Well, here we are, a handful of weeks before the draft, and the Kansas City Chiefs sit in a much better situation than they were in last year. They have a few needs, some need for depth at positions, and a chance to see some of the successes from last year, yet there are several stories that are making waves in Kansas City this offseason.
Three of these occurrences stick out in my mind, and they drastically shape the way the team could look, play, and ultimately succeed or fail over the next 2-3 years. There's a lot on the plate for John Dorsey and Andy Reid, and I have a feeling we'll start to see how some of the chips fall as soon as this year. I'm going to run through the things I feel are most important to the shape of the team and share some of my opinions, which are likely to be not that popular amongst some fans.
With all that said, let's get started on the first:
With the Pro Football Talk report of the Chiefs discussing a $14-17 million per year contract with Alex Smith this week, there have been conflicting opinions about whether or not Alex Smith is worth that amount of money. This is not that argument. Whether or not you agree with it, quarterback contracts have officially reached ridiculously large numbers. If a team wants to wrap up their guy long term, that’s unfortunately the price range. Some guys won their team a championship and earned the contract. Some had repeated playoff success and earned it. Some broke records and consistently played at a top five level. And some guys have Jerry Jones paying their bills.
Alex Smith’s contract is currently team-friendly on a team that doesn’t have many of those types of contracts. It fits underneath the Chiefs salary cap, and the team isn’t having to make sacrifices to their current roster to pay him his salary. Let’s play a hypothetical game and say that Alex Smith not only plays well this next year, but he plays his way into the top five in completion percentage, quarterback rating, and TD / INT ratio. He also has career highs in yardage and touchdowns. The Chiefs win enough games to get to the playoffs, and they finally bring home an elusive playoff win. That’s fantastic for Alex, and maybe the Chiefs offer him a contract then and there. That contract is still likely worth $14-17 million per year, or about what Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Matt Stafford are making.
If the PFT report is to be believed, even a top end season for Alex likely means his contract value doesn’t move much, meaning that paying him that kind of money a year earlier makes little sense. There’s really only one scenario that makes any amount of sense to me as to why a team would give their quarterback that much money when the value of the contract can really only go down, and it’s a bit of a stretch for me to wrap my head around. It would make sense if the Chiefs have drafted a starting quarterback this year, or are going for broke on one next year.
Now, before you tar and feather me, hear me out. Alex would get paid $14-17 million, which also happens to be about what the franchise tag is worth this year, at $16.192 million for a quarterback. A guy is available in the draft that Andy Reid loves, and believes that he can get the most out of him, but wants him to sit until the 2016 season. The team sets up the get-out year for three years from now, you sign Alex Smith right after the draft, and you let the kid learn on the cheap. The reason it’s a stretch is that you’re committing to a three year plan. If it’s a two year plan, the team is better off with Alex playing out his contract this year and franchise tagging him. You’ve got two "get-out" years, but you have to be ready to switch in 2016, because slapping the franchise tag on him again is too much.
In reality, committing this early to a big contract or a three-year quarterback development is a big leap for the organization to make, and one that could define the success or failure of the Andy Reid / John Dorsey era, much like the Matt Cassel moves during the Pioli era. I just don’t know if Reid and Dorsey are ready to jump into that arena yet.
I love Eric Berry. He’s one of my favorite players on this Chiefs team, and he’s a very good face of the franchise. I’ve gone on at length for the past four years about what he offers this team in the way of versatility and how he is able to help out the defense. I’ve talked about my frustrations with where he’s been played and how to use him more effectively, then finally came around to the fact that he’s best suited as an in-the-box safety.
What I’ve not gone on about is how ridiculously expensive he is and will become. The franchise tag for safeties is the second lowest for non-specialists in the NFL, next to tight ends. It’s just not a position where teams tend to spend their big money that often. If you couple that with the fact that teams need two (or more) guys to gel and have a good understanding in coverage, it’s tough to justify paying the kind of money Eric Berry makes.
As I said in the Alex Smith section, there are not a whole lot of team friendly contracts on the Chiefs books right now. It’s just going to get worse when Eric Weddle, Earl Thomas, and Berry are all trying to become the highest paid safety in the league in 2016. That means that now is the time when he’s most valuable to other teams, rather than hoping to make a play for him in 2016.
As Sam Mellinger had suggested, a trade for Berry means giving up one of the more dynamic players on the defense, but it also comes at a position that is easier to fill (in the box safety*) than some others. It also allows you to pay up on some of the players with greater positional value and it could allow you to fill more holes with rookie contracts.
*Even before you start, I’ll believe Eric Berry plays free safety when he regularly does it for this team. He doesn’t, and hasn’t for several years. I’m not saying he can’t, I’m just saying he doesn’t.
Would I be upset if Eric Berry got traded to another team this year? Sure, but it would be from the standpoint of my own personal enjoyment of watching the guy play football. I'd move past that in a hurry if it meant that this team got better over the next decade. Eric Berry would always be a Chief to me, much in the same way that Jared Allen will always be a Chief to me, and that worked out to be one of the best moves in recent Chiefs history.
Sometimes the business side of things is tough, but sometimes you've got to put your feelings to the side and make the right move. Which brings me to my third and final unpopular opinion…
This one could be tough for some to stomach, but there’s a change comin’ to town. What do Tamba Hali, Eric Berry, Derrick Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Sean Smith, Mike Devito, Dontari Poe, Jeff Allen, Donald Stephenson, Donnie Avery, and Husain Abdullah have in common? In two years, every single one of these players is out of contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s not mentioning Justin Houston, Rodney Hudson and Alex Smith’s last year with the Chiefs in 2014.
Those are 14 locked-in starters on this team that will either need to be signed to new contracts or will become free agents. Choices are going to have to be made, and very soon. Is a highly paid speed rusher on the wrong side of 30 worth the amount of money he’s making? How about a cerebral linebacker and heart of the team who is starting to lose some of the explosiveness that makes him the player that he is? What about a zone coverage corner who is a little too small to play the press man coverage the team has switched to?
These are players that are deeply rooted in recent Chiefs history and are adored by the masses, but the business end of the NFL’s system is coming sooner rather than later.
The most brutal part of this is how easy some of these players could be to replace with something that could work better for the team. For all the adoration we have for Tamba Hali, this defense is likely better with another player like Justin Houston opposite him. As good as Brandon Flowers can be, fitting a square peg in a round hole is tough. Finding a guy who suits the system a little better and can grow is probably better in the long run. If the Chiefs insist on playing a safety in the box, why not get a bigger linebacker / safety hybrid that costs a third of Eric Berry’s salary for ¾ of the production?
These are reasonable questions that the team is going to have to face in the very near future. There’s no sentimental value for any of these guys with John Dorsey and Andy Reid. There’s plenty of sentimental value with the fans. It’s going to get tough.
In the end, the point of this post is that things are going to move quickly for the Chiefs. There's no other way around it. Other teams in the AFC are loading up to make one last run at a championship, and yes, Denver looks a bit scary next year.
However, they're built for the short term. Dorsey and Reid are in a great spot to build for the future and still stay competitive through value pickups, both in the draft and in free agency. That means selecting which big money contracts are worth investing in, and it could start as soon as May 8th.
Images via Getty.