The Kansas City Chiefs have been one of the more active teams in free agency so far this off-season, reaching deals with TE Anthony Fasano, WR Donnie Avery, DL Mike Devito, CBs Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, OL Geoff Schwartz and S Husain Abdullah.
These moves have put the Chiefs salary cap situation at the forefront of discussions about the team right now. During the past few years it was always being discussed how much available space there is in the context that they weren't spending enough money. Now it's a different story as the team seems to be pushing the cap heading into next season. There's reportedly around $5 million in space available right now. That's barely enough to sign their rookies so unless something else changes the Chiefs are done spending.
Obviously that can change with an extension for or the trading of LT Branden Albert. Or an extension with QB Alex Smith.The other big cap situation right now is with OLB Tamba Hali.
The thing about Tamba is...
(Things are about to get uncomfortable for those who believe Tamba is above criticism.)
Tamba Hali is due a base salary of $12.5 million next season and is a $15.5 million cap hit, which is the highest in the league among linebackers.
It's true that Hali's base salary drops significantly over the next two seasons as he's currently signed through the 2015 season. He's due base salary's of $6.25 million in 2014 and $6.75 million in 2015. But he's also due roster bonuses of $2 million in each of those seasons as well. His cap number then in 2014 and 2015 doesn't drop as significantly because of those roster bonuses as he's $11.5 million against the cap in 2014 and $12 million against the cap in 2015. Hali will still have one of the six highest cap numbers among DEs and LBs in the NFL in 2014 as contracts currently stand.
That's the money side of the equation. Let's talk briefly about his play on the field.
Back in 2010 Hali ranked as Pro Football Focus' No. 1 OLB according to Pass Rush Productivity. That takes into consideration more than just sacks. It quantifies how often you're rushing the passer on passing plays as well as hurries, knock downs, sacks, etc... Therefore if you're a team like the Chiefs last season that weren't thrown on a whole lot and were behind most of the time it wouldn't negatively affect your productivity numbers.
In 2011 Hali ranked No. 8 in pass rushing productivity and No. 9 last season according to this very same formula that had him ranked as the best in the NFL in 2010. It was after that 2010 season that Hali signed his five-year, $57 million deal. This isn't just simply looking at his sack numbers that have dropped from 14.5 to 12 to just 9. These productivity numbers take a lot more into account than that and they're showing a decline.
Is this formula perfect and without fault? No, but it's consistent over those years and it's unbiased. Chiefs fans loved to use those numbers when Hali was dominating back in 2010 and while ranking in the top 10 certainly isn't bad, it's not living up to his current contract situation.
By no means do I think the Chiefs should trade or cut Tamba Hali right now. Fact is the Chiefs have no depth at that position behind Houston and Hali and they need to address it at some point during this draft. If Hali continues to decline next season, which given his age you should expect to happen, the Chiefs would be wise to plan for the future before their hand is forced.
So that's that on Tamba. Now, if we're thinking that the Chiefs could reasonably select a pass rusher at the top of next month's draft, let's take a look at who could be in play for the Chiefs at No. 1. I'm talking about Oregon's Dion Jordan, BYU's Ziggy Ansah and Georgia's Jarvis Jones.
A likely scenario if the Chiefs do decide to go with one of these players is that they'll take a year to develop while getting situational looks that fit their skill-set. If Hali doesn't have a great year and the young player is ready to take over in 2014 then you can make that decision at that point. The point is to give the Chiefs options at the position they don't currently have.
This draft isn't just about next year but about three years from now. What puts them in the best position at these different spots down the road? What I like about each of these players is they bring something to the table more than just their pass-rush.
Dion Jordan - Oregon
Dion Jordan stands at 6'6 and 248 pounds. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah lists Julian Peterson as his NFL comparison. When looking at his tape it's easy to see why Jordan didn't have some of the eye-popping numbers you'll see from some of the other prospects. Because Jordan was such a great athlete and could play out in space Oregon would move him around quite a bit.
In this GIF below you'll see Jordan split-out on a wide receiver in the slot.
Oregon would consistently put Jordan out in space like this. There'd be other plays where he's one of just three down-lineman being asked to get after the QB on a 3-man rush. This is the kind of versatility you'd be getting from having Jordan on the field and it's for this reason I believe Jordan would have a role on the Chiefs defense next season with Tamba Hali on the field also.
Hali is strictly a pass-rusher and doesn't bring much else to the table in coverage or rush defense so if we're talking about adding another OLB and we want him on the field as a rookie, he's going to have to be able to bring another element to the defense.
When scouting or evaluating pass-rushers you'll always hear the term 'bend' as to how well the player 'bends' around the edge. It's not about the competition or the specific scheme in the defense right here. It's about having the physical ability to get 10 yards up-field, dip the inside shoulder and accelerate through that re-direction.
Jordan displays this athletic ability while getting after the passer but also while reading the run and charging down the line of scrimmage. He's also much more physical than he gets credit for because of his slender build.
I've also seen some comparisons around here to Vernon Gholston because of the tag 'athletic specimen' or whatever. Gholston didn't have the fluidity in space or 'bend' that Jordan has and I don't think it's a close comparison. Gholston was a weight-room hero that looked like Lattimer from 'The Program' and Jordan is a slender 6'7 'glider'.
Ziggy Ansah - BYU
Ziggy Ansah is a rising prospect that really made a name for himself on the national stage after his performance at the Senior Bowl game down in Mobile. Despite only playing football for just a couple of years and not even being considered a starter for BYU at the start of last season, Ansah's 6'5, 270 pound frame combined with his athleticism has people buzzing about him.
I talked with a few guys down in Mobile that were having a serious debate as to whether Ansah would be better suited as a 5-technique defensive-end or a rush LB in a 3-4 defense. That's basically debating whether he's Tyson Jackson or Tamba Hali. How athletically gifted must a guy be that's considered a top 10 pick that is being considered for BOTH of those spots?
Ansah brings a physicality to the run that Jordan wouldn't bring on the defensive line. He's not the player out in space that Jordan is but you could line him up anywhere along the defensive line and even stand him up and bring him off the edge if you wanted.
In this play you'll see Ansah shoving the RT fairly easily as he pursues the RB down the line. (In all actuality I think his shove of the OL made him show even more athleticism to make up the ground on the angle caused by the OL stumbling) That's a 270 pound man, folks.
You won't find players much more 'raw' than Ansah but it's plays like this one above that show you what he's capable of from an athletic standpoint.
Another thing I didn't expect to see from Ansah when I sat down to watch was great awareness out on the field. He hasn't played football for all that long and I therefore I didn't expect to see plays like the one below.
Ansah fights through the double-team only to recognize the screen being set up right at him. Once he finally gets 'daylight' to the QB he feels the back trying to slip to the flat and shows fantastic athletic ability to change directions and blow up the play. This is great awareness and a good display of high 'football IQ' for a player considered very 'raw'.
Strength to fight through a double-team? Check. High motor to stay with the play and get the sack? Check. Physicality to bring the QB down with authority? Check.
Jarvis Jones - Georgia
Jarvis Jones is a player that most draft analysts have been talking about for the past couple of years. Georgia is one of the few programs in college football that run a base 3-4 defense. Jones has benefited from playing the same role that current Chiefs OLB Justin Houston had played during his time at Georgia. He's constantly lined up as the pass-rushing OLB and he's almost exclusively being sent after the QB every play. He very rarely drops into coverage and isn't moved around nearly as much as Jordan or Ansah.
Jones is simply asked to get after the QB and that's what he does. His 28 sacks over the past two seasons are eye-popping when compared to Jordan and Ansah's statistical production.
As you can see in this GIF Jones is set up in a two-point stance as the rush LB and simply beats the OT around the edge. Jones was VERY good at going for the ball during the film that I watched. He's the very definition of a 'play-maker'.
Jones was constantly coming off the edge and is known for his ability to bring down the QB. He's also not unwilling to take on blockers in the run game like the GIF below shows.
Jones meets the pulling guard behind the line of scrimmage initiates contact and makes a play. Not the greatest display of footwork by the guard but you see Jones' willingness to take-on blockers and make a play in the run-game.
My only hesitation with Jones is I'm not sure where you play him on the field if Hali is there as well. Jordan and Ansah both showed the versatility to move around the defense and in Jordan's case to be lined up head-on the slot receiver and in Ansah's case to line up as a 5-technique DE and stuff the run.
That's not to say that Jones couldn't be moved around but he wasn't moved around enough at Georgia for me to think he could have a specific role next season with Hali and Houston on the field as well.
It was widely reported when Andy Reid and the entire Chiefs defensive staff went up to Oregon's pro day to check out Dion Jordan ( and maybe Kiko Alonso, too). It's also been reported the Chiefs have worked out Ziggy Ansah as well and I'm before the draft comes in about five weeks we'll hear the Chiefs are talking to Jarvis Jones as well.
All three of these players have some question marks around them. Jordan will probably need to gain a little weight from his most recent listing of 248 pounds and has a minor shoulder injury that will need to get checked out. Jones has the 'spinal stenosis issue' that some believe has been fully checked out but could easily remain an issue for others. Ansah hasn't played football all that long and only has one year of production.
If the Chiefs don't completely pigeon-hole themselves into having to take an OT with that first pick -- trading Albert would all but guarantee it -- then OLB could be a move they could make. Tamba Hali's contract situation and recent decline in productivity along with the current lack of depth at the position would make a lot of sense.
The Chiefs would seem to be tipping their hand early if they were to enter the draft without Branden Albert on the roster.
Which of these three guys do you think makes the biggest impact as a rookie and which do you think would fit best on the Chiefs defense next season? I'm going with Jordan.
Thanks again to Clay Wendler for making the GIFs.