Kansas City Chiefs' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
Roughly a month away from the 2014 NFL draft (May 8-10), and with the peak of free agency in the rearview mirror, some Kansas City Chiefs fans will tell you the sky is falling—it's not. Having said that, the team's list of offseason priorities isn't getting any shorter.
Last season, John Dorsey was more or less the chubby kid from The Sandlot, strutting beside the free-agent pool before yelling, "Cannonball!" This season, the Chiefs haven't made any comparable splashes, which has mobs of ticket holders pounding the panic button.
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, who will both play the Chiefs next season, also haven't headlined any buzz-worthy signings. Why? Because, like Kansas City, they don't (necessarily) have to mortgage their future to be in win-now mode.
More times than not, general managers who find themselves camping out at free-agency's floodgates have been inept at drafting (or succeeding a predecessor who has—see "Fire Pioli!" banner). Don't fool yourself: Pulling up to the NFL's unemployment line with a handful of blank checks is a sign of desperation, not ambition.
For all intents and purposes, the Chiefs' offseason is just beginning.
5. Strengthen Offensive Line Depth
Entering 2013, I looked at the Chiefs depth chart and firmly believed that, over the season, the front five could develop into a top-five offensive line.
At the time, Branden Albert was (and still is) one of the better pass-blocking left tackles in the NFL. Meanwhile, one look at Eric Fisher during Senior Bowl line drills sold me on his upside; he was the only offensive prospect who routinely dominated the competition.
Jon Asamoah was a budding top-10 guard, and on film, Geoff Schwartz—who I assumed would start over Jeff Allen at left guard—looked like a steal from Minnesota. Barring another injury, Rodney Hudson was bound to tap into the potential he flashed as a rookie.
Fisher combated injuries, struggled with the position change and seemed overwhelmed by the talent leap. Albert ultimately succumbed to injury again. Asamoah suffered the same fate at (relatively) the same time.
And for whatever reason, the coaches were bent on starting Allen and sitting Schwartz, despite all evidence that they should do the opposite.
It's safe to say that I'm not as optimistic this go-around.
Last year, the young linemen all seemed to find their groove at or around Week 12. It might have been a case of the group finally finding its footing in the new offense, or it could have been because they were facing weaker front sevens than weeks past.
Throughout the latter half of 2013, Fisher (seemingly) climbed the competitive ladder and adjusted to the competition. Meanwhile, Allen and Donald Stephenson have spent this offseason working with LeCharles Bentley, which has paid dividends for the former Pro Bowler's past clients (see Schwartz).
Hudson needs to bulk up—and since his knee isn’t a concern anymore, he likely will—being that his run blocking isn’t nearly as consistent as his pass protection.
To a certain extent, the Chiefs know what to expect from the above four. However, the same can’t be said about Rishaw Johnson, who has an ideal frame and skill set for the position (guard) but owns a past outlined in character flags.
I don’t know when the NFL will meet its demise, but I know that from now until that apocalyptic, zombified day, first-round guard selections aren’t going to send Twitter abuzz with excitement.
But depending on how they feel about Johnson, the Chiefs might not have any other choice. And this particular draft is brimming with mid-round receiver talent, making it that much easier to justify picking a guard at No. 23.
If that proves to be the case, David Yankey is a powerful, distinctively athletic prospect who projects comfortably in Andy Reid’s offense. Conversely, if Kansas City holds off until later rounds, Dakota Dozier is a Day 2 prospect who also fits the team’s offensive mold.
4. Become More Physical
The 2014 Chiefs are going to be nasty.
Not in a "They're stacked on Madden, bro!" sense—they'll likely be that too, Stiffler—but rather in a thudding kind of way that moves the Richter needle and prompts "They hurt my baby!" howls from panic-stricken mothers.
This offseason, John Dorsey signed one of the most feared and revered hitters in the NFL: Joe Mays. In terms of lateral agility, he's not as quick-footed as Akeem Jordan, but athleticism isn't a prerequisite for his (primary) job description.
The returns of Travis Kelce and Sanders Commings, whose rookie seasons accounted for three combined snaps due to injury, add another layer of physicality.
While watching predraft tape of Kelce last year, there were times, particularly on special teams, when I thought he was going to be booked for manslaughter. While snagging passes, he's an amply athletic tight end. Off the field, he seems like a carefree, fun-loving guy...most of the time.
But when he is sealing edges or stampeding downfield, bless the souls who fall within his cross hairs, because odds are that he's about to treat them like someone who just spat on his puppy.
I've made a lot about the fact that Commings is a king-sized corner/safety who runs a 4.41 40-yard dash, per NFL Draft Scout. Make no mistake, though: He isn't cut from the same cloth as most speedy defenders. His mentality is a far cry from finesse.
At free safety, the position that Dorsey envisions him playing, per the team's official website, Commings' contact-craving, red-eyed demeanor gives Bob Sutton an extra dimension to scheme with.
Last year, if a safety was deployed on a blitz, said safety's jersey was going to have (Eric) "Berry" stamped across the shoulders—Kendrick Lewis isn't shivering any spines. Introduce Commings into the picture—being that Berry has the straight-line speed of a Cover 1 deep safety—and defensive intentions become muddled.
Factor in possible starter Rishaw Johnson, an ill-intentioned guard with, as Pro Football Weekly noted, "meat hooks for hands," and it appears that 2014 ticket holders will be getting more bang(s) for their buck.
One thing Kansas City isn't going to be? Overly flashy.
The Chiefs haven't wooed herds of household names this offseason, and in all likelihood, the only diamonds they'll unearth are of the rough variety via the draft.
But if the Seattle Seahawks taught us anything, it's that all that glitters isn't gold. Or in the NFL's case, sterling silver.
3. Extend Justin Houston
There's little doubt in my mind that at some point his life, Justin Houston pulled up Pampers, climbed his footstool and trimmed a mustache in a Winnie the Pooh mirror.
His mother's womb was a man cave, and at age 25, his sweat towels are testosterone wipes.
The point being that whether you're an average Joe in the crowd, a pass-protecting tree trunk or John McClane, standing next to No. 50 brings the Screech out in you.
Last offseason, per Stephen Brown, a candid Tamba Hali admitted that he can't compete with his partner in crime in the weight room or athletically. Coming from a nightmarish edge-rusher, that's not a compliment to scoff at. And once the season kicked off, the national media joined Hali in singing Houston's praises.
Despite missing five games due to a dislocated elbow, the Chiefs' pass-rushing predator topped Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required) of 3-4 outside linebackers.
His cumulative ratings scored in the top five in every major category (pass rush, run support, coverage and penalties), as well as run-stop percentage. Statistically speaking, in just 11 games, he also finished among the top five in quarterback hurries (42) and blocked passes (four).
The Chiefs defense plays host to three cornerstones who are 25 years old or younger: Dontari Poe, Eric Berry and the aforementioned Houston. And judging by the drastic drop-off that his injury induced, the latter of the three is the most vital cog in Bob Sutton's system.
John Dorsey would be wise to ink Houston in the (very) near future—delaying the inevitable will prove to do nothing but swell the cap cost.
2. Draft a Playmaking No. 2 Wideout
If you've been to Arrowhead within the past five or so years, you're keenly aware of why the Chiefs are in desperate need of a No. 2 wideout.
Before delving into the "whens" and "whys," allow me to say it: No, Dwayne Bowe's recent production doesn't warrant his cap number.
However, with that being said, take his complementary cohorts into account. Here's a list of wideouts, excluding slot receivers, who have started at least four games (one-fourth of a season) opposite Bowe since 2009: Mark Bradley, Bobby Wade, Chris Chambers, Steve Breaston, Jon Baldwin, Donnie Avery.
None of those names has ever made a coordinator sweat, and the tight ends—can't say I planned on looking up Sean Ryan's stats today—are arguably worse.
Throughout his first two seasons in the league, Bowe played alongside Tony Gonzalez, and in said years, Bowe averaged 78 receptions, 1,009 yards and six touchdowns. Seeing as his current offense is captained by Alex Smith—who smartly distributes targets based on what the defense shows him—and regularly features Jamaal Charles, No. 82 probably isn't eclipsing 78 receptions again while he's in Kansas City.
But if the team enlists a few playmakers to draw some of the defensive attention away, Bowe can still be a 1,000-yard, six-touchdown receiving threat. Keep in mind that after Charles was sidelined in the first drive of the wild-card loss, the Chiefs' big-bodied wideout chipped in eight receptions, 150 yards and a touchdown (nearly two).
Luckily, the 2014 draft oozes with receiving talent.
Over the past few months, I've been beating the drum for Brandin Cooks. Judging by metrics, he's a bigger (same height, 20 pounds heavier), quicker and faster DeSean Jackson, as his combine results edged the buzz-worthy veteran's 2008 pro-day numbers in every event (minus the broad jump). Furthermore, Cooks is a sharp route-runner with trustworthy hands.
Odell Beckham Jr. is a hair less explosive—but an ankle-breaking big-play threat nonetheless—than his 2014 peer but is an inch taller and nine pounds heavier.
Marqise Lee can change a game in the blink of an eye, but his stock has plummeted due to drops and injuries. Still, when healthy, his ceiling is leagues above Avery's.
Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant are three other Day 2 vertical threats who can fill the club's void. And if he falls to Kansas City after the first round, Jarvis Landry, though not a burner, totes an overall skill set that's too impressive for the team to pass up.
1. Extend Alex Smith
First impressions often leave lasting ones, which, to this day, is why Alex Smith can't win in the court of public opinion (incoming rant).
Before Jim Harbaugh was ordained the San Francisco Savior, 49ers coaching staffs were nothing more than queued turnovers waiting to happen. Smith cycled through coaches and coordinators on an annual basis, and regimes changed with the seasons like leaves.
When a regime changes, the offense follows suit—a fact that presented another hurdle. (Also, developing a young quarterback with Mike Singletary at the helm is like a student driver sitting beside a Geico caveman.)
A knowledgeable coach arrived, Smith shined, and Harbaugh was anointed the Dalai Lama of Dockers. Yada, yada. You know the story.
Smith's concussion birthed a Beats by Dre golden child—except to Seattle fans, who apparently plant GPS transponders to harass Colin Kaepernick on the 405—and No. 11 got signed, sealed and delivered to another knowledgeable coach, Andy Reid.
Again, Smith shined.
Logically, that led to...more people questioning him, apparently. That's not to say that Smith didn't convert a share of Kansas City cynics to rallying revisionists—he did.
But to the scores of doomsayers flooding timelines with Twitter tears, bellowing about how Kansas City had to forfeit two second-round picks, remember this: A year before Smith touched down, the Chiefs—as in, the collective team (two starting quarterbacks)—passed for fewer touchdowns (eight) than 32 individual quarterbacks, including Blaine “Hike! Oh god...the madness! Retreat!” Gabbert.
In his first year under a new regime, surrounded by and throwing to unfamiliar faces, Smith nearly tripled (23) that lowly touchdown total while axing 13 interceptions from 2012’s interception column (20).
Despite the uphill odds, No. 11 not only U-turned the ship and reversed course, he was selected to the Pro Bowl. Not to overdo the oceanic puns, but that kind of sea change isn’t worth a pair of second-round picks?
The same rhetoric applies to those who believe that John Dorsey should pump the brakes and let Smith play out his contract in order to...let the open market bloat his price tag?
If Kansas City holds its breath in extending him, one of two things will happen.
With a year of system experience under his belt, Smith will match or surpass the bar of expectations he set in 2013. Obviously, whether the team re-signs him during the season or not, that will drive up his market value, and the Chiefs will be forking out more cash than they would have this offseason.
On the other hand, Smith—who will be slotted against the murderers' row of defenses known as the NFC West—might see his efficiency slightly slump, which should theoretically lower his asking price. That’s not how the NFL works, though.
As soon as free agency opens, GMs never fail to shower any decent (let alone, good) quarterback with stacks of money. In Smith’s case, it would end with a coterie of middle-aged men making it rain—nobody wants to see that sadness.
After Trent Green left town, Kansas City undervalued the position, throwing caution to the wind and trading ticket holders’ two pennies for a pair of dice. In return, that triggered a seven-year stretch of journeymen quarterbacks and head-hanging obscurity.
If you’re a Chiefs fan, do you really want to walk down that road again?
Statistics provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
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