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Chiefs free agency Cheers, jeers, and tears

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I waited as long as I could, hoping that I’d see just one more move. But it’s time to talk about free agency.

Every season I write a “cheers and jeers” article, discussing the things I liked and the things I didn’t like. It’s blatantly stolen from TV Guide, which... is maybe still a thing? I sincerely doubt it, but am too lazy to look it up. Man, I got old overnight it seems.

Uh, anyways, I sometimes include a “tears” section if there’s something that made me sad, and let’s face it, this year’s free agency featured a couple of tough moments for Chiefs fans, as a few faces that we won’t soon forget were shown the door. Life, as they always say, comes at you fast. Let’s get to it.

Cheers: Signing Sammy Watkins

I knew very little about Watkins when the Chiefs signed him, and was quite frankly surprised at the move. Then I went and reviewed his film (that article is here if you somehow missed it), and my reaction was somewhere between “holy smokes” and a dead faint.

Obviously, film review of a previous year isn’t necessarily predictive of what a player will do with a new team and a new system. However, despite the cost, it’s difficult for me to not get excited about Watkins in the Chiefs offense that also features Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. His skillset is highly impressive, and his ability to win against all kinds of coverage at all levels of the field should translate very well.

The offense could be an absolute show this year, and that’ll be wildly fun to watch. While it’s not the direction I would have gone, it’s fun to see Veach/Reid decide to double down on what was already a very good offense last season.

Cheers: Signing Anthony Hitchens

The Chiefs had a bad run defense last year. This is true regardless of what metric you use, and it came home to roost in the playoff loss to the Titans (yes, there were other things that went wrong there too, but run defense was a big deal).

While Eric Berry returning from injury should help with the run defense, the reality is the inside linebacker position last season (besides Reggie Ragland after he’d acclimated) was the weakest spot on the defense. Weaker than the line, weaker than even safety (though we’ll get to that). And by signing Hitchens, the Chiefs took what should be a big step forward at the most problematic position when it came to stopping the run.

Hitchens was a very good run defender last season, reading plays quickly and aggressively attacking downhill. He also plays with an edge and is a very good tackler, two things the defense was often short on last season.

While Hitchens was paid a very big contract, he’s still quite young and likely hasn’t reached his ceiling. I like seeing the Chiefs recognize a need and aggressively fill it.

Jeers: Not being safe with safeties

The Chiefs DID recently sign Robert Golden, a rotational safety from Pittsburgh. I know nothing about him at this point other than he graded out as “average” according to PFF and that he’s been called a good locker room presence and special teams player. So that’s something.

Overall, though, the lack of activity at the safety position is highly concerning for me. Last season both Eric Murray and Daniel Sorensen failed to answer the call when asked to step into larger roles than expected when Berry was injured. Ron Parker played poorly as well, but I was more comfortable with him than either of Murray or Sorensen. Of course, Parker is the one who got released.

Given the size of Parker’s ‘18 cap hit, I’m not bothered that the Chiefs moved on. However, given the struggles the position had last year, I’m very nervous about trusting Murray or Sorensen (or both) to again fill a big role. And unless the Chiefs manage to hit a home run on a safety prospect (or another guy like Leon McQuay unexpectedly steps up), that’s exactly what is going to happen.

What makes this doubly frustrating, for me, is that the safety market PLUMMETED this offseason. Very good players are signing for oddly cheap contracts at the position. As I write this, multiple players who would be sizable upgrades over Murray and Sorensen are sitting on the open market... yet the Chiefs are standing pat.

I’m sure there’s a plan here, but this definitely worries me. This would’ve been the perfect offseason to snag cheap safety help. I’m hoping Golden is more than a ST guy or someone steps up, but hard experience has taught me not to put too much stock in “hope” when it comes to football.

Cheers: Retaining role players for reasonable prices (I think)

Dustin Colquitt, De’Anthony Thomas, Anthony Sherman, Jordan Devey, Terrance Smith, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Jarvis Jenkins are all guys I like having on the roster. None of them are major cogs (Colquitt is technically the only starter, and punter is an entirely different animal), but all of them serve a purpose. You need guys like that to round out a roster.

Colquitt’s cap number the last 2 season was roughly 4.5 million dollars (2016) and 5 million dollars (2017). That’s just too much money for a punter unless he’s netting you 55 yards a punt or so (which no one does). The Chiefs got him down to a much more palatable 2.5 million dollars per year on his new deal. He’s the last of the “old” Chiefs at this point, and I’ll be honest, I’m glad he’s still around. I’m not quite ready to let go of that era just yet, and Colquitt sticking around allows me to ease into it a bit more.

Sherman is a great ST player and a guy who can help when he’s on the field on offense. The contract details around out yet, but I’m assuming they kept him for a reasonable price based on what they did with Colquitt (no “you’ve been here a while” premium like you saw with Dorsey). DAT and Smith are both small deals for guys who contribute on ST, while Devey got a 1 year deal that screams “backup center.”

In the meantime, Jenkins (who helped a bit down the stretch last season along the line, showing flashes as a rotational guy) is on a cheap 1 year deal, and Nacho was given a 6th round tender, meaning the Chiefs (it would appear, as I’ve heard nothing about teams approaching him) keep him cheap another year. Both guys are rotational, but cheap rotational guys along the line are a good thing.

What I like about all of these deals (except, again, Sherman, which I don’t know yet), is that they didn’t overspend to retain their guys. That’s a big deal, and something that John Dorsey struggled with. That gives me hope for the long-term cap health of the Chiefs.

Jeers: The Corner Conundrum

I don’t know if you heard, but the Chiefs traded Marcus Peters. Oh, you knew?

The Peters trade doesn’t count as part of free agency, but it has to be talked about as it changed the needs the Chiefs had. Peters, Kendall Fuller, David Amerson, and Steven Nelson is a group I’m very comfortable with that has a high ceiling. Removing Peters from that and I’m left with Fuller and some hope.

Sure, Amerson and Nelson have played competently at times in their careers, but... well yeah, it’s a “hope” issue. They’re both on contract years so the hope is they play their best ball. If they do (and everyone stays healthy), then the Chiefs should be solid at CB. If they don’t, or someone gets hurt, things go downhill fast.

From what I’ve heard, the Chiefs made an offer on Kyle Fuller that was turned down, which tells me they are aware of the issue they have at corner. That brings me some relief, but in a year where there are plenty of rentals available, the lack of activity there has me concerned.

Cheers: Signing Xavier Williams on the DL, retaining Nacho and Jenkins

The Chiefs, as we’ve discussed, needed help defending the run. This was even more true after Bennie Logan left via free agency. He was a disappointment in terms of overall impact (at least for me), but he was at least a solid run defender. Given the struggles they already had, losing him was problematic.

Williams should help ease the blow there a bit. Reviewing his film, I found a hard-nosed run defender who holds up well against double teams, has some skill penetrating gaps, and is a high-motor guy. He, like Hitchens, is a pretty young guy so the ceiling likely isn’t reached yet.

I don’t expect Williams to be a star, but I do think that he’ll help the defensive line with its stoutness and toughness, qualities that it seemed to lack at times last season.

Jeers: Not finding a pass rusher

A lot of eggs are in the Dee Ford and Tanoh Kpassagnon basket as far as I can tell. The Chiefs struggled at times to rush the passer last season, with only Justin Houston and Chris Jones being contributors in that area most of the time. In the NFL, if you only have 2 guys getting after the passer and everyone else is a minus player, it doesn’t really matter how good those 2 are most of the time. As I’ve written about here, Houston is still a beast who makes plenty of impact plays, but he (and Jones) need help.

I was hoping the Chiefs would manage to snag Mo Wilkerson (he chose the Packers over the Chiefs with similar offers, at least that’s what the rumors are) or Sheldon Richardson (it was never said the Chiefs were in hot pursuit of him) to help the pass rush up front, but that didn’t happen. I would’ve loved to see them snag an edge rusher to really push Ford and ensure Kpass doesn’t see the field unless he’s able to be more impactful than he was last season, but that didn’t happen either.

To be clear, I think Ford may well have a solid 2018. If you turn on the tape he was healthy in 2017, the overall pass rush was noticeably better just by having another decent pass rusher on the field. And Kpass absolutely showed a ton of potential last season, developing a great deal as the season went along. But as I wrote above about corners, I’m reluctant to proceed on “hope.”

If you’re noticing a trend, there are multiple spots along the defense the Chiefs have stood pat that make me concerned. Which isn’t the most fun.

Cheers: Signing Damien Williams

He’s coming off an injury and the Chiefs are pretty stacked at running back, but Williams has some skills from everything I’ve heard/seen.

I don’t know what the plan is for the Chiefs moving forward. Kareem Hunt is a star. Spencer Ware is a good running back and would start on plenty of teams. Charcandrick West has proven himself as a solid 3rd down back with blocking and receiving skills. So I don’t know where Williams fits in.

However, a back with good receiving skills is always a fit in Andy Reid’s offense, and a one year “prove-it” deal is never bad when a guy has talent. I like these kinds of low-risk signings with a potentially high reward.

Tears: The (Mostly) End of an Era

Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are no longer Chiefs. That sentence has not been true in over a decade.

I can’t say anything about those two that hasn’t already been said, so I won’t try. I’ll just say that both of those guys were among my very favorite all-time Chiefs (DJ in particular), and I hate to see them go. However, it was time. As they say, Father Time is undefeated.

I’m definitely going to miss them, though. But we’ll always remember watching DJ materialize in the backfield and hammer running backs for a loss. And we’ll always remember watching Hali baffle tackles with his unmatched hands. We’ll remember both of them having a motor that never quit. And we’ll smile.

I can’t decide how I feel about this free agency period as a whole, given some of the positions that were largely unaddressed. But I know the Chiefs are going to look quite different this season. The DJ/Hali/Charles Era is finally officially over, and the Patrick Mahomes Era has begun. I think it’ll be a great one.