2011 NFL Free Agency: 5 Targets to Keep Kansas City Chiefs Atop the AFC West
In any other year the Kansas City Chiefs would be considered to have been mildly active in this year's free agency. Already the Chiefs have locked down a respected veteran receiver in Steve Breaston and a promising reserve inside linebacker in Brandon Siler.
They also addressed the losses of defenders Shaun Smith and Ron Edwards by signing Baltimore's Kelly Gregg.
But this is no ordinary year, and with a flooded market of players every team is expected to act like it's Black Friday. So while teams like Philadelphia and Carolina swap, sign, and sweet-talk players for their respective teams, Kansas City appears to be sitting on their hands.
Fans expecting blockbuster signings are likely to be largely disappointed. That's not the way teams are run in Boston and Pittsburgh. These two teams are currently the most successful business model in the NFL, and the Chiefs have bought into it completely. These teams have been built on shrewd draft selections and developing those players into a cohesive team; free agent signings are few and far between, except for those players already with the team who are retained.
In fact, Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli knows how these moves can go poorly. During his tenure in New England, Pioli made one major free agent signing, Adalius Thomas. The Patriots didn't do poorly, but Thomas never made near the impact on the field that he made on New England's pocketbook.
That's not to say there isn't anything to be gained through free agents. The Chiefs scored big last year as bargain shoppers, signing veterans Casey Wiegmann, Ryan Lilja, and Thomas Jones. And that's where Kansas City will likely focus again.
Here are ten players the Chiefs can (and should) look at to tweak their rosters and improve their chances of taking the next step towards the Lombardi Trophy.
FS Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers
Dashon Goldson is starting to feel the pinch that comes at the end of the first round of free agency. At first, it looked like Goldson would have plenty of suitors looking to upgrade their secondary.
Now, Goldson might not even have a home to go back to. First, Oakland decided to stick with a known commodity and keep Michael Huff in the silver and black. Then the 49ers signed Minnesota's Madieu Williams after his release from the Vikings.
Goldson and Buffalo's Donte Whitner are the two remaining big names at free safety. The Chiefs aren't necessarily in the market for another safety, but Goldson would be a solid young veteran for the position. And while Goldson hasn't exactly taken the NFL by storm, he is a respectable talent who can be the final piece of Kansas City's secondary, or at least a placeholder while second-year Kendrick Lewis continues to adjust to the professional game.
RB/FB Le'Ron McClain, Baltimore Ravens
Last year, no team gained as many yards on the ground as the Kansas City Chiefs.
But that was last year, and you don't win any games for what you did last year.
Already the four running backs in camp, Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, and Shane Bannon, are feeling the strain of taking a high number of training snaps. The workload will decrease when recently re-signed reserve Jackie Battle can report to camp, but the situation shows a much more serious situation.
The Chiefs don't have enough guys to "carry the rock", as it were. Charles and McCluster are smaller, more dynamic players who are expected to explode through opposing defenses with their speed and agility.
In order to do that, you need a plodder, a running back to hammer a defense between the tackles and wear them down. Last year, Jones was that guy.
Jones might still have enough in the tank to do it again, but it's unlikely that he can handle the 245 carries again this season. Truth be told, his average last year wasn't that great, only gaining 3.7 yards per carry.
Enter Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain. A fullback/running back hybrid, McClain is looking for a team that will give him the ball more and let him make his mark. McClain is also a solid lead blocker; he can line up in two-back sets and be equally a threat running, blocking, or receiving out of the backfield.
McClain hasn't had many rumors attached to him in free agency yet this year beyond the Chiefs, and most of that just speculation. But this deal has too many reasons to happen for it not to happen.
OT Max Starks, Pittsburgh Steelers
The development of offensive tackle Willie Colon and subsequent long-term contract signing made Max Starks the odd man out in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers' loss can certainly be Kansas City's gain. With the Chiefs' offensive line lacking any serious depth and questions still remaining as to incumbent Barry Richardson's ability to pass block, the veteran Starks would be an immediate upgrade to the line. Richardson would be in a rotation with Starks at right tackle, while providing depth at left tackle, filling the reserve slot for both positions.
Starks is also a massive body who can eat up space and defenders alike; placing him on the line will especially crate openings in the running game. Last year, the vast majority of big plays came from victimizing the left side of the defensive line with first-round pick Branden Albert and All-Pro Brian Waters.
This year, the Chiefs should be able to handle striking both sides of the line effectively. Additionally, with second-year player Jon Asamoah starting at right guard, a veteran of Starks' experience will provide training and leadership to the young starter in ways you can't measure on a box score.
OLB Tully Banta-Cain, New England Patriots
A team can never have enough players who make it their business to go after the quarterback. For Kansas City, there are already three at the outside linebacker position. Recent Pro Bowler Tamba Hali holds down one side, while rookie third-round steal Justin Houston and front office favorite Andy Studebaker are expected to compete for the other.
Banta-Cain could easily bring in a fourth to the position group, and give opposing teams nightmares. With games in the NFL becoming faster and more aggressive, it is more and more imperative that teams build their team depth. The Green Bay Packers last year were a perfect example of this, ending the season with 15 players on injured reserve and won the Super Bowl despite it all.
Banta-Cain is recovering from surgery himself, and might not even be ready when the season starts. With that over his head, though, few teams are likely to take a chance on him.
He's a known commodity to Scott Pioli, though, and should have a strong chance at signing him to a cost-effective contract.
If he's still hurt through most of the season and doesn't return to form, the Chiefs are out a small amount of money.
If not, though, the Chiefs have one more pass rusher in the rotation, helping keep Hali and others fresh to put on maximum pressure when it matters most.
DE Ty Warren, New England Patriots
Another of New England's injury releases, Ty Warren has been a stalwart on the Patriots' defensive line for eight years.
Well, except the last two years, where his play has been cut short by injuries. In fact, he also missed three games in 2008. Each time, the injuries have been different: groin injury in 2008, ankle in 2009 and hip last year. His history of spending time under a trainer's care is a serious detriment to his ability to find a new job.
When healthy, Warren is a force to be reckoned with. He already has an understanding of the defensive scheme after years playing under current defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Signing Warren would bring in another solid body to rotate in at defensive end, a useful commodity with Tyson Jackson still looking to reach his potential.