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How the Chiefs might approach free agency

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Our own Matt Stagner goes through the Kansas City Chiefs’ positions of need and provides a free agency outlook for each.

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Everyone has heard the old saying, “Buy low, sell high.”

If executing on it were that simple, nobody would ever lose money in the market or make a bad deal. The challenge, of course, is the ability to read the market and then act when the timing is right.

When it comes to NFL free agency, the rumors and speculation are flying already, and it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs view the market at each position. Regardless of what we think they should do, the team does have a plan, and it’s largely based on their view of the supply and demand factors for the players that may be of interest.

They might be able to buy low in some areas, sell high in others and be seen as playing the market wisely. There might be other positions where they throw caution to the wind and outbid the market to get a guy the Chiefs feel they must add. Media and Twitter may laugh or criticize, but the evaluation of the market is different for NFL teams ... and we don’t have access to the same amount of information they do.

We’ll try here to guess what the team might do in free agency at each position. We’ll do the same for the draft after this week’s flurry of moves.


The rumors

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While nobody outside of the Chiefs front office knows what the strategy will be exactly, there have been plenty of hints in the media and on Twitter (Keep track of all of the noise and moves here, as our team will be all over it this week).

Chiefs looking to add ... offense

JASON LA CANFORA: “I continue to hear the Chiefs are, believe it or not, trying to do something big for an offensive skill player. Yes, despite all of the talent they have already amassed on that side of the ball, and despite their obvious issues on defense, they are sniffing around on trade options and some teams I spoke to wouldn’t be shocked if they got in on Le’Veon Bell. Bottom line is don’t be shocked if these guys come away with a big-time receiver or running back.”

Our own John Dixon believes the Chiefs could take a more nuanced approach.

DIXON: “And it might be time for the Chiefs — and their fans — to recognize that reality and adjust their offseason expectations to match it. The Chiefs are no longer on the outside looking in. They’re now on the inside looking out. It’s time for them to make the offseason moves that are appropriate for such a team.”

There’s also this quote from former Chiefs beat writer and national NFL reporter, Terez Paylor of Yahoo! Sports, on his podcast:

PAYLOR: “I was told months ago that the Chiefs would address EDGE in the draft, defensive backs in free agency.”

Paylor also mentioned that he expected the Chiefs to be in on the safety class, but they’d be bargain hunting in free agency. He also anticipates the team to look at a receiver on a one-year prove it deal.


Re-signing their own — bid but don’t overpay

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S Jordan Lucas (RFA), WR Marcus Kemp (ERFA), TE Alex Ellis (ERFA), DT Justin Hamilton (ERFA), K Harrison Butker (ERFA), DL Allen Bailey, TE Demetrius Harris, FB Anthony Sherman, WR De’Anthony Thomas

Watch for news on each of these guys. Many of the Chiefs’ own free agents should be worth a bid or a tender, but many will test the market.


A few positions that will be in the free agent discussion

EDGE rusher — sell high

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Dee Ford and Justin Houston have been the guys for the league’s No. 1 pass rush, but the Chiefs are going in a new direction under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. It appears that moving on from both Ford and Houston is a real possibility. With only Tanoh Kpassagnon and Breeland Speaks as the defensive ends, the Chiefs would be in the market for another dynamic pass rusher.

There aren’t many options on the open market for EDGE rushers. The few that are available will get significant dollars, as indicated by Dante Fowler’s $14 million deal, and Olivier Vernon’s trade carried a $15.5 million cap hit. That indicates that Houston and Ford are both worth the contracts they have for 2019, and signing their replacements in free agency may not be practical.

Prediction: If both Ford and Houston are gone, they could look at a guy like Vinny Curry or Shane Ray for the defensive end spot, but we’ll stick with Paylor’s idea that they’ll put off significant investments at EDGE until the draft.

SAM linebacker — buy low

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The strong-side outside linebacker in Spagnuolo’s version of the 4-3 under is an important spot but not one that typically comes with a high price tag. The Chiefs have a huge need here, but we’ll assume they don’t panic and find a couple of options in free agency and the draft.

The market features a couple of guys that might get paid and quite a few others that most of us aren’t even really that familiar with. We should expect Spagnuolo to have a couple of players in mind that he’s worked with in the past or at least a specific role that he can mold a guy who isn’t in line for a huge contract.

Prediction: The Chiefs bargain shop for a SAM in free agency. Anthony Barr or Jamie Collins would be ideal, but the Chiefs might go cheaper here. Shaquil Barrett would be a nice mid-level option. Craig has also been banging the table for Brennan Scarlett, a restricted free agent from Houston.

Cornerback — buy high

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Sometimes specific needs drive teams to make a move even when the market isn’t in their favor. There isn’t a high supply of cornerbacks in this group of free agents, so guys are likely to get overpaid. The Chiefs may have to buy anyway.

Steven Nelson and Orlando Scandrick are both pending free agents. We may have seen the peak for Nelson this season. He was good in coverage all year, but his limitations were still noticeable. Scandrick was a good band-aid early in the year, but his play trailed off. We think the Chiefs need as many as three new corners going into 2019, and one should come from free agency.

Prediction: Nelson and Scandrick are allowed to leave. Janoris Jenkins, Pierre Desire, Bashaud Breeland, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eric Rowe or similar level free agent addition, would give them some stability before the draft.

Offensive line — buy low

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The Chiefs have locks at each tackle and right guard in Eric Fisher, Mitch Schwartz and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. For the other two spots, they have pending free agents Mitch Morse and Jeff Allen and a bunch of young guys. Whether they retain Morse or Allen, or go to a low-level free agent, we think the team adds an experienced lineman. Given what we’ve seen so far, I’m relatively confident that the team has enough bodies at the interior spots, but tackle depth is a big concern.

There isn’t much of a supply of top-end starters in the free agency market. The Chiefs should be looking for bargains like they did with Cameron Erving. A former starter who has fallen out of favor could be a nice bargain to build some depth.

Prediction: Morse and Allen leave, Marshall Newhouse, Cedric Ogbuehi or another bargain swing tackle is added in free agency.

Safety — picker’s market

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The safety market was at a low in 2018. Nobody got paid, and big names took one-year deals that are now expiring. It doesn’t appear that 2019 will be the same, even though there is a tremendous supply of safeties on the market. Some huge names will likely get paid top dollar, but there may also be some bargains that come after the initial flurry for teams who are patient. I’ll call this a picker’s market because there is value to be had, but it’s going to be about fit and negotiation. What we’ve seen from Brett Veach is that he’s NOT patient; he’ll go get his guy.

The Chiefs have some guys to sort out from the existing roster, starting with Eric Berry. They could also let Dan Sorensen and Eric Murray go and replace them easily. Jordan Lucas and Armani Watts look like they can be pieces of the puzzle going forward, but there is certain interest from the team in making a run at one of the big-name safeties. They tried to trade for Both Collins and Thomas last season, and the Chiefs were also reportedly in on Eric Weddle upon his release. They’ll add a safety, and they might overpay.

Prediction: The Chiefs make a serious run at Landon Collins or Earl Thomas if they plan to move on from Berry. If Berry stays, they may go after a mid tier guy like Darian Stewart, Lamarcus Joyner, Tashaun Gipson or Adrian Amos.

Wide Receiver — look for value

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Watkins and Hill are among the NFL elite, and there’s hope for Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter and even Byron Pringle. But, there’s a need for a reliable veteran to help move the sticks. Chris Conley has been (or should have been) that guy, but he’s a free agent. De’Anthony Thomas is also a free agent and facing a legal issue.

The wide receiver market is reportedly going to be hot with some of the top guys getting eight-figure annual salaries.

Prediction: John Brown, Chris Hogan or similar veteran would be a nice insurance policy for this team. If they end up too expensive, Kevin White, Jordan Matthews, or Donte Moncrief could be the type of bargain WR that would like to rehab their careers with Mahomes.

Running back — buy low

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We’ve discussed the fact that Veach and the Chiefs have been remarkably adept at finding running backs that can “plug-and-play” in Reid’s offense. With Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West entering free agency and reports saying Ware will price himself out of KC, the Chiefs signed running back Carlos Hyde to a one-year deal over the weekend.