You know why we all love the offseason so much? It’s the same reason so many people fell in love with the franchise mode when they were teens (and still do love it as adults): it’s an opportunity for us to play the What Would I Do? game with regards to building a successful NFL roster.
Plenty of NFL fans actually enjoy playing GM more than they enjoy the game itself. At least they know more about draft position and various prospects’ scouting reports than they do about the nuances of zone coverage or gap assignments. And it makes sense, really ... the NFL features more roster moves than any other sport, and so we naturally gravitate towards that aspect of the game.
This offseason, at various times, I’ll write about what I would do if I were wearing John Dorsey’s shoes (or sweatshirt, as it were. Hey, is that how you’re supposed to use “as it were,” guys? Anyone?). With free agency around the corner, I figured this was as good a time as any.
If I were John Dorsey, I’d ...
Make a Splash
Part of me thinks there’s absolutely zero chance Dorsey makes a splash free agency signing. He’s clearly a believer in building a team through the draft and through various churning the roster type moves (like the ones that brought us Ron Parker, Jaye Howard, Terrance Mitchell, and a host of other players).
That said, has anyone thought about the fact that the Chiefs have made a splash two years in a row in free agency? Last year, they went out and grabbed the consensus best right tackle on the market (not a huge splash, but a splash nonetheless. Like a big dude jumping in who DOESN’T intentionally cannonball. Still a splash). The year before, they snagged Jeremy “I’m still good just watch 20 snaps of my film” Maclin.
So it’s not out of the question. And I have the exact splash I’d want to see in mind. For purposes of realism I’ll avoid guys I think are going to absolutely break the bank.
If I were John Dorsey ... I’d make a splash by signing Brandon Williams.
“BRANDON WILLIAMS, SETH?????”
You’re dang right, Brandon Williams.
Here’s the long and short of it. Before I even try to convince you as to the wisdom of Williams as the splash, let me explain why the Chiefs could afford a coveted free agent. Williams is considered a pretty hot commodity ... but not SCORCHING hot. The reason for this is simple: pure run-stuffing nose tackles don’t command the kind of money that guys who are great against the run AND can rush the passer get. And it’s really not that close.
Take a look at Over the Cap’s list of 3-4 defensive tackles and the contracts they command (this is not an exact science, mind you, with some many teams running hybrid fronts, but it’s as close as we can get without spending umpteen hours). There’s Marcell Dareus at the top, making (gulp) almost $16 million per year. Then in second place ... Brandon Mebane, recently signed for the low price of $4.5 million per year.
That gap is ... substantial. And the reason Dareus got mega-paid is that he got his contract after having a career-high 10 sacks in 2014 in addition to being an absolute monster against the run. Make no mistake, Dareus got paid because he wasn’t just a run-stuffing nose tackle.
There is no such issue with Williams, who has 4.5 sacks in his ENTIRE CAREER. He is absolutely not a pass rusher, and he’s not going to get paid like one. (Editor’s note: It’s all guesswork but some would put him higher than Poe) He’s a bit of a throwback, really, an old-school mammoth in the middle who swallows up double teams (and controls them, importantly) and makes running between the tackles wildly difficult ... but doesn’t bring much else to the table.
In today’s NFL, teams aren’t nearly as eager to splurge on pure run defenders as they were in years past. Because of this, I’m pretty confident that Williams will command strong but not excessive money, which the Chiefs can absolutely come up with as long as he’s their only splash move.
So why should the Chiefs fork over the money if others don’t want to? Because they’re in a unique position of need AND strength.
Here’s what I mean by that ... the Chiefs have an absolute need when it comes to getting the run defense back on track. Yes, Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard and Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston getting healthy will help (duh), but the run defense was troublesome (though better) prior to those guys going down. It was far and away the biggest weakness on the defense last season, and one that was exploited in multiple losses down the stretch. Brandon Williams is the rare player who can single-handedly make a run defense much, much, much better. All due respect to Dontari Poe, but Williams would be a drastic upgrade in the biggest area of need on the defense.
But what about his lack of ability to rush the passer, you ask? Well, that’s where the position of strength comes in. The Chiefs are just fine at pass rusher with Justin Houston, Chris Jones, Dee Ford, Tamba Hali and Jaye Howard (or they should be, but that’s another post). They also possess a very good, playmaking secondary that gave multiple elite quarterbacks a hard time last season. Finally, they run a defense that doesn’t even keep the nose tackle on the field on obvious passing downs (or even non-obvious passing downs, it really is up to roughly 60 percent of the time at this point).
Williams’ weakness as a player (rushing the passer) won’t affect the Chiefs much because they are schematically and personnel-wise built to handle it. Have Williams on the field on first and (often) second down to destroy any hope of running the ball, then get him off the field on third down when you release the hounds on third and long (having, you know, shut down the run).
Will Williams be expensive for a guy who only plays half the snaps? Yes, he will. Would it be absolutely worth it to erase the defense’s only real weakness? Yes, it will be. More third and long means more opportunities for “they are definitely passing” rushes by the edge guys and Chris Jones, as well as more “we know they have to throw the ball past this line” interception opportunities for the opportunistic Chiefs’ secondary. The impact will be felt on more downs than Williams is on the field. You have to pay attention to the ripple effect on situational football (because in football, situational matchups really are everything) before talking about a snap count.
I think an elite run-stopper being added to a defense that is already seeing the return of DJ (if my prayers have had any effect whatsoever) and a fully healthy Houston (who did more in 2016 than we expected at one point last offseason with his injury being one that takes a year to come back from) would allow the defense to go from good to scary good. When you’ve got a Super Bowl caliber roster, you need to be willing to make a splash or two in order to push the team over the line. And if I were John Dorsey that’s the push I would make.