Breaking Down Kansas City Chiefs' Prospects in 2011 Free Agency: Skill Positions
With the NFL back open for business, many teams have hit the ground running in an effort to make up for lost time – four months lost time courtesy of our favorite summer soap opera.
Some teams are looking at weak spots on their rosters – particularly at quarterback – and are in the headlines as trade rumors project more than a couple notable signal-callers changing hands.
Others are preparing to open their pocketbooks and spend (in many cases, overspend) on big name free agent veterans, hoping to find the premier talent that will put their ball club over the top.
And everyone is in a frenzy to sign the undrafted rookie free agents, looking for the next Rod Smith, Brian Waters, or Tim Brown – a game-changer somehow overlooked in the NFL Draft.
For the Kansas City Chiefs, this year’s shopping spree should continue their history of bargain shopping. While the Chiefs might spend heavily on one team’s free agent, the bulk of their extra $30 million in cap space will likely go to extending their own talent – players like Tamba Hali or Brandon Flowers – or finding role players to fill in the gaps like with Thomas Jones in 2010.
That being said, there’s no reason to think Kansas City can’t or won’t be busy with more big names on the market than the NFL has seen in nearly 20 years. What’s more, there’s value to be had at nearly every position group for the Chiefs. That said, here’s the first part of a position-by-position look at potential free agent targets for the reigning AFC West Champion.
Kansas City has to be content with their current quarterback roster. Matt Cassel truly came into his own last season, posting a gaudy 27:7 touchdown to interception ratio and breaking the 3,000-yard mark for the second time in his career.
The Chiefs then snagged Iowa product, Ricky Stanzi, in the fifth round of this year’s draft. A smart, confident leader, Stanzi dropped to the third day mostly because of his questionable arm strength. With respectable mobility and a high football IQ though, Stanzi certainly has the potential for a long, solid career in the NFL.
The concern Kansas City should have though, is how to further develop their quarterbacks. Stanzi should be more concerned with learning a new offense and existing in the NFL rather than getting sweaty palms every time Cassel takes a hit. Both could use a veteran who has already been around the game a few years to help steady the position.
The ideal player for this role would have been Chad Pennington, his knack for injuries notwithstanding. His skill set is very similar to Stanzi’s, with a greater football mind but lacking in ability to stretch the field. However, he’s off the market after signing a broadcasting contract with Fox Sports.
Unfortunately, the majority of other players who would be a good fit in Kansas City are likely headed elsewhere. Journeyman Bruce Gradkowski, a respectable backup, is rumored to be headed to Cincinnati. Matt Hasselbeck is likely looking for a starting role (Tennessee will likely accommodate him there).
At present, the best candidate would be Baltimore’s Marc Bulger, though he would likely carry a hefty price tag after earning nearly $4 million with the Ravens last year. Entering his 11th year in the league, Bulger succeeded Kurt Warner in St. Louis and was considered one of the top quarterbacks in the league for a time. His experience would certainly help both Cassel and Stanzi.
Instead, though, Kansas City is likely to take the best of what’s left, with a Trent Edwards or Matt Leinart likely looking for their next stop on the journeyman circuit. Leinart has the history with Todd Haley, but Edwards – with his decided lack of drama history – would be the more logical choice.
Prediction: Trent Edwards
Alternate: Matt Leinart (updated: signed with Houston)
Kansas City led the NFL with a two-pronged rushing attack. Veteran Thomas Jones hammered opposing defenses while Jamaal Charles nearly slashed and sprinted his way into the record books with a ridiculous 6.38 yards per carry.
Jones is turning 33 though, and dropped to a subpar 3.7 yards per carry last season. Kansas City can ill afford to count on him for 245 carries again in 2011. That leaves the Chiefs needing to secure a more permanent solution between the tackles.
Fortunately, a number of options are available; some are more expensive than others, but carry their own benefits besides.
The top pick here is RB/FB hybrid Le’Ron McClain. After a second season when he had 232 carries and 902 yards, McClain has watched his carries drop, only getting a combined 74 rushes over the last two seasons. The emergence of Ravens running back Ray Rice (say that three times fast) has relegated McClain to less than a change-of-pace runner.
Kansas City could give McClain another chance to prove he can carry the ball. The last time the Chiefs took a chance on an unappreciated Ravens back, he was chosen to the All-Pro team three consecutive years and broke the single season rushing touchdown record. (That would be Priest Holmes, for those of you who were in college and have trouble remembering anything from 2001-2004).
Houston’s Vonta Leach is another option that would have less impact on Kansas City’s pocketbook. Leach is older (he will turn 30 this year), but was one of the biggest reasons Arian Foster made the Pro Bowl last year.
Prediction: Le’Ron McClain
Alternate: Ronnie Brown
Watching Dwayne Bowe and the rest of the Chiefs receiver corps play last season was a lot like some of the Chicago Bulls starting lineups.
There was Michael Jordan, and then there was everyone else.
Okay, maybe there was Scottie Pippen here and there, but his football double certainly wasn’t at Arrowhead Stadium last fall. Kansas City couldn’t provide anyone even remotely threatening to take the pressure off of Bowe.
The Chiefs have already started to rectify the problem, drafting Jonathan Baldwin in the first round. Additionally, veteran Jerheme Urban, signed last year to shore up Kansas City’s receivers, is recovering nicely and should factor into this year’s plans.
Regardless, the Chiefs should be shopping for another veteran presence to solidify their ability to stretch the field, provide Matt Cassel with some real receiving options, and take pressure off of Bowe.
Kansas City should look for a solid slot receiver, leaving Bowe and Baldwin free to work the perimeter. While Todd Haley prides himself on his ability to mentor receivers (ex. Larry Fitzgerald, Bowe), a veteran presence would help mentor both receivers. Baldwin has a reputation for underachieving, and Bowe was more of a sideshow than a main event until last season.
Ideally, the Chiefs would have gone for a player like Santana Moss. However, he looks to be settled in with Washington after reportedly signing a three-year, $15 million contract.
Players like Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards will want more than a slot position, and come with more baggage than a Rolling Stones tour. The Giants’ Steve Smith looks to be signing his one-year tender.
The pieces are falling for Kansas City to focus on one receiver: Steve Breaston. Breaston’s history with Todd Haley and experience at the position makes him a prime candidate. So while he’s the same age as Bowe, he can work with Baldwin and help keep Bowe’s ego from making a return.
New Orleans’ Lance Moore or the recently-released Roy Williams from Dallas could also factor into the mix. Perhaps if the Chiefs sign Williams, he can find a way to bring Jon Kitna with him like he did after leaving Detroit.
Prediction: Steve Breaston
Alternate: Roy Williams
Last year, Kansas City fans must have thought they’d seen the "Ghost of Chiefs Past" at tight end. They watched as rookie tight end Tony Moeaki (another Tony, no less!) showed flashes of playmaking ability as he racked up over 500 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Another Arizona transplant, Leonard Pope, saw action in all 16 games but only accounted for 76 yards of offense. Pope is a solid blocker though, and contributed greatly to Kansas City’s stellar run offense.
While Pope is a free agent, it seems unlikely that Kansas City would show him the door. Even if he didn’t have a history with Todd Haley and in the offensive system, it’s hard to not re-sign a guy who made headlines nationwide for saving a boy from drowning less than two months ago.
If Kansas City were to go shopping, it would be hard pressed to walk away from a player like Todd Heap, even though that’s exactly what Baltimore did when they decided to release him.
Heap is a solid locker room influence, and has been one of the top receiving tight ends for the better part of the last decade. Baltimore has a history of releasing and re-signing their players to reduced contracts, so the move on Heap could be just that.
If not though, then the Chiefs could bring in a second receiving threat and give Moeaki a player to really model his career off of.
Prediction: Leonard Pope
Alternate: Leonard Pope AND Todd Heap