingy completion percentage but copious yards per reception—that haunted Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper, one wouldn't be wrong in tagging lackluster deep safety play as a culprit.
Now that Brandon Flowers is scripting a new chapter in San Diego and Smith is allegedly plowing through light poles like Paperboy, Parker is sponging the bulk of first-team reps, all the while shedding the "stopgap" label with each week that passes.
Joe McKnight, Running Back
Contrary to popular belief, Joe McKnight didn't devolve into a talentless shell of himself throughout his three years as a New York Jet; he averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 10.4 yards per reception.
To give that perspective, 10.4 yards per catch would've ranked No. 5 among running backs in 2013.
He's not simply a one-trick pony, as Jacobs notes:
Joe McKnight on a screen showed good vision and burst with his cutback to find the alley. Big gain on the play. #Chiefs— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) June 18, 2014
However, fumbling has become an albatross for him, as the fourth-year rusher has dropped the pigskin once per 18.7 handoffs over the span of his three-year career.
If McKnight, who bypassed the 2013 season without taking a single snap, picks up where he left off in 2012, he and Knile Davis will pose a consistent threat to coverage units. But respectively, and for the same reason (ball security), they may end up being their own worst enemy.
Will Sean Smith Remain a Starter Throughout 2014?
When deploying Sean Smith in a press-man, single-high look, every snap is a dice roll. There's no gray area.
If he secures an effective jam, he normally maintains leverage and remains in-phase with his target throughout the route. But if he bites on a feint or stem, his footwork occasionally betrays him, and his average closing speed allows wideouts to create sizable cushions.
Furthermore, his skill set somewhat limits Bob Sutton's play-calling.
For instance, from a tangible standpoint—specifically length, acceleration and straight-line speed—Marcus Cooper, Ron Parker and Phillip Gaines all fit the bill as potential Cover 3 corners. Unless coverage is rolled ("cloud") to compensate, Smith's pedestrian acceleration and speed pegs him as a liability.
In other words, if No. 27 is on the field, you probably won't see the defense drop into a conventional Cover 3 (outside corners and one safety each guard their respective deep thirds of the field). On any given snap, Smith is destined to play press-man or retreat into a short to intermediate zone—quarterbacks know this.
Regardless, from now until next offseason, the vet's DUI citation won't sway any votes in his favor, and the club can gain $5.5 million in cap space by parting ways with him after 2014, per Spotrac.
Can the Offensive Line Weather the Initial Storm?
Strictly in terms of potential, the Chiefs boast a top-five offensive line. In terms of on-field performance? Eh, not quite. Flip the stock's arrow.
Whether it be length, power or athleticism, Eric Fisher, Zach Fulton, Rishaw Johnson, J'Marcus Webb and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif are all physically capable of dominating at their position(s).
If even two of the aforementioned five scratch the surface of their true capacity, Kansas City will file it under the win column.
But being that two of them are rookies (Fulton and Duvernay-Tardif), two are notorious underachievers (Johnson and Webb) and one is rebounding from two offseason surgeries (Fisher), per ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, that fantasy sits atop an arduous uphill climb:
Reid said Eric Fisher had shoulder surgery and a sports hernia repaired. He's been in KC and is rehabbing— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) April 21, 2014
Will the Receiving Corps Improve?
By and large, observers have raved about Dwayne Bowe's offseason attitude and performance. Even when he's responding at pressers and posting on Twitter, the big-bodied star sounds like a refreshed and refocused individual:
Although, the extent tends to vary, Bowe is the only wideout on Kansas City's roster who brings a hint of consistency.
Last season, Donnie Avery was largely a one-dimensional vertical threat. He regularly bobbled and/or dropped passes—particularly over the middle—and often posed as one of the worst blocking receivers in the NFL.
Due to his untimely acquisition, A.J. Jenkins lagged two steps behind while learning the playbook, which curtailed his amount of on-field opportunities. He intermittently showed flashes of promise, but until they're answered, the same questions that harassed him in the past will continue to pay a yearly visit.
And while John Dorsey restocked the cupboard with slot talent, De'Anthony Thomas, Weston Dressler and Albert Wilson are equally inexperienced (pertaining to the NFL). Meanwhile, Junior Hemingway, though talented, may tote the league's most atypical frame at the position.
"Bo" knows football. "Bowe" knows double coverage.
How Does the Return of TE Travis Kelce and FS Sanders Commings Impact Play-Calling?
Between the opening whistle of Week 1 and final whistle of Week 17, the injury-riddled duo of Travis Kelce and Sanders Commings combined for three regular-season snaps (all belonging to Commings).
Unlike his positional cohorts, Kelce can impose his will in the ground game or aerial attack.
Relative to mindset, he arguably rivals Rishaw Johnson as the team's most ill-intentioned blocker. If opponents ease up at the tail end of a play, Kelce will bury them in a way that makes a field sprayer debate if he should outline the body.
As far as pass-catching is concerned, his routes and breaks will benefit from some polishing, but he's a prototypical seam threat with brutal strength and underrated speed.
With he and Anthony Fasano—who was also uncharacteristically nagged by injuries last season as well—active, it allows Andy Reid to employ more double-tight end sets, cranking up his playbook's creativity on third-and-short situations.
On the other side of the ball, the inclusion of Commings could have reversed last year's soul-stomping, Wild Card Weekend plot twist. Whether replacing Dunta Robinson as a nickelback or Kendrick Lewis as a deep safety, Commings is considerably better equipped to handle either task.
The second-year pro is a stoutly built, bone-bruising tackler with unique speed and laudable ball skills. While he only partook in three plays last season, his first NFL snap ended with him audibly tattooing Knowshon Moreno, prompting NBC's Cris Collinsworth to interrupt a sideline report with an emphatic, "Oomph!"
Also, unlike Lewis, Commings and Eric Berry are somewhat interchangeable. Both can blitz, defend the run, play man or roam as a single-high safety on any given down.
That, in turn, plants one more seed of doubt into the minds of opposing quarterbacks.
If Kelce and Commings enter Week 1 at full strength, the club will not only be adding two potential starters but two additional dimensions.
Current Cap Space: $9,462,465
As CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported, the San Diego Chargers roster now lists long-time fan favorite Brandon Flowers:
Chargers have agreed to terms with CB Brandon Flowers— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) June 24, 2014
In the wake of his release, the Chiefs now rank 13th (from most to least) in terms of available cap space, per the NFLPA. Prior to the move, the cap room between them and the ceiling was less than Andy Reid's vertical.
Because the transaction occurred after June 1, all of Flowers' post-2014 guaranteed money will accelerate and impact next season's balance as opposed to kicking in immediately.
Relative to Kansas City's cap room, the following (more or less) depicts the transaction through John Dorsey's eyes (scroll left to right):
|Year||Base||Signing Bonus||Restructured Bonus||Roster Bonus||Workout Bonus||Cap Hit||Dead||Net (Cap) Gain/Loss|
* = Unconfirmed
** = Accelerates to 2015
Strike = Non-guaranteed and/or voided
It's unclear as to whether Flowers collected his offseason workout bonus. If he didn't, Kansas City's 2014 savings receive a $250,000 bump, totaling $7.5 million overall.
That aside, in this particular case, Flowers' 2015 signing ($2 million) and restructured (initially $1 million) bonuses were originally scheduled to count for $3 million toward next season's balance. However, due to the post-June 1 cut, his 2016 restructured bonus ($1 million) fast-forwarded a year and increased 2015's dead-money total to $4 million.
After that takes effect, Kansas city is in the clear.
All in all, Dorsey salvaged $23.5 million over the course of the next three seasons.
Follow Brett on Twitter: @BrettGering