Very few expected the Kansas City Chiefs to focus as heavily on the secondary as they did this past weekend. The 2015 NFL Draft class featured a significant investment into the cornerback position, and the team is going to reap many rewards as a result. Here's why you should be very excited about this team's secondary.
This was already a good unit
Before we get to any talent infusion, the incumbents deserve their own share of the spotlight. The Ron Parker re-signing came as a surprise to many (as did the price tag for some), but the move keeps the core of the team's secondary intact from one season to the next. This is big news for a team that's kept a steady ship on all levels this offseason.
The Chiefs were already the second-ranked pass defense in yards allowed in 2014, and they were the only team to not allow a single 50-yard touchdown pass in the NFL. They also held opposing quarterbacks to the second lowest completion percentage at 58.3 percent.
For Husain Abdullah, Sean Smith and Ron Parker, this year is yet another with the same coaches, the same playbook, the same schemes. This is good news for a unit that can bring their collective playing experience together into a new year and rely on that chemistry and continuity from day one.
Sean Smith motivated for big time season
Sean Smith has 14 games to impress. Fourteen games to make NFL GMs forget about the suspension (assuming he will be suspended, which he has not yet). The Chiefs top cornerback is scheduled to hit the open market after this coming season, and given the incoming draft class, it seems like the team is going to let him reach it. This should be a good thing for his on-field production in 2015.
Smith, who will turn 28 in July, is guaranteed to get one more chance at a major payday. He came to the Chiefs on what has turned out to be a team-friendly deal of three years and $16.5 million in 2013, but he's in line to crack the $10 million mark annually if he can stand out again this season. Smith has a likely two-game suspension coming to start the season, but Smith will be very motivated to play for that payday when he hits the field in Week 3.
Low money at a high priority position
With the selections of Marcus Peters (No. 18) and Steven Nelson (No. 98) in the draft, the team has now given itself some serious financial flexibility in the secondary. Looking at comparable deals from 2014, the No. 18 overall pick, Calvin Pryor of the New York Jets, received a four-year, $8.56 million deal (average of $2.14 million). The 98th overall selection, Richard Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, received a four-year, $2.76 million contract (average of $690K).
In short, for less than $3 million per season, the Chiefs have added a likely shutdown corner and their nickel corner through 2018. This sort of savings at a key position, if Peters can stay on the straight and narrow, will pay major financial dividends for the team to invest in other positions of need.
From weakness to strength
Before the NFL Draft, the depth chart at cornerback was in potentially rough shape. The looming suspension for Sean Smith meant that the Chiefs would face the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos in the span of five days to open the season without their best pass defender. That likely meant starter snaps for Phillip Gaines and Jamell Fleming and a serious amount for Marcus Cooper and, depending on his health, Sanders Commings or another body from camp. Not anymore.
Now the Chiefs have a presumed outside option in Peters and Nelson is a hopeful starter inside. Both are noted for their overly physical play, which means a disruptive, aggressive secondary from Week 1. Gaines is the likely starter alongside Peters until Smith comes back, but even then the team also has Jamell Fleming, who was earning starter's minutes at the end of 2014. The team's investment took them from thin to strong with the influx of talent.
There are options
One overlooked part of all of this is just how well the Chiefs are set-up for a worst-case scenario to play out. While Sean Smith serves his (likely) suspension, there are options. If the concerns that Marcus Peters fought in college follow him to the pro level, there are options. If an injury occurs, there are options. No one wants any of these things to happen, of course, but they do every year and a team simply has to plan for the worst while hoping for the best.
And we failed to mention...
None of these points even touched on the free agent addition of safety Tyvon Branch, who can be a force when healthy, special teams ace Kelcie McCray or the promise of oft-injured defensive back Sanders Commings. Suffice it to say, training camp will be very, very interesting for the Chiefs secondary.