Under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have quickly re-emerged as one of the AFC’s best. There’s a good argument to be made the conference’s second-best roster resides in Kansas City.
There aren’t a lot of glaring deficiencies staring down the defending AFC West champions, which makes its position interesting after another flameout before the AFC Championship game. The Chiefs have now lost their past five home playoff games and their past six divisional-round outings.
The 2017 season feels like judgment day for this nucleus, and it’s likely Alex Smith won’t be around for 2018 if he can’t lift this veteran-laden roster to the Super Bowl precipice. Some outside talent could help the Chiefs, but they do not stand to possess much in terms of salary cap funding and have to determine the future of two marquee free agents of their own.
Under the guidelines of this FanRag series, we will strictly focus on outside free agents. However, we will be operating under the premise the Chiefs sign Eric Berry long-term, allow Dontari Poe to depart, cut Jamaal Charles and decline Nick Foles’ option. This will leave the Chiefs with some cap space, but still toward the bottom of the league in terms of finances.
Here are five free agents the Chiefs should realistically target.
Prince Amukamara, CB
Marcus Peters went from the league’s most-targeted cornerback in 2015 to one of its most avoided last season. A first-team All-Pro, Peters has become a true star at the position and figures to be a long-term Chief. However, teams will continue to avoid the ball hawk if Kansas City can’t find an able right corner. If they’re going to make one impact outside signing, corner would be a good place to do so.
The 6-foot Amukamara fits because he’s a solid second-tier corner in this class, and although he might price himself out of the Chiefs’ budget, the ex-Nebraska talent will be looking for a long-term commitment. The former first-round pick will turn 28 in June and be a fine complement opposite Peters. He shook some injury concerns by suiting up for 14 games for the Jaguars, a threshold he didn’t reach in 2014 or ’15 with the Giants. When healthy, Amukamara’s one of the more dependable corners in football, which is exactly what the Chiefs need opposite Peters.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB
Another rangy corner at 6-foot-1, Kirkpatrick also figures to fall just off the highest plane of free agent cornerbacks. Players like A.J. Bouye, Trumaine Johnson and Stephon Gilmore figure to receive more interest. The former Bengals talent, one of many first-round corners the Marvin Lewis-era Bengals brought in, started for two seasons and is coming off his best.
Kirkpatrick, 27, isn’t as proven as Amukamara and may not see quite as much money as a result. But he doesn’t have the injury concerns, either.
Bottom line, the Chiefs have to upgrade from the Phillip Gaines-Terrance Mitchell duo in their starting lineup. If they do, they should have a superior pass defense since Justin Houston stands to be healthy (or healthier, at this point) entering Week 1. Kansas City’s payroll doesn’t house one veteran salary among its corners. Doing their usual backloading of a deal to push the larger cap hits down the road, the Chiefs can afford one of these two players. Well, unless Poe and Berry are back. Then they can’t.
Karl Klug, DE
A future without Poe became possible after the Chiefs drafted potential standout Chris Jones, who could quickly become the team’s best defensive lineman. Poe also doesn’t make as much sense with two veteran D-line salaries already on the books for Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard.
Neither can be cut without incurring a substantial amount of dead money – something the team can ill-afford right now – but ancillary help could come to help soften the blow of a Poe exit. And it might be needed, with both Howard and Bailey coming off season-ending injuries and Poe, in this scenario, departing. Poe regressed again last season, however, and hasn’t been a dominant player since 2014.
Klug will not sign for close to what Poe will but has experience playing 3-4 end, doing so for the Titans as a depth piece. Pro Football Focus graded the soon-to-be 29-year-old as one of the better 3-4 ends out there, and he could either serve as important rotational depth (and insurance against another Howard or Bailey setback) or become a starter and slide Howard inside to nose.
Sio Moore, LB
By far the least excitable name in this quintet, Moore played above-average football for the Cardinals last season and could be had on a cheap deal. The Chiefs have a difficult situation at inside linebacker, with Derrick Johnson coming off a second torn Achilles tendon but set to occupy nearly $8 million of K.C.’s 2017 cap. The 34-year-old is not a cut candidate regardless of injury, at this point.
Beyond Johnson, the Chiefs have some intriguing options in Ramik Wilson and Justin March-Lillard, the latter they decided was more important to activate off IR than Charles. Moore, or a veteran of a similar price, would be for insurance for a future where Johnson is still injured or reduced to a lesser role because of the malady.
The 26-year-old Moore played well for the Raiders in 2013-14 (7.5 sacks combined as a 4-3 outside linebacker) before becoming an NFL nomad prior to the Cardinals adding him in 2016. He rated as a top-15 run-defending ‘backer, via PFF, last season.
Tony Romo, QB
He is not yet a free agent but expects to be, and with no team wanting anything to do with his current contract, it’s a good bet the 36-year-old quarterback will be on the market. That will incite one of the stealthiest bidding wars in modern memory, with teams like the Broncos and Texans not wanting to be in on this pursuit. They almost certainly will check into it.
While Smith has led the Chiefs to the fourth-most regular-season wins in the NFL during the Reid era, there’s an obvious argument that they’ve gone as far as they can under his lead. A polarizing player in Kansas City, the game manager would obviously be more reliable than Romo at this point due to the latter’s rampant injury issues. But putting a healthy Romo on this team makes the Chiefs a surefire Super Bowl threat.
If he’s amenable to a mid-level deal, the team should look into it. Smith, who will be 33 in May, can be cut to free up $9.7 million in 2017 funds. A trade to a low-end team in the quarterback derby (the Jets or Bears, perhaps) would also be in play in this scenario.
This would obviously throw any above plans off axis, but the Chiefs make sense as a Romo destination because of their proximity to a title run and Reid’s ability to coax quality play from his quarterbacks. Kansas City should draft a quarterback whether it acquires Romo or not, but the longtime Dallas starter is the only available passer who can justify parting ways from Smith.