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Figuring out the Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker issues

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs have been surprisingly busy in the last week. If a team is in the news at this time of year, it's either because they're a playoff team or everything fell apart and they're busy putting together new pieces in the hopes that a turnaround is possible. The Chiefs, however, are neither so it's interesting they piqued the fan base's interest at all.

Player movement is minimal this time of year, but the Chiefs signed two notable players in wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers and quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Outside of that, the team also worked out one player that had many talking here at AP in linebacker Erin Henderson, according to the KC Star's Randy Covitz.

The fact that general manager John Dorsey and his staff wanted to look at Erin Henderson up close is not a surprise. Derrick Johnson is an unknown quantity at the age of 32 and after tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 1. Joe Mays was signed to give the team a veteran thumper alongside DJ, but he also suffered an injury-plagued season. He played the second half of the season, but his impact was minimal with only 122 total snaps played, good for 16 tackles.

It suffices to say that the Chiefs have a major need at inside linebacker heading into the 2015 season. Mays has a cap hit of $4 million for 2015, and the team can designate Mays a post-June 1 cut for only $1 million of dead money. Given Johnson's injury and age, the team could explore restructuring DJ's deal as well. Since Johnson has been the heart of the Chiefs defense for the last three years, the team would be wise to remain patient in their approach to DJ both physically and financially.

Even if the team brings back one or both of the veterans, they still need considerable help behind them on the depth chart in the likely case that one or both fail to truly impact the game from the middle of the defense. James-Michael Johnson and Josh Mauga filled in for the Chiefs, but they're better as complementary players, not the focal points. Next man up only appears to work if that man is talented enough to make a difference.

Enter Erin Henderson. It's easy at this stage of the offseason to believe the best in a player. Every late round pick is a hidden gem. Every first round selection is an impact player. And veterans like Henderson have a higher ceiling in the minds of fans than what they should.

To refresh the story, Henderson formerly played for the Minnesota Vikings from 2008-2013 after signing as an undrafted free agent. Interestingly, Henderson signed on the same team his older brother, E.J. Henderson, played for and the duo overlapped on the Vikes' linebacking corps for four seasons. Unfortunately for Erin, some legal troubles after two alleged DUI incidents and possession of marijuana cost him his roster spot.

One year later, Henderson says he's clean and ready to return to the field. He's a good bet for teams needing help at linebacker and would be a worthy addition for the Chiefs. He just shouldn't be the key addition. By the time Henderson potentially takes the field in Week 1, nearly 21 months will have passed since he last played in a meaningful game. Even if Henderson's workout regimen has been rigorous, it's still going to take a lot of time, not just offseason workouts, for him to find a rhythm again.

The good news on Henderson is that he was showing an ability to get after the passer from the inside (four sacks in 2013). Given that his reputation was built on being a strong run defender, the timing of his missed season was unfortunate. If the Chiefs sign Henderson, they're likely buying into the belief that given enough time and training, Henderson could return to form in a new environment.

Even then, fans should only be satisfied with Henderson's signing if it's paired with a draft investment. With the potential loss of Tamba Hali on the outside, the ongoing health concerns with safety Eric Berry and Johnson, and the complete lack of any starting options among the rest of the depth chart, the team must makeover the position to the team's run defense looks a lot better in 2015.

Signing Henderson could be nice, but it's only part of the story.

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