The Kansas City Chiefs are a team poised to return to the top of the AFC West after a disappointing and injury-filled 2011 season.
The Chiefs must be active this offseason in both free agency and the draft in order to continue progressing and if they make the right moves, they could potentially find themselves playing in the AFC title game and beyond this season.
Here is a look at what I believe Pioli and the Chiefs should do in free agency and the draft this offseason in order to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl this in 2012.Free agency:
Franchise Tag WR Dwayne Bowe - Bowe must be brought back and all indications are that the Chiefs intend to do so by placing the franchise tag on their star receiver.
QB Peyton Manning - I don't dislike Matt Cassel as much as many Chiefs fans do, but I think if the Chiefs can get a quarterback the caliber of Manning then they have to seriously entertain the idea and ultimately make it happen. Obviously there are major question marks regarding Manning's health and he isn't getting any younger as he will be 36 when the 2012 season begins, but a healthy Peyton would likely settle the Chiefs quarterback situation for at least the next three years and give them time to groom their signal-caller of the future.
NT Sione Pouha - Pouha was one of the top interior defensive lineman against the run last season and he will be arguably the top nose tackle on the market this year. The Chiefs are clearly thin at the position and although Pouha (33-years-old) is not as young as Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai (28), he will likely come cheaper and give the Chiefs a consistent presence in the middle while their groom their nose tackles of the future.
TE Martellus Bennett - The Chiefs love tight ends who can block and surprisingly enough Bennett is an athletic 6'6" pass-catcher who is also an above average blocker at the position. Bennett could cost more than his production would normally dictate because of his great size and athletic ability, but the Kansas City could use another big weapon on offense to pair with Tony Moeaki as he comes off yet another injury.
OT Anthony Collins - The Chiefs absolutely cannot bring Barry Richardson back next season to play right tackle and at this point it would seem that nearly anyone would be a better option than the 25-year-old from Clemson. Collins is a former KU product that has not been given a full-time opportunity as of yet during his career but has showed some promise in his time with the Bengals. Collins is just 26-years-old and should come at a relatively cheap price, allowing the Chiefs to make some other big moves if they desire.
S Thomas DeCoud - Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry will hopefully return to form in 2012 after missing basically the entire 2011 season with a knee injury, and while Kendrick Lewis has been an adequate safety for the Chiefs thus far, Kansas City could find an upgrade, or at the very least upgrade their minimal depth at the position. DeCoud would give the Chiefs a much bigger alternative to Lewis, but with the ability to actually cover tight ends, unlike Sabby Piscitelli and Jon McGraw. DeCoud has been an effective starter for the Falcons for the past three seasons and would be a terrific addition to a Chiefs secondary that looks to be a top 10 unit once again this year.
Re-Sign DE Wallace Gilberry - Gilberry is not a great fit for the Chiefs 3-4 defense as he would be much better suited playing in a 4-3 scheme, but he has shown some ability to be a productive pass rusher and Kansas City should work to bring him back for the purposes of depth provided they don't have to overpay to retain his services.
Re-Sign S Reshard Langford - The Chiefs will likely need to re-sign at least one of their free agent safeties this offseason and Langford would be my choice. Langford gets the nod not because he is a great player, but because he is a better player than Sabby Pisctelli. Jon McGraw could also be a candidate to return to the Chiefs but they need to keep him off the field much more often then they did this past season if he does come back.
Re-Sign DL Amon Gordon - Gordon gave the Chiefs some nice depth on the defensive line and was effective in the limited role that he played last season. Gordon is not a long-term answer but once again gives the Chiefs solid depth, something they need to find more of throughout their roster.
Re-Sign FB Le'Ron McClain - McClain brought some versatility to the Chiefs last season with his ability to run, block, catch and tweet, and he should be a player that Kansas City seriously considers re-signing this year. If they don't re-sign him they could have a major hole to fill at fullback and his departure would also hurt the team's depth at running back.
The Chiefs will likely re-sign more than just four of their free agents, but other than Brandon Carr, there is no one that I would miss should they not be re-signed by Kansas City this offseason. All of these signings should be quite doable for the Chiefs given their great salary cap situation, but the question is how much will Kansas City be willing to spend? With these additions, the Chiefs would be filling nearly all of their major needs, giving them plenty of flexibility in the draft while maintaining some cap room for the 2013 season as well.
First Round - Trade! The Chiefs decide to swing a trade and move down in the first round after the Panthers pass on Dontari Poe with the ninth pick. It is unlikely that any teams picking between 12 and 17 would be interested in taking Poe, however the Jets could take a hard look at top running back Trent Richardson with the 16th pick, would could in turn cause the Bengals to move ahead of Rex Ryan and Co. to land their future star runner. For moving down six picks, Kansas City would also receive the Bengals second round selection (No. 53 overall).
First Round (No. 17) - Memphis NT Dontari Poe - The Chiefs move down and still land their guy as they pick up the best nose tackle in the draft with their selection of the 346 lb. Poe. Poe lit up the combine with his combination of size and athleticism (running a sub 5.0 in the 40-yard dash), and that could very well mean an increase in suitors for the big man's services. With Pouha already on board in free agency, they could give Poe time to develop into the player that many think he can be while learning from one of the best players in the league at his position.
Second Round (No. 44) - Boise St. RB Doug Martin - Kansas City must find a running back in free agency or the draft this offseason and I would not be surprised if Martin ends up being the second best back in this draft behind only Richardson. Martin is a great competitor who can do it all from the running back position. Martin is a solid third-down contributor with his ability to catch balls out of the backfield and protect in passing situations. Most importantly, Martin has shown that he can handle the load and that he is a winner. The Chiefs could benefit greatly from making Martin their second selection of this draft.
Second Round (No. 53) - Florida St. OT Zebrie Sanders - The Chiefs have now filled nearly every major need that they have this offseason and they still have plenty of picks to add depth and get younger at some spots. Sanders is the best offensive tackle remaining at this point in the draft and his selection gives the Chiefs some flexibility in the future. If free acquisition Anthony Collins pans out then the Kansas City has a big decision to make when it comes to Branden Albert who will be a free agent following the 2012 season. The Chiefs could potentially let Albert walk, or re-sign him and move him to guard if both Collins and Sanders turn out to be above average starters as the team's bookends.
Third Round - Wisconsin G Kevin Zeitler - Kansas City continues to build a solid group in the trenches with this selection as they once again find a good interior player in the trenches who has slipped to the third round. Zeitler is one of the top rated guards in the draft and just too good for the Chiefs to pass up at this point.
Fourth Round - Coastal Carolina CB Josh Norman - The Chiefs decide to take a chance in the middle rounds with their pick of Norman who's play would on the field would normally dictate that he go higher but some questions surrounding him cause him to fall to KC in the fourth. Norman would give Kansas City another big corner (6'0") who is best suited to play man-to-man coverage. There are some questions about his maturity and awareness but you'd have to believe that if Norman can't make it with this Chiefs defensive coaching staff, he will have a tough time making it anywhere in the league.
Fifth Round - Boise St. S George Iloka - Iloka may not last this long as he is currently rated the No. 3 safety prospect in this class by ESPN's Scouts Inc. and the No. 4 safety prospect by NFL Netowrk's Mike Mayock, but Iloka had some major struggles at the combine and you also have to consider that there is just one safety currently starting in the league who is 6'3" or taller (Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor). Last year, 6'4" West Virginia safety Robert Sands had to wait until the fifth round to hear his name called and Iloka could face a similar fate this year. Iloka did not run as fast as some were hoping for and he did not show the quickness or fluidity in his hips that scouts were looking for at the combine, but he is well-built and 6'3". If Iloka falls on draft day, the Chiefs should pounce on the opportunity to get bigger yet in their secondary with a guy who finished the season playing corner for the Broncos last season.
Sixth Round - Trade! The Chiefs trade their sixth-round selection for....Jets middle linebacker Bart Scott! Yes, Scott has been a headache as of late for the Jets, and yes, his skills may be on the decline, but Scott could potentially re-energize his career playing next to DJ in the middle of the Chiefs 3-4 defense. There is no reason to think that Scott wouldn't love to be playing for Romeo Crennel and he would receive every chance to contribute as the team's starter next to DJ. Kansas City would have the opportunity to re-work Scott's contract and get him down to the $3 million range for the 2012 season. Scott could also be cut before the draft, but if he is still a Jet on draft day then the Chiefs should seriously consider making this move to solidify their defense.
Seventh Round - Houston WR Patrick Edwards - Edwards is little (5'8", 168 lbs.), almost too little as we have learned from Dexter McCluster, but he is also an extremely productive player. Edwards would not be counted on to do much in his rookie year for the Chiefs, but he could be a developmental player with good speed who Kansas City could add for depth. You aren't going to find many guys who caught 89 passes for 1,720 yards and 20 touchdowns in one season too often so if he's still available at this point, and there is a good chance he will be, the Chiefs should seriously consider him.
Chiefs 2012 Roster
Quarterback - Peyton Manning, Matt Cassel, Ricky Stanzi
Running Back - Jamaal Charles, Doug Martin, Dexter McCluster
Fullback - Le'Ron McClain, Shane Bannon
Tight End - Tony Moeaki, Martellus Bennett, Jake O'Connell
Left Tackle - Branden Albert, David Mims
Left Guard - Ryan Lilja, Kevin Zeitler
Right Guard - Jon Asamoah, Daryl Harris
Right Tackle - Anthony Collins, Zebrie Sanders
Outside Linebacker - Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Andy Studebaker, Cameron Sheffield
Middle Linebacker - Derrick Johnson, Bart Scott, Brandon Siler, Demorrio Williams
Safety - Eric Berry, Thomas DeCoud, Kendrick Lewis, George Iloka, Reshard Langford
Kicker - Ryan Succop
Punter - Dustin Colquitt
Let me know what you guys think in the comments section, what you like and what you don't like about these moves. And don't forget to vote in the poll, thanks!