The Chiefs are preparing for the 2017 campaign in a quiet but busy fashion. The coaching staff has experienced a few in-house tweaks, contract discussions have opened, 12 players were added via reserve/futures deals and the futures of several key players are being questioned. The KC salary cap is heavy and burdensome and GM John Dorsey has a bunch of young players in walk circumstances.
The Chiefs signed WR Seantavius Jones, OG Jordan Devey, QB Joel Stave, OT Joseph Cheek, DB Jimmy Hall, DT Cory Johnson, DE David King, LB Earl Okine, DB Julian Wilson, and FB Will Ratelle to reserve/future contracts. RB Darrin Reaves and DT Montori Hughes were also added on a futures deals.
LongSnapper (LS) James Winchester inked a 5-year contract. Special teams and the kicking game are important for the Chiefs. Continuity for K Cairo Santos with Winchester manning the key pivot is set for the next 5 seasons. That’s a good thing.
GM John Dorsey is going to be busy at the negotiation table this off-season. FS Eric Berry is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) and came with a $10.8 million cap tag last season. Berry is heart-n-soul of the defense and played at a high level last season. Mr. Dorsey says talks are positive thus far, but the Berry camp thinks otherwise. Berry is just 28 and with $10.8 million a season already in the books, his cap hit is going to go nowhere but up in 2017. Berry has made it clear he will sit out the 2017 campaign if KC uses the Franchise Tag in his situation. Stay tuned.
26-year-old DT Dontari Poe, the anchor of the D-line, is also an UFA. Poe accounted for $2.8 million last season. That number is also surely not going to get discounted in 2017 with Poe’s new paper.
Speaking of Salary Cap, the Chiefs are in cap hell right now. Currently GM Dorsey is looking at almost $3.9 million above the cap threshold and that is NOT including Berry and Poe, and the 13 players that are UFA, Restricted Free Agents (RFA) or Exclusive Rights Free agents (ERFA). All 13 are 28 years old or less.
The following players are the Chiefs’ UFA, RFA and ERFAs:
UFA: Berry, Poe, DE Kendall Reyes, C Michael Person, DE Jarvis Jenkins, RB Knile Davis...RFA: CB Terrance Mitchell, DT TJ Barnes, WR Albert Wilson, K Cairo Santos, FS Daniel Sorensen...ERFA: WR Kenny Cook, FB Trey Millard
Some veteran players may become cap casualties or asked to re-do their current deals to more cap-friendly status. The player most likely to be outright released is reserve QB Nick Foles. Foles carried a $10, 750,000 2016 cap hit but would be a $0 hit to the 2017 number if let go. Aging (slowing) OLB Tamba Hali made almost $8.6 million last season. His cap tag for 2017 is huge and Hali may be asked to restructure his 2017 salary burden. WR Jeremy Maclin, now an expensive luxury in a conservative passing plan of Coach Reid, carries a $12.4 million ticket. There’s a restructuring needed here for a WR1 that produced just 2 TDs in 2016. Now 30 and oft-injured star RB Jamal Charles could actually be let go as the team would face $0 cap liability in doing so. Charles could opt for a very team-friendly deal as a part-time contributor. WR/RB De’Anthony Thomas gets $803K but would cost KC just $105K if released. His role is practically non-existent with the meteoric rise of exciting playmaker Tyreek Hill. WR Albert Wilson’s day in KC may also be a thing of the past. Hill snared 6 TD throws last season to Wilson’s 2.
The coaching staff has seen a couple of under-the-radar additions and some in-house manipulations in the early parts of the off-season. Brad Childress has been promoted to Assistant Head Coach. He shared Offensive Coordinator duty with Matt Nagy last season. Nagy now owns the OC job to himself. However, the OC in KC is mainly a game-plan organizer with Coach Reid being the primary play-caller. Nagy may get a chance to call some plays for half-games as Coach Reid allowed when Doug Pederson was with the Chiefs. 2016 WR coach David Culley shuffled off to Buffalo to join the new staff of the Bills. IN his place will be canned Eagles WR coach Greg Lewis. Lewis played for Coach Reid in Philly. The Eagles’ WRs were quite abysmal last season. Departed Coach Culley is a top-shelf WR guy and Lewis obviously didn’t shine in his teaching job in Philly. Another former Coach Reid player from those Eagles’ days is Mike Kafka, who joins the Chiefs this season as a Quality Control coach. Kafka is just 29 years old. He may be looked at down the line should Coach Nagy be the next Doug Pederson as a HC candidate. There’s time for that, but Coach Reid is a calculating sort.
While the Chiefs’ key personnel folks have once again professed their love for starting QB Alex Smith, the position is in dire need of attention this off-season. Smith is what he is, and one of the things he becomes in May is 33. Currently sitting behind artful Alex is Nick Foles and Tyler Bray. Foles, with his $10 million plus contract, is either a cap casualty waiting to happen or a restructure stop-gap in case of Smith injury. Bray? I don’t and never have seen any upside there. He is a scatter-shot passer and his potential is not that of a starting NFL QB. This draft offer a few nice Coach Reid-type developmental passers. Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Chad Kelly of Ole Miss and Ivy Leaguer Alek Torgersen of PENN would be good fits for Coach Reid’s playbook, with Kaaya and Kelly closer to true NFL starters. I can’t see GM Dorsey and Coach Reid investing a higher pick to nab the proverbial QB of the future in this draft. I’d love to see Texas Tech machine Pat Mahomes or Deshaun Watson of Clemson in a Chiefs’ jersey, but not going to happen. Two UFA QBs that are still young enough for the position and have similar toolboxes to Alex Smith are Blaine Gabbert (27) and Geno Smith (26). Both passers need to be broken down and coached up, and that is one thing Coach Reid can do for QBs. Gabbert and Smith are mobile yet flawed. Coach Reid could be enticed to get either under his tutorial wings and reshape their game, if not revive their floundering careers.
The backfield was adequate but sprung leaks in 2016. Obviously, Jamal Charles is now in RB purgatory at age 30 and suffering various injuries to his once springy wheels the past few seasons. Spencer Ware wore down and, though he was productive, his limitations are exposed with extensive touches. Charcandrick West is a fine change-of-pace back that can handle 2-3 games in a starting role if called on. But he too isn’t likely to thrive with an abundance of touches through a full season. Charles will either return on a new low-tiered salary in a reduced role or be released. Free agency isn’t a great way to go in the NFL at running back. It’s not money spent well chasing another team’s worn down backfield warriors. LeVeon Bell is an UFA, but don’t even begin to entertain those thoughts as the Chiefs are in salary cap hell right now. There are a few neat backs that play into the roles the Chiefs have in mind for this offense. However, none of those UFA rushers are feature backs that would replace what Charles brought when healthy. Danny Woodhead is out there, but he’s 32 and expensive. The Rams’ Benny Cunningham (26) is a Spencer Ware type with better catching tools, and he contributes on kick returns. Houston’s Johnathan Grimes (27) is a terrific runner/receiver who has never gotten a real shot behind the likes of Arian Foster and Lamar Miller. He’s got multi-tasking tools and low mileage. Cincy’s Rex Burkhead (26) is a Woodheadian RB that actually challenged for slotWR duties for the Bengals last pre-season. But the draft is where the Chiefs should focus on adding to the 2017 backfield. Backs are still discounted in the draft and solid rushers can be had anywhere form the 3rd round to the final selection is announced. Many NFL clubs have pulled troubled Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon off their draft boards due to his well-documented off-field transgression. I won’t get into details here, but Mixon is quite similar to the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill in this; how’s that look so far. Mixon owns rock-star goods as a rusher and he must be given a long look by the Chiefs; they’ve already done so with Hill and Coach once took in a troubled Mike Vick in Philly. Texas RB Donta Foreman is a Ware-type but with bigger upside as is Marlon Mack of South Florida. Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols is true KC material. Matthew DAyes of North Carolina State is a fit. Some off the radar lookers I’ve seen are Aaron Jones of Texas-ElPaso and Joseph Yearby in Miami. Maybe the Dorsey/Reid team will surprise us and invest in an early round feature back like Alvin Kamara (my wish list)... nah!
The Wide Receiver depth is good as is but clearly under-utilized. Here’s hoping Jeremy Maclin returns to health and focus. 2016 was clearly just a mushy campaign for Maclin, on and off the field. Tyreek Hill was a surprise to most (not me if you recall). Hill is only going to get better and see more footballs in his hands. He is simply electric. Hill’s emergence may spell the end of days in KC for De’Anthony Thomas and Albert Wilson. Wilson is an UFA while Thomas could become a cap-hit. Chris Conley has all the features and tools of a WR1; size, speed, work-ethic, desire. But again, Conley is used as a cog in the Coach Reid machine; a contributor but no more than that. It makes no sense for the Chiefs’ brass to burn big cash on a position that is asked only to perform a role rather than make a difference. One-time Coach Reid wideout DeSean Jackson is available, but he is a vertical guy and we know how that works with Alex Smith at the helm; it doesn’t. The WR UFA club for 2017 consists of pass-catchers that are either too expensive, too old or poor scheme fits for the conservative Chiefs’ offense. Considering the devaluation of the WR position in KC, we shouldn’t expect a splash come draft days either. In the 3rd, maybe 4th rounds and past, the Chiefs’ draft room might start looking at the likes of Ohio State’s Noah Brown (size and potential there), LaTech’s Carlos Henderson (sporty and urgent), USC’s Darreus Rogers (and don’t give me JuJu Smith-Schuster please) or Cal’s Chad Hansen. Zach Pascal of Old Dominion or late in the draft, Deon-Tay McManus of Marshall (big, rugged, physical and hands).
Tight end is in fine hands, literally, with Travis Kelce. The offensive line is signed and set save for interior swingman Mike Person. Sorry to just glaze over these two areas, but they are currently pretty much set in stone.
Next report I’ll dig into the defensive outlook regarding free agency and the draft. For a great Chiefs’ positional evaluation check out Frank Leggio’s take on "The Right 53: How Many Are Already On The Roster?" in his "The Rub" segment at ArrowheadOne.com. Mr. Leggio shines an interesting perspective on the state of the Chiefs personnel. http://arrowheadone.com/right-53-many-already-roster/
NFL Combine is just around the corner. Time to gear up and get the prep going. There’s no off-season here at Fantasy Football Mastermind; it’s a year-round funfest!