If you haven't been around long, then you probably don't know... I try to do one of these "offseason plans" at the end of each season. I usually do a mock free agency along with a mock draft based on the assumption that I get the guys I want in free agency.
A little about my philosophy: In free agency, I want younger talent. I'm looking for guys who are coming off their rookie contract or looking for their 3rd contract at the most... anyone older than 28 has to be a special talent with proven longevity, a good locker room presence, and willing to be a mentor.
In the draft, I use the first 2-4 rounds as an extension of free agency. Any holes I haven't plugged in free agency, I try to address in the first 3 rounds of the draft. After the 3rd round, I'm usually looking for the best player on the board... someone with raw ability who can be groomed to be a starter in the future.
So, let's get started.
2013 was the season every Chiefs fan hoped it would be. Andy Reid came in and righted the ship in dramatic fashion. After a great start to the year, everyone's expectations grew to Super Bowl aspirations. But as I wrote this article last year, if you had told me the Chiefs would win 11 games and make the playoffs, I would've been ecstatic. 2013 was a great building year.
The primary question heading into next year is, can the Chiefs improve? Every Chiefs fan's answer would immediately be "of course they can." The problem is that going into 2014, the Chiefs have spent almost all their money. Currently, the Chiefs only have $1.5m available and will see Branden Albert, Dexter McCluster, Tyson Jackson, Jon Asamoah, Kendrick Lewis, and Geoff Schwartz among other hit the unrestricted free agent list. That's at least 6 major contributors the Chiefs could see leave the team this spring. That's 1/4 of the starting squad with no money to sign replacements... that's kind of a big deal. So, we're gonna have to get creative if this team is going to improve in 2014... especially when you consider some major improvements are needed at the WR position and in the defensive secondary.
Let's first tackle all the easy stuff. On special teams, the kickers remain the same, but the returners will probably see some turnover. McCluster didn't have the impact at the WR spot most had anticipated and while we impacted the return game in a big way, I just don't see the Chiefs bringing him back. Same can be said for Demps as a KR while backing up the FS spot. The Chiefs will still have Davis as a KR, but will probably be looking for a DB or WR who can also contribute as a punt returner going forward. Thomas Gafford has already been re-signed.
The next easiest squad to project are the linebackers. The Chiefs MAY try and find an heir apparent to DJ and/or Hali, but I wouldn't expect it to be a huge area of concern just yet, even though Houston will be a free agent next season. DJ is still playing at a high level, as is Hali. An ILB to put next to DJ might be the only movement we see here... but I doubt it.
QB is easy. Expect the Chiefs to extend Smith at least 2 more years (probably 3). Daniel will be pushed by Bray for the #2 spot, but expect the Chiefs to take a QB somewhere in the draft (as is Andy Reid's custom).
RB is easy too. Charles will return with Knile Davis behind him. Look for the Chiefs to bring in someone to challenge Gray as the 3rd RB. FB is locked up for the foreseeable future.
Now comes the rest of the team where there are a TON of questions marks.
TE: Fasano was a league average TE when he was healthy. The Chiefs expected big things from Kelce coming into the year, but he never saw game action as he was hurt throughout the season. If the Chiefs address this position during the offseason, I would expect Fasano to be a June 1 casualty with Kelce and McGraw battling for #2, 3, and 4.
DB: Smith stays. Flowers stays. Berry stays. Any other starter who returns in that secondary would be surprising to me. Dunta Robinson will be a June 1 casualty. Demps MAY return, but doubtful. Lewis walks. The Chiefs will need a starting FS and another big, press corner opposite Smith (if Cooper doesn't develop) with Flowers in the nickel.
OL: Albert is gone. He's too expensive with Fisher taken #1 last year. Fisher will slide over to LT and Stephenson will probably go to RT if I were a betting man. Allen and Hudson will probably continue to man their respective spots... even though I would explore replacing Allen. I would love to bring back Asamoah if I could find the money, but he'll be a tough sign. Expect at least 2 new starters on the OL if not 3 to start 2014.
WR: ugh. Most (if not all) of these WR will be back for 2014. Bowe will probably be back. A.J. Jenkins seems to have the favor of the Chiefs staff. I expect Donnie Avery to be back as his cut would only save the Chiefs $1.5m. Hemmingway will be back. McCluster is gone. But the Chiefs added to this position with a CFL star, Weston Dressler (small white guy; cue the Wes Welker comps).
So now... the Chiefs are sitting here with $1.5m to spend and AT LEAST 6 holes to fill. Priority #1 is to get more cap flexibility. In order to do this, we've got to do some restructuring. Public enemy #1 is Dwayne Bowe with a $16m cap number. If the Chiefs trade him, he leaves behind $12m in dead money (counts against the cap). If he's restructured, he could save the Chiefs $6mil in cap space. Next up, Alex Smith. If he gets extended, he could save the Chiefs about $5mil. Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and Brandon Flowers could save the Chiefs another $12mil if they agree to a restructured deal. Cutting Dunta Robinson on June 1 saves another $4mil. Cutting Fasano on June 1 saves another $3.2mil. If Bray proves to be worthy of the #2 spot, cutting Daniel could save $2.4mil on June 1. Personally, I don't see much problem cutting those 3 players. You have to think the Chiefs will add to the TE spot and with Kelce coming back and McGraw proving his worth this past year, the loss of Fasano would be possible. Coming out of the preseason, there were already people calling for Bray to be the #2. So, after a full season of holding a clip board, I think he could make that step, for sure.
All in all, these moves would give the Chiefs a cap savings of $32.6 million. Now, if the Chiefs have that kind of coin laying around to fill some holes, they could do some serious damage. So, with our newly found salary cap surplus, let's address some needs.
OL: (OT and OG) I'm moving Eric Fisher to LT. That's what he's played his entire career and moving him to RT was a mistake. The question is are we ok with Stephenson being the RT or should he stay in that #3 OT spot? I think he should stay at #3 and find a guy in the draft or FA who could fill that RT spot for the foreseeable future. I'm probably targeting the best available RT in the 3rd round because the talent is usually still there at that round and 3rd rd OTs are much cheaper than their FA counterparts that lack the youth and ability. With the cash available, I would bring Asamoah back on a 5 year deal. I'd keep Allen in place but I'd be on the look out for a project to replace him.
TE: Jermichael Finley is probably my target here. A return to the Packers doesn't seem likely and he'll come rather cheaply considering his talent, because of an injury. Considering his ties to John Dorsey, I wouldn't be shocked if this move actually happened for the Chiefs in real life. There aren't too many FA options out there. There's no way the Saints let Jimmy Graham hit the open market, so he's out of the question. Without that 2nd round pick, the Chiefs will be limited with what they can do in the draft. So, targeting a TE in the draft probably won't be feasible considering where they'll be drafting and what holes they have to fill.
WR: There are a few WRs that I think the Chiefs could bring in from the bargain bin. The Chiefs offense is built on timing patterns and proper route running, accented by good hands. The Chiefs got none of those 3 from their WR corpse last season and it's something they drastically need improvement in. Julian Edelman did some nice things with Brady in New England and became a go-to guy toward the end of the year. His routes are good, he gets separation, and has great hands. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are obvious choices with their ties to coach Reid. Bringing both of those guys in would be a major coup for the Chiefs WR corpse. Emmanuel Sanders and Eric Decker would be nice pick ups if the Chiefs wanted to spend a lot of money at the WR position. Those guys just wouldn't be my first picks solely because of the salary they would command. One more name to consider... Kenny Britt. The guys has talent in spades but his attitude has been poor in Tennessee to say the least. I think it would be interesting to see a guy like that who has "attitude problems" play for a guy like Reid who had his share in Philly. Britt has the ABILITY to be a true #1 or #2 opposite Dwayne Bowe. It's just a matter of whether he can put it all together or not. I feel that if any one coach can bring the best out in a player like this, it's Reid. Could be a low risk, high reward project for the Chiefs.
DB: You would have to think Sam Shields is a top priority for John Dorsey heading into this offseason. His size and style of play is EXACTLY what the Chiefs want from their CBs. If Grimes (MIA), Verner (TEN), or Brown (SF) reach free agency, expect the Chiefs to be big players. Hopefully one of these guys hits the market and we can bring him in. At safety, I would expect the Chiefs to explore the development of Commings at the position. But I would also keep an eye on John Dorsey again at this position. Nick Collins, who provided All-Pro play at the safety position for the Packers spent all of 2013 recovering from a neck injury. According to him and his doctors, he's 100% and ready to play. You would think Collins would come as another low risk/high reward type player with an incentive-laden contract. You could probably expect some draft help at this spot as well.
DL: I wouldn't be shocked to see Tyson Jackson get re-signed. However, I would make a strong push to bring in Lamarr Houston. He's coming off his rookie contract and will want big dollars, but when it comes to spending big money on free agents, these are the kinds of players where you put that money. Since coming into the league, Houston has been rated the best defensive player on that Raiders team. DeVito has done a good job at one of the DE spots and with Poe undoubtedly drawing double teams more often than not, it would be nice to have another guy on that line who can take advantage of one on one matchups along with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Being able to apply pressure with just a 3 or 4 man rush is key to stopping the QBs in our division and conference.
So, who should we bring in?
Sam Shields (if Green Bay lets him go)
I imagine that you're going to see $10m/yr deals for those top 2 guys but the rest of those signing will come at a much cheaper rate. Finley, Collins, and Britt will have to sign bargain deals until they can prove they still have what it takes to play at an elite level. Cooper won't break the bank either.
1-S Calvin Pryor, Louisville- Even though I have the Chiefs taking Nick Collins in free agency, he's not a long-term solution. Calvin Pryor playing center field next to Eric Berry would be lights out. Pair this pick with a Sam Shields signing and the Chiefs could have the best defense in the league, hands down.
3-TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame- I've seen this guy go from a first round selection to a 4th round selection depending on which mock you look at. I think he'll settle somewhere around the 3 round. If he falls to the 3rd, I could see the Chiefs trading up to ensure they get him. Expect a TE to be taken somewhere in the draft.
4-OT Ja'Wuan James, Tenn- 6'6 318lbs. Has played RT at the college level and should transition to the NFL without much problem.
Each pick after the 4th round would be best player available on my board. As we get closer to the draft, I'm sure I'll post a few guys that I think would be great value toward the back end of the draft.
The 2014 Kansas City Chiefs:
TE-Jermichael Finley/Travis Kelce/Troy Niklas
OL-Fisher, Asamoah, Hudson, Allen, Stephenson (or James)
WR-Bowe, Britt, Cooper, Jenkins, Avery, Dressler
S-Eric Berry, Calvin Pryor (or Nick Collins)
CB-Sam Shields, Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith
LB-Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Nico Johnson
DL-Dontari Poe, LaMarr Houston, Mike DeVito