Key free agents: T Branden Albert, G Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, LB Akeem Jordan, FS Kendrick Lewis, WR/PR Dexter McCluster, G Geoff Schwartz
Where they stand: The Chiefs need help at wide receiver but may prefer to do their shopping at this position through the draft after having made a sizable financial commitment to Dwayne Bowe last year. The Chiefs have the depth at tackle to withstand the likely loss of Albert, but they'll need to do some shopping if Asamoah and Schwartz, who split time as the starter at right guard last season, depart. On defense, the Chiefs could use another big body for their defensive line, particularly if Jackson leaves as a free agent. A replacement who can be an upgrade over Lewis is another priority. Sanders Commings, a rookie last season, could potentially fill that spot. Whether the Chiefs actively pursue a veteran there could depend on how they feel about Commings' ability to handle the position.
What to expect: The Chiefs should have about $9.6 million in salary-cap space, which is one of the lowest totals in the league and probably won't allow them to win many bidding wars. Even if the Chiefs had the cap room and were so inclined, this isn't a great crop of free-agent wide receivers. Seattle's Golden Tate might make sense for the Chiefs, but only if the price doesn't get out of hand. The Chiefs could look to division rival Denver for guard Zane Beadles if they need a starter to replace Asamoah and Schwartz. Seattle's Red Bryant could be a fit at defensive end if the Chiefs don't re-sign Jackson. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is exactly what Kansas City is looking for at free safety, but he will likely be out of its price range. If the Chiefs go safety shopping, they might go for a lower-priced option, like Miami's Chris Clemons.
S Husain Abdullah
Five NFL seasons, one with the Chiefs. Will be 29 when next season begins.
Argument for keeping Abdullah: The Chiefs could do worse in finding a fourth safety and special teams player. He has some coverage ability as well.
Argument for letting Abdullah go: The Chiefs could find his kind of ability in a younger and less expensive player.
What should happen: As with many of the backups who are potential unrestricted free agents, Abdullah should be on the Chiefs' wait-and-see list. Sign him in the spring if a better alternative doesn't come along.
You’ve heard this from me before but it bears repeating: A wide receiver makes a ton of sense for the Chiefs from both the short and long terms. A fast wide receiver like Beckham could give the Chiefs in 2014 an element they lacked with any kind of consistency last year. Long range, the Chiefs have to begin preparing for the day when Dwayne Bowe is no longer their No. 1 receiver. Bowe had the least productive full season of his career last year and he turns 30 in September.
Beckham also would provide the Chiefs with a return threat, something they might otherwise lack. Dexter McCluster and Quintin Demps, two of their top returners last season, are scheduled to be free agents.
As McShay points out, the Chiefs could use an immediate boost at other positions as well. They must do something at free safety, though they think a lot of Sanders Commings, a draft pick last year and the strongest in-house candidate to fill the job. They could also use another talented body for their defensive line, among other needs.
But ignoring their shortcomings at wide receiver is particularly risky. Chiefs wide receivers last season were last in catches (120), yards (1,544) and first downs (76). They were tied for 28th in touchdowns (9).
So if the Chiefs like Beckham and think he can be that solution both short and long term, it’s a mistake to pass on him.
G Jon Asamoah
Four NFL seasons, four with the Chiefs. Will be 26 when next season begins.
Chiefs career: Asamoah has been a reliable, if not spectacular, player since becoming the starter at right guard in 2011. He has generally been better as a pass protector than run blocker. Asamoah lost his starting spot to Geoff Schwartz in late November when a shoulder injury knocked him out of the lineup. The Chiefs stayed with Schwartz even after Asamoah returned the following week, but that was more of a reflection on how well Schwartz was playing than Asamoah's ability. Asamoah has generally been durable, but missed another start earlier in the season, this one because of a calf injury.
Argument for keeping Asamoah: He’s young, so there’s reason to believe the best is yet to come for Asamoah. He is heading into the prime of his career and he could be starter for the Chiefs in 2014 and the foreseeable future. Asamoah last season was a better pass protector than Schwartz, also a potential unrestricted free agent. That’s an important factor for an Andy Reid offense if the Chiefs eventually decide between the two.
Argument for letting Asamoah go: Schwartz had the better season in 2013. The offense picked up its production immediately after Schwartz replaced Asamoah in the starting lineup. While it’s a stretch to believe the lineup change was directly responsible, it’s something the Chiefs need to consider. Remember, they eventually opted for Schwartz over Asamoah as a starter last season.
What should happen: This decision won’t be made in a vacuum. What the Chiefs do with Schwartz impacts what they do with Asamoah, and vice versa. The Chiefs should welcome Asamoah back if they can’t retain Schwartz. They could do worse things with their money than re-sign both players. If the Chiefs choose between the two players, they’ll be letting a solid player go no matter which way they go.
The Chiefs could use a man-to-man cornerback and a free safety, as well as a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme with Tyson Jackson up for free agency, but adding playmakers on offense is probably Kansas City’s top priority. The No. 1 need for Kansas City is a wide receiver, especially one with deep speed, as the Chiefs completed just seven passes over 40 yards in 2013. McShay had them taking Odell Beckham Jr. in his last mock. Beckham's stock has improved since then, as has Brandin Cooks', but either would be a great fit for the Chiefs.
Whom does McShay have the Chiefs drafting at No. 23? Let’s take a look:
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Looking forward, Cooper looms as a key developmental player for the Chiefs. He was no small factor in their 9-0 start last season. As the third cornerback, he locked down opposing receivers so well that it wasn’t a stretch to call him his team’s best player at his position.
Things fell apart for Cooper over the season’s second half. The Chiefs faced more accomplished quarterbacks, such as Denver's Peyton Manning and San Diego's Philip Rivers and they took advantage of Cooper's inexperience.
Getting Cooper back to the player he was in the first half of the season should be an offseason priority for the Chiefs when they gather for the start of their offseason work next month. The Chiefs have a couple of established veterans at cornerback in Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, but the Cooper from the first half of last season completes the set. With Cooper playing well, the Chiefs are set at corner for next season and can reasonably expect Cooper to step in at an important position and become a starter when the Chiefs decide Flowers or Smith becomes too expensive or is no longer effective.
The Chiefs have a few other players in the category of younger players who need to make offseason improvement: Fisher, defensive back Sanders Commings, tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins and linebacker Nico Johnson. You could argue Cooper is as important as any to the Chiefs’ success in 2014 and beyond.
LB Frank Zombo
Four NFL seasons, one with the Chiefs. Will be 27 when next season begins.
Chiefs career: Zombo started the season’s final five games before going back to the bench for the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He showed some pass rush skills, getting two sacks, and did an adequate job of playing against the run.
Argument for keeping Zombo: The Chiefs could do much worse at finding an outside linebacker to come off the bench. Zombo certainly didn’t play to the level of Houston or Tamba Hali, but those weren’t the expectations. He didn’t kill the Chiefs with his presence on the field.
Argument for letting Zombo go: The Chiefs shouldn’t shy away from drafting a pass rusher, if there’s one available when they pick. If they find one, the Chiefs shouldn’t need Zombo.
What should happen: If the Chiefs can find a better alternative at a reasonable price, they should do it. But that shouldn’t be a priority and if it doesn’t happen, they should make an effort to re-sign Zombo then.
An area I thought particularly interesting was one about roster development. It lists three younger players capable of making big improvements and helping the Chiefs in 2014. For the Chiefs, that is a long list that could include almost every one of their 2013 draft picks. The ESPN Insiders boil the list to three, one of whom wasn't a rookie last season but could give the Chiefs a boost at a position where they are lacking.
The article, among other things, also lists three possible choices for the Chiefs in the first round in the draft: a wide receiver, a safety, and a defensive lineman. I think the Chiefs would be pleased with any of the three.
G Geoff Schwartz
Five NFL seasons, one with the Chiefs. Will be 28 when next season begins.
Argument for keeping Schwartz: He was arguably the Chiefs' best offensive lineman over the season’s final six games. Asamoah is also a potential free agent and the Chiefs don’t have the depth to survive the loss of both players.
Argument for letting Schwartz go: Schwartz wants to be a starter and wants to be paid like one. Can’t blame him for that but the Chiefs don’t have unlimited funds. It might make more sense to re-sign Asamoah, who is two years younger than Schwartz. The Chiefs could then pair Asamoah with Jeff Allen as their starting guards.
What should happen: The Chiefs shouldn’t be in the business of setting their top offensive linemen free. They will probably lose left tackle Branden Albert to free agency, and if they lose Schwartz as well, they’ll watch arguably their two best offensive linemen from last season walk out the door. That’s no way to build a powerful offense or a championship team. The Chiefs need to find a way to re-sign Schwartz.
The Chiefs have $122,249,251 in salary-cap commitments for their 51 highest paid players. Only the top 51 salaries count against the cap. The Chiefs have 68 players under contract.
Combined with their salary-cap credit of $2,381,518, the Chiefs have $9,626,444 to spend. Twenty-four of the NFL's other 31 teams have more salary-cap room than the Chiefs. The Oakland Raiders lead the NFL with more than $66 million of cap room.
Dressler caught 442 passes for more than 6,000 yards and scored 43 touchdowns in his six seasons for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. He’s small but quick and his skills were enough to intrigue the Chiefs and coach Andy Reid.
“I remember when he came out [of college],’’ Reid said recently. “He was the best player there and the MVP of his team and the league and all that stuff. Then he goes to Canada [and he’s a good player]. I had a chance to watch his tape. He transferred from the college level to the Canadian League and it didn’t look like there was a big dropoff. So you give him an opportunity here. He had plenty of opportunities to go other places and go back to Canada. He wanted to be here and he wanted this experience.’’
The obvious comparison for Dressler is Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs’ slot receiver the past few seasons. At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Dressler is of similar size to McCluster, who is a potential unrestricted free agent.
Dressler, who signed a three-year contract with the Chiefs for the NFL minimum salaries, is insurance in case the Chiefs don’t re-sign McCluster. But if they do?
“They’re similar,’’ Reid said. “If you told me I could have two Dexter McClusters, that would be a good thing. I wouldn’t mind that at all.’’
Five NFL seasons, one with the Chiefs. Will be 29 when next season begins.
Chiefs career: Demps didn’t sign until May but was a significant part of the defense last season on passing downs. Like a lot of their other defensive backs, Demps played well earlier in the season, but his play wasn’t nearly as strong during the season’s second half. Demps led the Chiefs with four interceptions. He also had an impact as a kickoff returner. He averaged more than 30 yards per return and helped the Chiefs set an NFL record for return average. He also scored a touchdown on a 95-yard return against Washington.
Argument for keeping Demps: He was far from perfect last season but he’s what a backup safety looks like in the NFL. Demps has good range and ball skills, making him useful on passing downs. His ability as a kick returner can’t be overlooked. He was a major part of what the Chiefs accomplished on special teams last season.
Argument for letting Demps go: The dropoff in his play toward the end of the season was disturbing. The Chiefs may be able to find a backup safety with Demps’ ability in the draft or through free agency. As for his kick return ability, the Chiefs have Knile Davis and Joe McKnight for that. Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs draft at least one player with return experience.
What should happen: Demps shouldn’t be a priority for the Chiefs to re-sign, but if he’s willing to come back at some point for a minimum salary, it would be a mistake for the Chiefs to pass that up. They could always release him later if they find another backup safety who is better than Demps and they have adequately replaced him as the kickoff returner.
KANSAS, CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City's Andy Reid was honored as the AFC Coach of the Year on Saturday at the NFL 101 Awards, and Carolina's Ron Rivera -- Reid's former protege -- took the NFC award.
Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year winner, and Indianapolis linebacker Robert Mathis took the AFC honor. Mathis was the only player of the four present at the awards dinner.
Len Dawson, the former Chiefs quarterback and current radio analyst, received the Lamar Hunt Award, a national award given to someone who helped shape pro football.