Now that we've had a few weeks to digest what we saw from the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2014 season, let's consider some of the top story lines entering the offseason, which is highlighted by free agency in March and the NFL Draft in April and May.
Before we get to the futures of Dwayne Bowe and Tamba Hali and other big offseason questions, I want to point out what is the biggest story line this year, whether you realize it or not.
The numbers at Over The Cap show that last year the Chiefs had cap numbers of $1.6 million for Justin Houston and $4.6 million for Alex Smith (post-extension). This year those numbers could jump to over $13 million if Houston is tagged* and more than $15 million for Alex Smith.
*I'm fully expecting Houston to be tagged. The final number just depends on this year's franchise tag number.
Think about that. That's a little over $6 million compared to more than $28 million this year. The difference between those is like the cost of a franchise quarterback (interesting question ... Alex Smith + Justin Houston = franchise QB?). The Chiefs can do things to massage those numbers, such as signing Houston to a long-term deal or restructuring Alex's deal. Either way, there will be a LOT more money paid to two guys this year.
Those two contracts will shape how the Chiefs approach this offseason.
Onto a few of the top story lines I'm looking out for this offseason. There are plenty more though so put yours in the comments.
What to do with Dwayne Bowe
Like Houston and Alex, D-Bowe's future will affect a lot of other people. The Chiefs need to add receiver help no matter what happens with Bowe but if they keep him and his cap hit, maybe they're not players for one of the top receivers in free agency. Maybe they wait for the draft or next year. Then there's the other possibility -- keeping Bowe and lowering his cap number. This allows the Chiefs front office to maintain flexibility in free agency and the draft.
If the Chiefs cut Bowe, receiver becomes an immediate need. They will need to add a veteran in free agency, preferably one of the better ones on the market. Depending on what happens in free agency, the Chief could be more compelled to draft a receiver high if Bowe is not coming back. The bottom line is that this a weak position group becomes significantly weaker without Bowe (insert your receiver jokes here).
No matter what though, some sort of receiver help is needed. Bowe's future will determine how big of an immediate priority that has to be.
What to do with Tamba Hali
Tamba indicated he would take less money. The Chiefs seem to value him given the number of snaps he played last year. We're hoping this one can work out but with a lower cap number for Tamba. That would keep him around, which would be good for the Chiefs pass rush. But that would also mean Dee Ford, a first round pick, probably wouldn't be seeing a completely full-time role at outside linebacker. What's good for the team in 2015 may not be the best for the team in 2016 and 2017.
On the flip side, there's the possibility this doesn't work out and Tamba leaves. That would put the spotlight on Ford and the Chiefs pass rushers, which were the strength of the team the last two seasons.
Rodney Hudson and the o-line
There are so many questions here, and it's not just Rodney Hudson, who is set to be a free agent on March 10, although he is the headliner. It seems like the Chiefs have to keep him because he was the best o-lineman last year. The reality is that he's going to be expensive and you have to consider how much money you can pay your center when you have so many other questions. Where does he fit on the priority list when the Chiefs are doling out cap space?
The right tackle is another interesting question mark. Ryan Harris, who started during Donald Stephenson's suspension and kept the job all season, is scheduled to be a free agent. The Chiefs can do nothing and look to Stephenson. But they didn't play him last year when he was on the roster. So do they feel the need to re-sign Harris or another offensive tackle? Or can Stephenson be the guy? Signing someone else just means more cap space taken up.
Then there's the guard position. I could see Jeff Allen and Zach Fulton going into next season as the starters but the Chiefs will have competition from those already inside the building and from a free agent or draft pick. Jeff Allen, by the way, is entering the final year of his contract.
Chiefs compensatory picks
The Chiefs could gain as many as four extra draft picks in the coming draft thanks to compensatory selections. This is huge. One projection had them adding a third round pick, two fifth round picks and a seventh round pick.
The NFL usually announces these at their annual meetings in March.
The recovery of Derrick Johnson
Without DJ last season, the Chiefs thrived in the stat that matters the most -- points per game. They were excellent there. But look closer and you see the Chiefs had a run defense problem. DJ would help some of those issues. He is recovering from his Achilles injury but since that happened so early last year we're hoping he'll be back for the start of the season. We assume all players just recover from these things these days but it's a serious injury. There's a possibility that DJ isn't quite the same player.
The Eric Berry situation
This is obviously a new one for everybody. I don't know what happens here. Get better, Eric.
Turnover coming in the secondary
The thing about the Chiefs secondary is, it's hard to evaluate how replaceable they are with such a good pass rush. Regardless, the Chiefs could lose Ron Parker to free agency this year. Chris Owens is set to be a free agent. Sean Smith and Husain Abdullah are entering the final years of their contracts. The Eric Berry question. Lots to consider over the next couple of years here. This is the type of situation where the Chiefs need to consider looking ahead and investing in this position now.