NFL Free Agency: Should the Kansas City Chiefs Pursue James Sanders?
It's cliche to assume that New England Patriots castaways will find greener pastures in Kansas City, but here's a scenario when the shoe might just fit.
Earlier today, safety James Sanders announced that the Patriots told him they intend to release him after six seasons and 84 regular season appearances. Sanders was originally a fourth-round pick of the Pats who appears to have been squeezed by the Patriots due to their increased reliance on the quartet of Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, Sergio Brown and newcomer James Ihedigbo at the safety position.
But Sanders' dismissal should not send the message that he is no longer capable of contributing. Sanders was in the Pats' defensive backfield in 2010 and produced 56 tackles and three interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.
So just where might Sanders land next?
A trip to 1 Arrowhead Drive, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, would make sense.
No one will confuse whom the starter is in Kansas City at one safety spot, as 2010 first-round draft pick Eric Berry has already entrenched himself as a KC building block, and is a force for defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. But next to Berry, the Chiefs have had, at times, shaky safety play.
Fellow 2010 rookie Kendrick Lewis took the reins at free safety early on in the year, and the Chiefs were far better with him on the field (9-3) then without (1-3). But Lewis is a a concern because of his light frame (he's listed at 198, but that appears heavy), and his ability to tackle. Lewis is what coaches call an ankle-biter, spending too much time diving at runners' ankles rather than hitting them and wrapping up.
Sanders wouldn't supplant Lewis as a starter, because the truth is Lewis played well versus the pass in 2010, and as a free safety he's a better open-field player than Sanders. But depth is as good as gold in the NFL, and Sanders would provide quality depth for Lewis.
Sanders has the movement skills to play free safety as well as the tackling and run support skills to play strong, and he showed his football intelligence playing for Bill Belichick.
The Chiefs' depth at safety is razor-thin right now, with respected veteran Jon McGraw as the primary backup. McGraw is a sufficient fill-in for either spot, but injury issues and age work against him. McGraw performed capably a year ago in an extra safety role, taking on the responsibilities of covering tight ends and providing run support in the Chiefs' dime package.
But beyond McGraw, there isn't a defender that most Chiefs fans will trust to take over in a pinch. Sanders would add some punch to a safety group that will once again play an integral role in the Chiefs' quest for AFC West supremacy.
Familiarity won't hurt Sanders' cause, of course. Scott Pioli, as alluded to earlier, is the ring-leader in Kansas City, and has made a habit of poaching former Patriots to KC. Pioli's approach in Kansas City has included bringing in the "right 53," and Sanders would seem to fit the type of tough, reliable, smart player that Pioli seeks.
Might a Pioli-Sanders reunion take place? We'll see. But this Midwest move by a former Patriot would make a whole lot of sense.
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