The enduring memory of last season is a dream dashed in Naptown, the Kansas City Chiefs watching helplessly as T.Y. Hilton ran away from them in the AFC Wild Card game.
General manager John Dorsey apparently has the same recollection. He started the offseason by releasing corner Dunta Robinson and then later, signing Chris Owens to take his spot. In the draft, Dorsey spent his second pick on Phillip Gaines, a lanky but physical corner out of Rice University.
With both Gaines and Owens added to the likes of Brandon Flowers, Marcus Cooper and Sean Smith, it appears Kansas City has a deep stable of corners. This is good news considering the Chiefs will spend a quarter of the season defending against Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, and another quarter of it against Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson.
The question is where do all the pieces fit. Only Flowers has shown he can play both on the outside and in the slot, a talent that makes him worth the high-priced contract he signed. Smith and Cooper saw extensive time last year on the outside, and did a solid job. Cooper was burned in some of the late regular-season games, but rebounded nicely in the finale and then in the playoffs.
Owens is strictly an inside corner. At 5'9' and 180 pounds, Owens is undersized but has shown the ability to blitz with 2.5 sacks last season. He will likely see time in the dime package and come off the edge as an extra pass-rusher in Bob Sutton's scheme.
As for Gaines, he will have to earn his stripes. With his size at 6' and 193 pounds, he will be playing outside the numbers. With Smith and Cooper already locking those areas down, it could be tough for him to see playing time early unless there is an injury.
Update: Gaines has reportedly signed his rookie deal:
#Chiefs 3rd-round pick CB Phillip Gaines signed his contract, according to his reps.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) May 15, 2014
That brings us to an interesting talking point. Let's say Smith or Cooper goes down; does Flowers move to the outside and Owens is the primary nickel corner, or does Flowers stay inside and Gaines comes in to play outside? This will hopefully not be a problem that arises, but if it does it will tell us plenty about the confidence the staff has in both Gaines and Owens.
People talk plenty about Flowers being cut after this year, but I don't see it. Should Gaines make big strides, he is putting the pressure much more on Smith. Cooper is younger, cheaper, and not going anywhere. Flowers is the only corner in football with the versatility to play inside or out with success.
Smith is entering the second year of a three-year contract. If he underperforms, gets hurt, or just is not that much better than Gaines, he is toast. Should the Chiefs cut Smith after this season, they would save $5.5 million after dead money is factored in. Should they cut Flowers, Kansas City saves $7.5 million. Not enough of a difference to cut a better player.
However, if the Chiefs wait until the following offseason, they can release Flowers for a savings of $8.75 million after milking another year out of him. Easy call.
It will be an interesting year in the secondary, and that isn't even getting into the safeties. I guess that post will have to come shortly. Until then, know that this group is deeper than last year's crop and with more experience in Sutton's scheme. It all bodes well for Kansas City.