With Super Bowl 50 now in the books, the Kansas City Chiefs turn their sights to the free agency. With seven starters set to test the open market, added with only 28 million of projected cap space available, the Chiefs staff will have some very tough decisions to make this offseason.
The Chiefs seven free agent starters are Eric Berry, Sean Smith, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Husain Abdullah, Jaye Howard and Jeff Allen. Not included are backup role players like Chase Daniel, Mike DeVito and Donald Stephenson, who also are due for new deals.
Eric Berry: This is perhaps the toughest decision general manger John Dorsey will have to make, as Berry’s influence on the team goes outside the lines. After beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma less than a year ago, the four-time pro bowler returned to Arrowhead and picked up right where he left off.
The big question is whether on not it’s a smart move to make a safety one of the Chiefs’ highest paid positions, possibly limiting spending elsewhere. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has had no problems finding cheaper safeties that can do the job, and it would open up space to add more weapons elsewhere. However, it would still be a very hard pill for Chiefs fans to swallow if the reigning NFL comeback player of the year does not come back to Kansas City.
Sean Smith: Another key player on the defensive side, Smith was suspended for the first three games of the season. While that possibly cost the Chiefs a win against Denver, Smith still turned in one of his best seasons with consistently tight coverage that forced opposing teams to throw cornerback Marcus Peters’ direction.
Having a corner of Smith’s caliber is important if the Chiefs want to maintain a top defense, as Peters might not be ready for top billing just yet. With that said, Smith had a cap hit of $7 million and will likely earn 10 or more elsewhere. With limited space for multiple expensive deals, it could come down to choosing between Smith and Berry, barring an extreme hometown discount.
Derrick Johnson: This is perhaps the most likely signing this offseason, as Johnson is one of the leaders of the defense, has been with the team the longest, holds the franchise tackle record and turned in another solid year following his torn Achilles. The Chiefs do have the younger Ramik Wilson who could start, but the run defense improved from 28th to 8th overall after Johnson’s return. Johnson expressed desire to stay in Kansas City, and losing him again would set the Chiefs back even more.
Tamba Hali: The veteran pass rusher surprised a lot of people last offseason, when he took a significant pay cut to stay in Kansas City. He’s said he wants to retire as a Chief, but following an improved 2015 he could get more money elsewhere. Hali turned in 5.5 sacks over a five game stretch, but if the Chiefs believe in fellow pass rusher Dee Ford, they could survive without Hali. However, he’s is a veteran like Johnson, and the appeal of staying where they know they can be successful could be enough to keep Hali in the city that drafted him.
Jeff Allen: One of the more underrated free agents, Allen was arguably the Chiefs’ best offensive lineman. After missing all but one week of 2014, Allen was the leader of the line and can play multiple positions. That also makes Allen more appealing to opposing teams. With the Chiefs track record of letting top linemen go, such as Branden Albert or Rodney Hudson, they could be ready to part ways with Allen.
Jaye Howard: The fourth year pro nose tackle produced easily the best season of his career with 5.5 sacks and 36 tackles. The Chiefs recently signed Allen Bailey to an extension and were in talks to do the same with Howard, but couldn’t reach a deal during the year. Howard could be looking to cash in after his career year, and the Chiefs could be saving up for Dontari Poe’s upcoming free agency in 2016. If they do reach a deal, that could be a sign that Howard is replacing Poe in 2017.
Husain Abdullah: The final starter’s fate really depends on where those at the top of the food chain go. If Berry does resign, the need diminishes as the Chiefs already have Ron Parker locked up. If Berry does not sign, Abdullah could be their first choice to return thanks to his solid play over the past three years. Sutton uses three safeties in many sets, but a younger Daniel Sorenson or cheap free agent could fill the void without having to go long term with Abdullah.
While there are some tantalizing options elsewhere in free agency, the Chiefs might be able to address most of their needs in house and through the draft. By keeping some of these key players at Arrowhead, they could very well compete for an AFC West crown in 2016. As seen with Denver’s recent victory, a team the Chiefs beat soundly in week 10, anything is possible in the NFL.
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