Positions of Need
Everyone knows by now that no Chief wide receiver caught a touchdown this season, but it wasn’t just that they were being kept out of the end zone. Chief wide receivers combined for just 129 catches for 1588 yards. For comparison, Antonio Brown had 129 catches for 1698 yards by himself and also scored 13 times. Part of their wide receiver issues have to do with Alex Smith’s playing style and his hesitance to throw downfield outside the numbers, but there’s no denying this is the worst wide receiving group in the NFL. Dwayne Bowe was the best of the bunch, catching 60 passes for 754 yards, but he could be an off-season cap casualty. The Chiefs can save 5 million on the cap by cutting him and they need all the financial flexibility they can get to re-sign Justin Houston. Even if Bowe sticks around, wide receiver is a massive need. There might not be a single team that needs anything more than the Chiefs need receivers.
The Chiefs’ guard play was horrendous in 2014. Zach Fulton and Mike McGlynn graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 64th and 78th ranked guard respectively out of 78 eligible last season. Fulton was just a 6th round rookie so he could be better in 2015, but McGlynn is a tried and failed veteran who has always struggled as a starter. They need at least one new starter at the position this off-season, if not two. Fulton fell to the 6th round in that year’s draft for a reason, so he could easily never become even an average starter in the NFL.
Things weren’t much better at offensive tackle for the Chiefs last season. Eric Fisher was the 1st overall pick in 2013 and he’s largely been a bust in the first two seasons of his career. In 2013 at right tackle, he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 70th ranked offensive tackle out of 76 eligible and in 2014, at left tackle, he graded out 72nd out of 84 eligible. It’s too soon to give up on him now and he’ll be back as a starter in 2015, but they need insurance for him and help at the right tackle position. Ryan Harris, a mediocre starting right tackle, is a free agent going into his age 30 season.
Sean Smith did a fantastic job as the Chiefs’ #1 cornerback this season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked cornerback, but Ron Parker and Chris Owens, who were #2 and #3 in terms of snaps played last season at cornerback for the Chiefs, are both free agents this off-season. Phillip Gaines, a 2014 3rd round pick, will have a bigger role in 2015, but they’ll need to add depth at the position if Parker and Owens don’t return. Even if Parker does return, it could be as a full-time safety, as that’s also a position of need for the Chiefs.
Obviously I hope for the best for Eric Berry, but, as a result of his cancer diagnosis, his career is very much in danger. The Chiefs will need to make plans for 2015 as if he won’t be available. Husain Adbullah will be back as a starter in 2015 as he did a solid job, but Ron Parker, a cornerback/safety hybrid, is a free agent, as is Kurt Coleman. The Chiefs like to have 3 good safeties anyway because they like to have one play around the line of scrimmage instead of a 2nd linebacker in obvious passing situations and right now they only have one.
Derrick Johnson went down for the season with a torn Achilles week 1 and the Chiefs struggled at middle linebacker in his absence. Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson graded out 54th and 50th respectively out of 60 eligible last season. Derrick Johnson will be back in 2015, but he’ll be in his age 33 season coming off of a serious injury. Best case scenario, Johnson comes back 100% in 2015 and Mauga does better in the two-down role next to him (the Chiefs like to play a 3rd safety around the line of scrimmage instead of a 2nd linebacker in sub packages), but that’s banking on Johnson’s health and requires the Chiefs to maintain safety depth, which is going to be tough, as I just mentioned. They should add someone else to the mix this off-season.
Center Rodney Hudson was the only Chief offensive lineman to play a snap last season and grade out above average. He did a very good job, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 3rd ranked center, but he’ll be a free agent this off-season. The Chiefs aren’t in a great cap situation and already need to re-sign Justin Houston so Hudson could easily be elsewhere in 2015. If he is, the Chiefs will need a replacement because they don’t have an internal one.
Key Free Agents
OLB Justin Houston
If Justin Houston were to hit the open market, he’d be the top free agent available regardless of who else hits the open market. Needless to say, the Chiefs won’t let that happen as they have the franchise tag available and ready to use. If it wasn’t for JJ Watt’s existence, everyone would be talking about how good Houston has been, not just last season, when he came within a sack of the all-time single season record, and but the last 3 seasons. Houston, a 2011 3rd round pick, started the final 6 games of his rookie year and ended up grading out 13th at his position. He turned that into a starting job in 2012 and never looked back, grading out 4th at his position in 2012 and then 1st in each of the last 2 seasons. He’s the top edge rusher in the NFL, strong against the run, and versatile enough to drop in coverage if you need him. Only going into his age 26 season, Houston will get a boatload of money whenever he’s signed to a long-term deal.
C Rodney Hudson
Rodney Hudson, a 2011 2nd round pick, has been a starter for the Chiefs at center over the past 3 seasons and he’s been very good. He only made 3 starts in his first year as a center in 2012, but he graded out above average then and he’s done that as well over the past 2 seasons, while making all 32 starts. He graded out 17th in 2013 and then had the best season of his career in 2014 at the perfect time in his contract year, as he graded out 3rd at his position. One of the better centers in the game, Hudson will be paid like that this off-season.
OT Ryan Harris
Ryan Harris is a veteran journeyman who has bounced from Denver to Houston to Kansas City, but, from 2008-2014, he graded out above average 4 times, below average twice, and didn’t play a snap in 2011. He graded out below average in 2014, his first full season as a starter since 2009, but only barely. He’s going into his age 30 season, but he’s not completely over the hill yet so he could be brought back as a starter or end up with a starting job elsewhere.
S Ron Parker
Ron Parker played a combined 122 snaps in the first 3 seasons of his career from 2011-2013, after going undrafted in 2011, but he played 1037 snaps last season at cornerback and safety. He struggled, grading out below average and he shouldn’t be anything more than a 3rd cornerback or a 3rd safety, but the Chiefs like his versatility and, with depth problems in the secondary outside of Sean Smith and Husain Abdullah, will try to bring him back this off-season.
S Kurt Coleman
Kurt Coleman was a mere 7th round pick by the Eagles in 2010, but he started for them in both 2011 and 2012. However, he graded out well below average in both of those seasons, including 85th out of 88 eligible in 2012. He was limited to 74 snaps as a reserve in 2013 with the Eagles, but he bounced back a little bit in 2014 with the Chiefs, grading out above average on 396 snaps. He’ll get a reserve job somewhere this off-season.
CB Chris Owens
Owens was Pro Football Focus’ 87th ranked cornerback out of 108 eligible last season on 500 snaps, though he has been better in the past, grading out above average in both 2012 and 2013. He’s graded out above average in 3 of 6 seasons since he was drafted in the 3rd round in 2009 (2010 was the other season), though he’s maxed out at 545 snaps. He’s a decent depth cornerback at best.
MLB Josh Mauga
Josh Mauga was an undrafted free agent in 2009 and played just 235 snaps from 2009-2013. He was out of the league entirely in 2013. The Chiefs brought him in last off-season and he ended up starting 15 games in place of an injured Derrick Johnson. His tackle numbers (103) looked nice, but he graded out 54th out of 60 eligible middle linebackers. He’s a reserve at best going forward.
G Jeff Linkenbach
Jeff Linkenbach has graded out below average in all 5 seasons he’s been in the league since going undrafted in 2010. He’s made 36 starts in 5 seasons in the league and struggled mightily in his only season as a full-time starter, grading out 70th out of 76 eligible offensive tackles in 2011. He’s versatile, but he’s a 6th offensive lineman at best and a pretty poor one at that. He won’t draw a lot of interest this off-season.
G Mike McGlynn
Mike McGlynn has been arguably the worst starting guard in the NFL over the past 3 seasons, grading out dead last at his position in 2012, 74th out of 81 eligible in 2013, and then dead last again in 2014. He was only a starter for the Chiefs in 2014 out of necessity and he won’t be a starter in the NFL in 2015. I’m not even sure he should be in the league next year, going into his age 30 season.
Cap Casualty Candidates
WR Donnie Avery
As bad as the Chiefs were at wide receiver this season, Donnie Avery barely saw any playing time, playing just 233 snaps and grading out below average. There’s a reason for that, as he was horrible in 2012 and 2013 both as a starter. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 100th ranked wide receiver out of 105 eligible in 2012 back when he was with the Colts and 105th out of 111 eligible in 2013 in his first season with the Chiefs. The Chiefs weirdly gave him a 3-year, 8.55 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago even though he was horrible in 2012, but they can get out of his non-guaranteed 3.4 million dollar salary for 2015 by cutting him this off-season and they would save that entire amount on the cap. This won’t be a tough decision for them.
MLB Joe Mays
As I mentioned earlier, the Chiefs had serious issues at middle linebacker this season. In spite of that, Joe Mays only played 122 snaps and couldn’t crack the starting lineup. The career journeyman is going into his age 30 season and isn’t worth his non-guaranteed 2.7 million dollar salary for 2015. The cap strapped Chiefs will save that entire amount on the cap immediately by letting him go this off-season, so it’s a no brainer.
S Eric Berry
Eric Berry is a solid starter when healthy, but he’s not healthy right now and not in terms of injuries. Berry is battling lymphoma, which he was diagnosed with late in the season. His career is very much in doubt and, as sad it is, the Chiefs will have to operate this off-season as if Berry won’t be able to play in 2015. That means cutting Berry to get out of his 5.455 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. The Chiefs can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go. They can still bring him back on a minimum deal to keep him around, but it’s financially irresponsible to keep him on his current salary when they’re already backed up against the cap and need to bring back Justin Houston and Rodney Hudson.
WR Dwayne Bowe
From 2007-2012, Dwayne Bowe caught 415 passes for 5728 yards and 39 touchdowns in 88 games in his career, despite playing with the likes of Brodie Croyle, Damon Huard, Tyler Thigpen, Matt Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton, and Brady Quinn at quarterback. Alex Smith over the past two seasons has been easily the best quarterback he’s had in his career, but Bowe has put up 57/673/5 and 60/754/0 slash lines in 2013 and 2014 respectively, since the Chiefs signed him to a 5-year, 56 million dollar deal. Fortunately for the Chiefs, Bowe was suspended 1 game for a marijuana arrest in 2014, which voided any guaranteed money he had for 2015. The Chiefs can save 11 million in cash and 5 million in cap space by letting Bowe go now and he’d be off their cap completely for 2016. As bad as the situation is at wide receiver, the Chiefs need the financial flexibility that cutting Bowe would help give them.
TE Anthony Fasano
Anthony Fasano played 678 snaps in 2014 for the Chiefs at tight end, but he struggled mightily, grading out 61st out of 67 eligible. Meanwhile, Travis Kelce was Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked tight end on 688 snaps. The Chiefs should give Kelce, a 2013 3rd round pick, a bigger role in his 3rd year in the league in 2015 at the expense of Fasano. Fasano is going into his age 31 season and isn’t worth his non-guaranteed 3.1 million dollar salary for 2015. The Chiefs would save 1.959 million on the cap immediately by cutting him.
OLB Tamba Hali
Tamba Hali has graded out above average in every season since 2009, since switching to 3-4 outside linebacker, but he still might not be back in 2015. Hali was Pro Football Focus’ 13th ranked 3-4 outside linebacker in 2014, which is good, but it’s the 2nd worst he’s ranked out over the past 6 seasons, which concerning considering he’s going into his age 32 season. The Chiefs can save 9 million in cash and on the cap by letting him go this off-season and they have a readymade internal replacement in Dee Ford, their 2014 1st round pick, who was drafted with this exact situation in mind. That 9 million in cap space will go a long way towards keeping Justin Houston around for the future and he’s the younger and better player.
DE Mike DeVito
From 2010-2013, Mike DeVito was one of just two 3-4 defensive ends to grade out in the top-10 at that position on Pro Football Focus in every season and he did it despite playing about half the snaps in all 4 of those seasons. He doesn’t get much pass rush, but he graded out 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 4th in run stopping grade in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. However, DeVito missed all of 2014 with a torn Achilles (except 28 snaps in the opener) and the Chiefs essentially replaced him by giving Allen Bailey a long-term extension this season. The Chiefs now have Bailey and Vance Walker with long-term deals at the 3-4 defensive end position, along with DeVito. Given their cap situation and their need to re-sign Houston and Hudson, they might not want to give DeVito his non-guaranteed 4 million dollar salary. As good as he is at what he does, he’s a two-down player coming off of a significant injury going into his age 31 season. The Chiefs would save the full 4 million on the cap immediately by cutting him this off-season.