The NFL league year will open on Wednesday at 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time). At that time, teams will be able to officially sign free agents whose contracts expired after the 2019 season.
On Monday, we examined 11 offensive free agents who could help the Kansas City Chiefs. Now we’ll do the same for some defensive free agents who could be available when free agency’s floodgates open. You probably know some of their names — but others could be unknown to you.
On the AP Laboratory podcast, we’ve been reviewing the Chiefs roster position-by-position, looking forward to free agency and the 2020 draft. More in-depth analysis on these players — and some others not included here — can be found on those position review podcasts.
Vernon Butler | 26 | Carolina Panthers
What the Chiefs can spend at defensive tackle in free agency will largely depend upon whether Chris Jones remains on the team. It wouldn’t make sense to spend big after making a drastic move to save cash — so if Jones is gone, the Chiefs will likely be looking for a cheaper player in free agency. Butler never quite reached his potential with the Panthers, but has the frame that Steve Spagnuolo likes in defensive tackles — and as a pass rusher, he has some upside.
Michael Pierce | 27 | Baltimore Ravens
The other way the Chiefs could spend a smaller amount of money would be to go after a under-performing, developmental player — but one who is a pure run-stopper. Pierce is a stout, run-stopping nose-tackle type who excels at eating blocks and taking up space. He doesn’t have a lot of pass-rushing upside, but he can play on early downs and help shut down the run — something we saw the Chiefs shift toward late in the 2019 season.
Mike Pennel | 29 | Kansas City Chiefs
But probably one of the more obvious free agency signings would be to bring Pennel back. He became a fan favorite — and an important part of the Super Bowl run. His ability to help in the run game and mesh well with the coaching staff is well known. With so many good defensive tackles available, his price shouldn’t be too high.
This 3 play stretch iced the game. 1st and 5 after a penalty, then Frank Clark, Reggie Ragland, and Mike Pennel make big play after big play vs the run to get off the field— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) January 23, 2020
Clark, Pennel, and Ragland were dogs in this game and they let every Titan know it.#ChampionshipSwagger pic.twitter.com/1OzEak64yN
Ronald Blair | 27 | San Francisco 49ers
A player who is coming off an injury, Blair is a little short for Spagnuolo’s usual taste — but he has the length and weight he he prefers. His ability to play outside or inside is something the Chiefs could utilize to keep their front versatile. He had a great 2018 season, but injuries (and a loaded 49ers defensive line) limited his playing time last season.
Nigel Bradham | 30 | Philadelphia Eagles
Even though the position group desperately needs some help, Anthony Hitchens’ sizable contract makes filling a hole or two at linebacker through free agency difficult. Bradham is older than most free agents Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has brought in, but he has shown the IQ to pick up multiple defensive systems — and would improve the athleticism and coverage of the group.
Joe Schobert | 26 | Cleveland Browns
Schobert could immediately step in as the WILL and improve the linebacker unit. Schobert has the athletic and mental traits Spagnuolo has valued throughout his career. Schobert, however, could be less expensive than other linebackers on the market. The report saying the Browns weren’t going to pick up him also said Schobert was looking for around $10 million per year. If that wasn’t a hometown discount, he could be much cheaper than other top linebackers.
Bashaud Breeland | 28 | Kansas City Chiefs
Breeland was the Chiefs’ best cornerback last season — and should be the team’s top target. Breeland was phenomenal in the playoff run and has earned himself a nice healthy paycheck. Unfortunately, the cornerback market is flying high. Now with a Super Bowl ring, Breeland might be more expensive than the Chiefs can afford — and because of the team’s cap situation, other teams will get the first swing at signing him.
Eli Apple | 25 | New Orleans Saints
Apple was a drafted by the New York Giants during Spagnuolo’s time there, so there is a history between them — and we know that at least at that time, Apple fit what Spagnuolo wanted. But Apple could never find his footing in the ever-changing Giants locker room. Once traded to the Saints, he started to improve. Apple was never a star in New Orleans, but now being only 25 years old — and because he was a relatively raw player when entering the league — there is reason to believe he’s a late bloomer who is still figuring it out. His price tag won’t be high. A reunion with Spagnuolo — and being on a defense with such strong leadership — could do him wonders.
Logan Ryan | 29 | Tennessee Titans
Given how good he has been for the Titans, I’m somewhat surprised Ryan didn’t get one of the early big-money cornerback deals. While he is an excellent slot cornerback, he also has the ability to play outside — and plenty of experience in match-zone schemes. His physicality and tenacious playing style is something that fits right into Kansas City’s secondary. Because his price tag should be that of a high-end number two corner, this might be a long shot. But if he lasts beyond the latter part of free agency’s first wave, he could be a steal.
#Titans — TEN can get to 2-deep coverage from multiple pre-snap looks. Showing single-high Cover 1 here (CBs travel vs. WRs). Spin to Cover 2 with CB Logan Ryan in the deep half. Overlap the seam throw for the INT. @NFLMatchup @TDavenport_NFL pic.twitter.com/KKKxU1GWQD— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) December 2, 2019
Karl Joseph | 26 | Las Vegas Raiders
After being rumored to be on the trading block multiple times, reportedly spending time in Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s dog house — and after being an under-performing first-round pick — Joseph is hitting free agency. If the Chiefs need to replace Kendall Fuller’s ability to play as a slot cornerback — and as a deep safety who is able to roll down into the box against the run — then Joseph is the guy. The safety market is always strange, so predicting a market for him is difficult. But there are some higher-profile safeties available, which could keep his market price low.
The Chiefs are relatively hamstrung in free agency by their salary cap position. Until the Chris Jones situation is resolved — or some major roster cuts are made — there won’t be a lot they can do in free agency. It’s just the way it is when you have a ton of money tied up in a handful of positions.
The good news is that the Chiefs won a Super Bowl with their current roster. That’s always a good starting spot.
Whether they are cuts, trades or restructures, I’m expecting some cap-clearing moves to come soon. After that, we will see the Chiefs get involved.
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