Last week we tried to give some reasons for optimism going into 2018 with 10 players who are trending in the right direction, or at least have an opportunity to step up next season.
This piece lists some guys going in the other direction. Some of the players below won’t be on the team in 2018 for salary cap reasons, or performance reasons. Others will look back on 2017 as a missed opportunity to solidify a future role for themselves. There are a couple of guys on this list that were very productive this year, but might be on their way out anyway.
You may notice that there are twice as many guys on this list than on the ‘positive trending’ list. Especially considering the fact that the Chiefs are a playoff team going into their sixth year under Andy Reid. This isn’t a rebuild situation in Kansas City, but there could be a lot of changes.
1) Tamba Hali
An absolute all-time Chiefs great, Tamba Hali’s career (likely) ended with a whimper in 2017, after he demanded more playing time last offseason. He wasn’t able to make an impact or command a more prominent role this season, but his heart and drive should never be in question. Hali is said to be leaning towards retirement, which is probably the best thing for him and the Chiefs. Seeing Tamba attempt to play for another team (instead of just walking away and returning for his Chiefs Hall of Fame induction) would be a shame.
2) Alex Smith
Smith is NOT on this list because he had a bad season. On the contrary, this was his best statistical year, and it wasn’t really close. He found the ability to throw downfield (thanks to Tyreek Hill) and was brilliant for about 10 games. The problem with Smith is not that he had a few down weeks, because every player has bad games. The problem with Smith is that when the team absolutely needed a play to secure a win, he was not able to deliver. How many games ended with Smith leading a drive that ended in a turnover on downs, punt or an interception? It’s not all Smith’s fault, of course. But you want your quarterback to be able to pick the team up and drag them to victory. We’ll see if the Kid can do that going forward. We can predict that Smith will be traded, and the Chiefs will get a decent return. His time in KC should be remembered fondly, but it will end with that ill-advised fourth down pass deep to Albert Wilson in traffic. (Hey, at least he went out throwing deep, right?)
3) Demarcus Robinson
Given the big opportunity to perform this season, Robinson never quite looked like he got it. Often, it appeared he’d run a wrong route, or not be on the same page as the QB, whether Smith or Mahomes. He did have one shining drive in the playoff game, where he made clutch plays and scored his first NFL TD in the two minute offense. Is that a preview of a productive 2018? Or just a flash of the ability that makes it more frustrating when he doesn’t consistently produce?
4) Daniel Sorensen
Dirty Dan has been a valuable role player on the Chiefs defense and special teams units. When he can come in as the nickel-LB/Safety, he can help. Unfortunately, it seems like he was exposed a bit this season. Statistically, he was OK: Dan was part of a couple of turnovers (1 INT, 1 FR) and a couple of sacks (1.5) and led the team in total tackles (89). But, watching him on the field he was often overwhelmed by blockers or by speedy receivers. He showed the ability to blitz, but at times telegraphed it too much. Let’s hope Sorensen returns to his supporting role in 2018.
5) Frank Zombo
Zombo and Sorensen are similar players in some regards. Like Sorensen, Zombo is best in a backup role, but was thrust into the starting lineup this season due to injury. He was decent against the run, but his 1.5 sacks and limited pressure on the QB were never quite enough to have an impact. I believe outside linebacker is a position the Chiefs should look to upgrade this offseason, and it may start with the subtraction of Zombo along with Hali.
6 and 7) Phillip Gaines and Terrance Mitchell
I’ll lump these two together as they may be in similar situations. Both guys played reasonably well at times, and were benched at other times. But, it’s clear that the Chiefs wanted to improve the other outside CB spot all season. The fact that Revis was brought in and handed a starting role tells us all we need to know about how they see Gaines and Mitchell. Watch to see what other moves come at cornerback this offseason, it could be that both of these guys get replaced on a more permanent basis.
8) Dee Ford
Pass rushers are hard to find, and expensive. Ford has proven he can collect sacks and pressure in bunches when he’s healthy and playing well. But, he’s also struggled to stay healthy, and struggled in other aspects of the game when he is healthy. The Chiefs already exercised his option for 2018, so his salary is guaranteed for health only. Watch to see if he can pass a physical when the league year begins this spring, and if he remains a Chief either way.
9) Derrick Johnson
DJ had some very frustrating moments this year, when it appeared his mind knew where he should be, but his 35-year-old body couldn’t get itself there. There was plenty of talk about him being done. But later in the year, including the playoff game, there were moments of the old DJ that came shining through. He settled into a three-man rotation at ILB that appeared to work pretty well. I’m not sure if he just took longer to get back to full strength, or if we’re just desperately hanging on to hope that he’s still the player we’ve come to appreciate. With a cap hit of $10.25M, it seems like the Chiefs will be forced to make a decision on another future Ring of Honor linebacker.
10) Darrelle Revis
I don’t know what to make of Revis’s short time with the Chiefs. The film shows he was solid in coverage, and improved the play of the secondary in that regard. But, there were also those much-tweeted examples of Revis not being willing to tackle, and appearing to give up on plays. He was cheap for 2017, and on-balance, a good addition for the Chiefs. In 2018, the decision won’t be as clear ... because he won’t be cheap. It all depends, like so many of these decisions, on how the coaches see him. I’d lean towards Revis moving on after this season, replaced by a new acquisition, but it wouldn’t shock me if the Chiefs thought more of Revis than we did as fans.
11) Albert Wilson
One of the most talked about questions over the last couple of seasons has been “why is Albert Wilson still on this team?” Well, I think we know now. Wilson showed his worth as a blocker and a leader all season long. Also, when targeted in the right circumstances, he made big plays including three touchdowns. When he wasn’t on the field, the offense suffered. He filled in for the injured Chris Conley admirably, and probably made himself some money, as a pending free agent. I’m not sure Wilson comes back, but I think it’s now unanimous that the team and the fans want him back.
12) De’Anthony Thomas
A broken leg ended DAT’s season in Week 17, which means he’ll have a lot of rehab work to do in the offseason to even be ready for 2018. The timing couldn’t be much worse for Thomas to be entering free agency after a relatively quiet year.
13) Dustin Colquitt
Colquitt had a fine season, as he always does, but with free agency pending, it’ll be interesting to see how much he’s valued in KC. His 2017 cap hit was $3.75M, which is a LOT for a punter. Paying him that much or more in 2018 would put even more strain on a team that will need to find ways to shed salary cap. The Chiefs tried out more than one punter last offseason, so it’s possible they have been planning for Colquitt’s eventual departure.
14) Tyler Bray
It’s fair to say that Bray’s NFL regular season debut didn’t go as planned. The first snap resulted in a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. He would soon be pulled in favor of Mahomes when there was a two minute drive opportunity. After five years in KC, it’s hard to tell where he stands. On one hand, he wouldn’t have made it five years if they didn’t like something about him. But, on the other hand, he’s been leap-frogged by numerous QBs along the way, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be given a new contract to be the primary backup to Mahomes in 2018.
15) Bennie Logan
This might be a controversial statement, but to my eye, Bennie Logan played well in 2017. He didn’t have a huge impact, but if you watch his snaps, he typically did his job well. The life of a NT in the NFL: the more teams pass, the less prominent your role is The less prominent role leads to limited opportunities to make plays. Fewer plays made leads to fans questioning your worth. Logan had a cap hit of $8M this season, we’ll see if the team feels he’s earned a new contract.
16) Zach Fulton
Fulton had a pretty good season overall, especially when called upon to start at the center position. He has some of the mauler style to his game that many of us would like to see become more central to the Chiefs offensive line in the future. The Chiefs value him as a sixth starter, but will they be willing to pay him like an actual starter? Going into free agency, Fulton has likely earned a big pay raise. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s in KC or somewhere else.
17-20) the left guard options
At least the Chiefs have a few guys to compete: Parker Ehinger, Bryan Witzmann, Zach Fulton, Cam Erving, and even Mitch Morse are among the names that could conceivably start at left guard next season. The team could also look to upgrade the position via free agency or the draft. Bryan Witzmann was the starter for the bulk of the season, and the coaches seem to think he showed improvement. Parker Ehinger is the biggest unknown, as the 2016 starter never reclaimed his job after recovering from a torn ACL. Some have called for Morse to move over to guard, and to keep Fulton as the starting center. Erving has experience at guard, but appears to be more comfortable at tackle. This is one of the few full-time staring jobs that’s up for grabs in 2018, and it’s anybody’s guess at this point.
Others with uncertain roles in 2018: Allen Bailey, Jordan Devey, Ramik Wilson, Akeem Hunt, Bob Sutton