I don't think I need to spend any time convincing you that the Chiefs need help at the safety position. If you think otherwise, please go back and watch the last Colts touchdown against us in the playoffs. Really let it burn into your consciousness. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Done? Sorry about that, I should have warned you that re-watching said play would lead to vomiting. Maybe next time you'll just trust me, no? Anyway, about safety...
As of right now, the Chiefs are without a free safety. Kendrick Lewis, Quintin Demps and Husain Abdullah are all free agents. The three of them played a combined 2,000 snaps last season (over a thousand for Lewis. Yikes). So clearly, we've got to replace some significant roles on the Chiefs defense.
But how do we go about it? The popular route this time of year is to draft someone. Never are rookies considered more valuable than before they've stepped foot on the practice field (let alone the game field). We look at Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and say, "Hey, let's grab them and shore up the position for 10 years!"
And under normal circumstances ... I wouldn't argue with you (well, besides the "10 years" part). Good teams, by and large, build through the draft. And both Clinton-Dix and Pryor appear to be solid players who will translate well in the NFL. Safety is a glaring need. It all adds up! Listen to Mike Mayock, draft one and be done. Right?
This year, the place the Chiefs need to be looking to upgrade at THIS particular position is the red-headed stepbrother of the draft ... free agency.
(Before you freak out about the Chiefs lack of cap space, keep in mind that the cap "unexpectedly" is going to raise up to around 132 million -- or more -- this year. Additionally, keep in mind that barring massive contracts, anyone who can do math can create a workable contract within the cap limits. Glad we could talk about that. Let's move on.)
Free agency gets a bad rap these days. People sneer at memories of Ty Law and Dunta Robinson and say they remind you that most great players are homegrown. And they say things like, "Yeah, that really worked out well for the Redskins."
All good points (kinda). But again, this is a unique season, with a unique problem, and (most importantly) a unique group of free agents.
It just so happens that the year the Chiefs have a glaring hole at safety, the free agent group of safeties is as talented and deep as I've ever seen it. I mean really, look at this list...
Look at that list. You've got two Pro Bowl level players there (Byrd and Ward). You've got three very good players (Whitner, Clemons, Delmas). You've got a pair of decent starters to round things off (I prefer Mitchell to Allen). In other words, there are a lot of options to choose from.
What is my point? Glad you asked. My point is that this is the year to get a solid safety (or two) for a decent price. The NFL is not immune to the rules of supply and demand. Jarius Byrd is not likely to be able to bully a team into a cap-crippling deal when a team can say to his agent, "Why should we pay you $10 million a year when we can get T.J. Ward for $7 million a year?"
The same logic applies to the "second tier" players, but even more so. Whitner, Clemons, and Delmas are all good players. But can they walk into negotiations strong knowing that the team they're talking to has multiple options at their position and ability level? Nope.
I'm going to stand firm on my solemn promise to never do a mock draft here, but let me paint a picture for you...
The Chiefs sign Chris Clemons (an exceptional coverage safety who is 28 years young) to a 4-year, $22 million dollar deal with $12 million guaranteed (or something similar). He gets security and a decent payday, the Chiefs get a massive upgrade at free safety on a deal that can be manipulated to be very friendly under the salary cap (this year and in the future). Win, win, win (because the fans win, too!).
You can swap out Clemons's name for Delmas if you prefer. Or Whitner (yes, I know he's a SS, but he's an animal and you can't convince me he and Berry together is a bad thing. You can't). The point is that the Chiefs have a very unique opportunity to sign a proven, very good player at a position of extreme weakness without breaking the bank. When you have chances like that, you TAKE it.
Also, not that it's likely, but with this market isn't it at least worth placing a call to Ward's agent? What if Ward is willing to sign for something that averages to $7 million a year? Do you really, seriously say no to that? Can you imagine how improved the Chiefs defense is with Ward playing next to Berry in the base sets? If you want to know how much exceptional safety play at BOTH positions can benefit a defense, ask San Francisco or Seattle.
Anyway, all that aside, the Chiefs can check one of the most glaring weaknesses off the list before even beginning to think about the draft. Sign one of the many very solid free agents available, then bring Husai Abdullah (who was good in his limited snaps last year) back at a low price. Safety issue solved, and it's gone from weakness to (maybe) strength.
Now the Chiefs can use the draft to help with other areas of the team that need an upgrade. Take a pass rusher in the first round and a wide receiver in the third (or vice versa, whatever. I have ideas, but I continue to resist the siren song of mock drafts. You won't break me!). The point is we can do those things without worrying about safety because we've taken advantage of what's available this year.
With free agency fast approaching I can't tell you how much I hope Chiefs GM John Dorsey goes this route in solving the safety dilemma. It is by far the most sure way to improve the secondary THIS season while still allowing the Chiefs to upgrade positions of need in other places.
Then all the Chiefs need to do is take Aaron Donald in the first round and th ... oh, whoops. My bad, I almost fell into the trap.