Trimming the Fat and Fortifying the Structure
As we saw in their playoff game against the Colts and their overall performance after the bye week, there are still a bunch of holes to fill on this team. The offense really came on strong at the end of the year and performed well against some pretty decent defenses. The offense could use a couple tweaks and perhaps some WR help to go along with an OL move or two. But it's extremely obvious where the primary focus of this offseason should be. After the bye week, if this defense wasn't getting turnovers, they were getting absolutely dominated. There is no excuse for a team who benefited from 4 turnovers and scored 44 points to EVER LOSE THAT GAME! You can't play a man defense lined up 13 yards off the receiver... that makes no sense what so ever.
The problem this Chiefs team has going into the offseason is that they have the third highest projected payroll in the league. There is no room to maneuver in free agency AND that's not including re-signing Branden Albert. There are WAY too many holes on this team to tie up $10m in Albert, $12m in Bowe, and many others that don't contribute at a level their salary would suggest. So, I wrote this article to sort of lay out scenarios and or suggestions that would allow the Chiefs to fill some holes and become a much better team than they were in 2013.
I am going to list the players that I think the Chiefs should part with. I will list their 2014 cap number and how much the Chiefs would save by cutting that player.
Dwayne Bowe- 12m/(-4.25m)
Dunta Robinson- 5.3m/+3.3m
Tamba Hali- 11.4m/+5.5
*(Branden Albert) Free Agent projected at 9m/yr
Obviously I'm not going to suggest a straight release of guys like Bowe or Hali. However, Dunta Robinson is an obvious cut candidate. Cooper has taken that #3 CB from Robinson and the Chiefs will surely add depth over the offseason in that secondary. Nobody is going to have any trade interest in the guy, so releasing him is probably the move.
The Chiefs are sitting at $121m committed for next season. The salary cap is projected to be somewhere in the $120s. Remember, that number is WITHOUT Branden Albert for next season... and without adding any additional help. How in the world is this team going to get better with no room to operate?
I propose a trade of Dwayne Bowe to Cleveland for either their 2nd 1st round pick or their 2nd round pick. Dwayne Bowe has a $16.25m "dead money" number. This means that if the Chiefs were to cut him outright, they'd still have to pay his $12m cap number PLUS an additional $4m on top of that... so, basically, the Chiefs would have to pay $16m for him NOT to play for the team. The Chiefs have holes to fill and no 2nd round pick with which to help. The Chiefs will be picking 24th in the draft and NEED more picks. Cleveland will get the Colts' 1st rd pick for their trade of Richardson. Cleveland will probably take a QB with their first pick and will want a good #2 WR to help out their rookie QB. Cleveland has plenty of cap space and the need for a guy like Bowe who's skill set does not fit with Andy Reid's offensive system. Not only does this move net the Chiefs a late 1st/early 2nd round pick, but it clears $16m for the Chiefs to do something with. Dwayne Bowe produced at a below average level but was paid like a top 20 WR. I don't think it is unreasonable for a franchise who pays a guy like an elite WR to expect that player to perform at an elite level. Bowe's 2013 production can be replaced by an average FA who can be signed for a fraction of the price. Sloppy routes, not fighting for the ball, not coming back to the ball, poor production, and just simply not caring about his craft now that he's been paid are all reasons why I would deem Bowe expendable.
The other move I would at least explore is a trade of Tamba Hali. While it's not a trade that necessarily HAS to be made, getting the large bounty he would bring back PLUS the $11.4m in cap space he would free up would allow the Chiefs even more flexibility to fill the holes. Think of what a Jared Allen bounty would bring to this Chiefs team who has made a dramatic turnaround this season. Hali's production would be difficult to replace and I'm not trying to imply he means as little as Bowe does, but with Houston already on one side, and Poe becoming an elite NT, finding a younger, cheaper option and reapplying those resources to other areas of need may not be the worst move and would definitely be worth exploring just to see what the market bears. The last time we traded an elite pass rusher, we ended up with Branden Albert and Jamaal Charles... just sayin. If the Chiefs can get a 1st and 3rd for Hali, I think I'd pull that trigger.
These 3 moves combined would net the Chiefs $31m in cap space and 3 draft picks in the first 3 rounds to go along with the 2 they already have. 5 picks in the first 3 rounds and that kind of cap space would more than replace the lost production and would help the Chiefs shore up other positions of need in the secondary and WR corpse.
It may seem counterproductive to some to remove a guy like Bowe from a group that you're trying to improve. But when you're trying to to feed a starving person on a limited budget, you don't reach for the caviar first. You apply those funds in a smarter, more productive way... because folks, our defensive secondary and WR group IS starving. Whatever holes you aren't able to fill through free agency, you just start filling them in the draft.
Oh, and I wouldn't re-sign Branden Albert. You just spent the #1 pick in the draft on an OT. Putting him on the right side has been horrible for his production. Get him back on the left side, make Stephenson your RT and let this group of young offensive linemen develop together as a unit and lock them up in long-term deals. There is absolutely no reason to have almost $40m locked up in Bowe, Hali, Albert, and Robinson. If this cluster isn't fixed, the Chiefs will need some other kind of miracle to see any kind of improvement between this year and next.