Moving on with our preview of the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency....
The Chiefs should have few concerns when it comes to outside linebacker next season if you ssume two things: the young guys continue to progress and there aren't any major injuries. Tamba Hali on one side and Justin Houston on the other -- that's what we hope to see for years to come.
Here's the season-ending depth chart at outside linebacker:
ROLB: Tamba Hali, Cameron Sheffield, Gabe Miller
LOLB: Justin Houston, Andy Studebaker
The free agents: None. Normally this is the part where we talk about the impending free agents but all the guys on this list are under contract. (Only one linebacker, inside and outside, is a free agent.) That means you probably won't hear about the Chiefs chasing any big-time outside linebackers. I think the future is bright for the Chiefs at this position and I bet the depth chart to start the 2012 season is pretty similar to how it ended 2011 with Hali and Houston.
The rest of the roster: Hali will obviously be a starter entering the season and he's really the only known in this group with multiple productive seasons. Studebaker started the 2011 season as the starter before Houston moved into that role as the season went on. Studebaker is a strong locker room guy and has two years remaining on his deal -- I'd expect him back. Sheffield also saw some time opposite Hali until Houston took a stronger grip on the position. He's a draft pick who had his rookie season wasted due to injury. I think he comes back. Miller started and ended the season on IR so he's an unknown. Both Miler and Sheffield are fifth round picks. Seems like the Chiefs want these guys to develop into the depth at outside linebacker.
The question this position really boils down to is how well Justin Houston continues to develop. I think we have a pretty good idea of who Tamba Hali is (and he's awesome, by the way). Can Houston develop into that second pass rusher the Chiefs have been looking for? Does he plateau? Or does he continue rising? Hopefully, he continues on his path and keeps getting better and better. I think it's a good sign he got better as the 2011 season went on.
One sentence prediction: KC focuses little on outside linebacker in free agency and aims to add competition behind starters Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.