Man, time flies. It seems like just yesterday I was writing "Cheers and Jeers" of Chiefs free agency for the first time. In reality, we've done this many times before at this point. So many times that it's difficult to come up with any kind of introduction. So then I write about the difficultly of writing an introduction, which then turns into an introduction. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.
Anyway, as is tradition, I shall cheer the things I liked and jeer the things I did not in the Chiefs first wave of free agency. This is by no means meant to be a complete list of every free agency transaction. Instead, it's a randomly selected of assortment of things that really caught my eye.
Of course, as is the case every year, I'm writing this column before free agency is really over. It's impossible to judge free agency until it has reached its completion (Dorsey has shown a talent for mining lower tier free agent signings to get contributors). Well, really, it's impossible to judge free agency until the next football season is over. But that won't stop us from trying!
Cheers: Signing Mitchell Schwartz
I've already written a fairly extensive film review about the free agent people were most excited about (who, by the way, likes to be called Mitch, not Mitchell. Duly noted), and I came away thrilled at the acquisition.
This one is an obvious cheer for obvious reasons. Schwartz is a very, very good player at a position the Chiefs needed someone to step in. What's more, his addition means the Chiefs can stop trying out various guys at RT who have shown themselves better suited to play guard in the NFL (Jah Reid being foremost in my mind, but our own resident OL guy stagdsp still has high hopes for Paul Fanaika).
Schwartz is excellent in pass protection from the RT spot, which should help Alex Smith and the rest of the line immensely. Ben Grubbs being abruptly cut throws things into flux at the LG spot, but with Schwartz's addition I can say I'm very comfortable with four of the five offensive line spots. I very much wish Jeff Allen could have been retained, but I understand why what the Texans gave him was a little out of reach for the Chiefs.
Which reminds me, not only did the Chiefs get Schwartz, but they got him for a very reasonable contract. Well done all around.
Cheers: Finding a way with Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson
When the offseason began I wrote about what I would do if I were John Dorsey. A big part of the plan consisted of keeping one of the league's best defenses together to gear up toward taking the next step from a playoff win; serious Super Bowl contention.
Derrick Johnson was always a guy who needed to be retained. He played at a ridiculously high level last season and brings an even bigger impact than his spectacular play. Justin Houston and Eric Berry might be the vocal leaders of the defense at this point, but DJ is one half of its soul. The idea of him playing anywhere else made me sick. This was the rare case where both emotion AND logic pointed to the same conclusion. DJ's contract isn't a killer, either. Keeping him around was a huge first step toward making sure the defense doesn't backslide.
Tamba Hali is a little trickier. Now, let me be clear, I'm still cheering this move. Tamba is a Chief, and he quietly continued to play at a high level last season before injuries wore him down (which is the main concern everyone has with him at this point). Seriously, go re-watch some of the games in the winning streak. Tamba had a large number of timely sacks, hits, and hurries that had a huge impact on games. He's still a very high level pass rusher in a league where that's a premium talent.
Now the key is making sure Dee Ford continues to develop (he was absolutely better in year two than year one) while Tamba still sees the field enough to make a big impact. Preferably, the Chiefs can split the snaps in a manner that lets Hali stay fresh down the stretch. You know, kinda like how the Spurs have been treating Tim Duncan for years.
Keeping these guys around will help the defense remain a high level defense, so another well done.
Jeers: Whatever is happening at cornerback
At a certain point, you have to decide just how close you think your team is to competing for a Super Bowl. If they're close, you need to pull the trigger and do what it takes to make sure strengths don't turn into weaknesses. You also can't let a million bucks a year get in the way when you're close.
I believe the Chiefs are close. I am also very, very worried about the corners.
First, the Chiefs let Sean Smith walk in free agency. Yeah, I get it, he got roughly $10M per year from the Raiders and that's a lot of money. At the same time, it's not outlandish money like some people thought Smith would get. I wrote about Smith after re-watching every coverage snap he had on all-22, and he converted me from a Sean Smith agnostic to full-fledged "This guy is a very good CB" Smith-ian. He can play.
That said, I was OK with him walking considering the money situation. There were still multiple corners on the market who could jump in and play at a solid level, thus mitigating the damage done.
Then I watched as Prince Amukamara signed a reasonable one year deal with the Jaguars. OK, well, can't win 'em all.
Then Casey Hayward signed a deal with the Chargers worth a shade over $5M a year. Now I was ticked.
Now look, Hayward and Prince are hardly Revis Island. However, both are very solid corners. Hayward in particular has shown himself to be a highly capable nickel CB, which is a very valuable thing to be in today's NFL.
What bothers me about not getting Hayward is twofold. First, the Chiefs biggest weakness last season was their third CB. All due respect to Ron Parker, but he belongs at safety. He can play slot CB passably well, but he gets targeted and taken advantage of far more often than I'd like when he slides over. He's a good free safety and slightly-below-average slot CB (if I'm being generous). That presents a place for offenses to pick on, and that's exactly what happened.
In the modern NFL, and especially in Bob Sutton's defense, you need three guys you can plug into man coverage who can consistently win. When you don't have that, you're not going to be an elite defense every week. And the Chiefs, though they were VERY good, were not elite week in and week out. Lack of depth at CB was a big part of that.
And yes, I'm aware Dorsey has shown great ability when it comes to finding players for the secondary. However, they clearly know everything I said in the last two paragraphs because they tried hard to retain Smith and were rumored to be in the bidding war for Hayward.
Both Prince and Hayward were available for reasonable money. It would have been a gigantic help to the defense to get one of them. Marcus Peters and Phillip Gaines are wildly talented (very few people heart Gaines as much as I do), but Peters was streaky and Gaines has yet to show he can stay healthy. Beyond them are a bunch of players who haven't shown a thing at the NFL level. I'm very concerned CB is going to be a problem spot this next year. I hope I'm wrong, but for now this is the biggest jeer of the offseason.
Cheers: Jaye Howard, bargain
It's a given that market forces control a lot of free agency. Generally speaking, when a player decides to become a free agent, he's going to get a feel for what teams are willing to pay for his services. It is around that general number an agent must base all negotiations, doing his best to get his client a deal on the high end of the offer spectrum (for lack of a better term).
Because of all this, one can't entirely credit a GM for signing a player to a good contract (at least good in the way fans think of it; cheaper than we expected). Like I said, there are a lot of moving parts that happen which a GM has no control over.
That said, I don't think any of us saw the Jaye Howard deal coming. Not after a season in which he did a solid job providing interior pressure and improved markedly against the run. Not in a league where interior pass rushers are placed at a premium (everyone wave at Malik Jackson!). Given some of the paydays that were going out I was fully expecting Howard to cost $8M year to retain, if not more.
Instead, Howard ends up with the Chiefs on a two year, $10M deal. That's a HUGE win for the Chiefs, and one that allows them to keep their exceptional front seven essentially intact from last season.
I assume after Howard tested the market and saw it wasn't what he'd hoped, he had his agent get him a deal that would be a decent payday AND allow him to hit the market one more time before he hits the "too old for a big deal" wall. Basically, he's making a bet on himself. The fact that the Chiefs were able to make that a two year bet instead of the usual one year bet (which is what players generally do in such situations) is absolute gravy.
While my concerns about CB remain, the defense has been kept more intact than I thought it would. Howard is a big part of the defensive success the Chiefs had last year, and keeping him at a bargain price was a great surprise.
Jeers: Letting a playmaker slip away
I am terrified at the idea of WR Travis Benjamin playing for the Chargers. Absolutely terrified.
A lot of you may think of Benjamin as more of a gadget player due to his size and the way the Browns used him last year. I've watched a little bit of his film and read up on him when it was clear he would hit free agency, and I've come away with a different conclusion. I think Benjamin is very good at getting open and demonstrates remarkable skills separating down the field. He is also a monster with the ball in his hands.
I understand that you can't sign everyone, but Benjamin hardly broke the bank with the Chargers (signing a four-year, $24M deal). This is absolutely something the Chiefs could have afforded, and it would have provided them a desperately needed threat to complement Jeremy Maclin in the passing game.
While Benjamin's primary trait is being an exceptional deep threat, he's able to win on routes all over the field. Additionally, Smith showed last year he's willing to chuck it deep a little more often. Benjamin not only has incredible speed to get behind defenders, but he shows the ability to track the ball in the air and bring it down. He would have been a fantastic addition to the offense.
Again, you can't sign everyone. But add Benjamin to the list of reasonable deals I wish the Chiefs would've scooped up.
Cheers: Locking up Travis Kelce sooner rather than later
I know a lot of people don't feel that way. After all, Kelce just signed a five-year, $46.8M deal. For those of you who just like to average things out and call it a day, that's over $9M a year! Holy moly, that's way too much! He gets the second most per year of any tight end per Over The Cap! (Side note, OTC has Kelce's guaranteed money wrong. It's $20M, not $10M. Reportedly)
Here's the thing, though ... he would have cost much more had he hit free agency next season. Or the season after. That's just how this works.
With players you view as core guys, the smart thing is to ALWAYS sign them as soon as possible (if they are willing to enter negotiations, at least). You want to know why Rob Gronkowski is such a bargain for his production? Because the Patriots locked him up two years before he had a shot at free agency.
If you can get a player to come to the table well before they're scheduled to hit free agency, you have the edge of being the ONLY option for an immediate payday. They can sit out the last year or two of their deal, sure. But if it's a guy like Kelce, who is sitting there making (relative) peanuts, you can throw a $10M signing bonus at him and say, "C'mon, why not just take this big stack of money right this second?"
Now the Chiefs have Kelce locked into a deal until 2022. It's worth noting that lesser tight ends like Zach Ertz (who is a solid player in his own right, but not on Kelce's level) and Coby Fleener (clearly a step down from Kelce) are already getting contracts that, while not as large as Kelce's, are within spitting distance. Give it another year or two (or Gronk getting impatient) and the TE market is going to continue to grow.
Kelce is one of the best 3-4 TEs in the game right now. Locking him up long term was the right move.
Cheers: Signing Rod Streater
Confession time; I've always liked Streater. He was one of the only Oakland players worth a crap a few years back, and the only receiver they had who I felt was a threat.
Now, I know Streater has done pretty much nothing over the last two years. 2014 he was hurt, and I get that. But the series of healthy scratches in 2015 is concerning. That said, I've seen multiple Raiders fans who felt that Streater (who had some kind of illness early in 2015) simply fell out of favor and the coaches never looked back, as replacement WRs played at a solid level.
That could well be, I have no idea. What I do know is Streater is a 6'3, 217 pound WR who can move a little bit and has shown in the past he can produce. I like this kind of one year prove it deal. And it's not like the Chiefs risked anything real by signing him, with a contract worth less than a million bucks.
This seems like one of those Dorsey moments we've seen happen a few times over the last few years. Husain Abdullah all over again? Hopefully.
Speaking of Abdullah, him getting signed would definitely be a major cheer. Make it happen, Dorsey!