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What the Chiefs should do at defensive end

A breakdown of the 2021 Chiefs roster — one position at a time.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency scheduled to officially open on March 17, it’s a good time to take a closer look at each position on the Kansas City Chiefs. I looked at the offensive tackles on Monday. In this article, I’ll examine the defensive ends.

Who they have

New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Frank Clark

Clark led all non-secondary Chiefs defenders in snaps during the 2020 regular season, playing 70.3% of the time. In the postseason, Clark played roughly 75% of the team’s snaps. He didn’t miss any games due to injury, but did leave the Week 2 game against the Chargers due to an illness. He racked up a team-leading nine sacks, along with 10 quarterback hits and 30 other pressures over18 games.

The biggest name among the defensive ends will also carry the team’s biggest cap hit. In 2021, it’s $25.8 million — and that will increase by approximately $1 million during each of the next two seasons. Per Spotrac, that’s currently the biggest among NFL defensive ends.

You can argue whether he deserves to be paid so highly — but either way, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll most likely be leading the defensive line through his contract’s expiration after the 2023 season — which gives the team the option to shift money forward into those years and free up some short-term capital.

My opinion: Discuss a contract re-structure to free up immediate cap space

Mike Danna

Atlanta Falcons v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

For a fifth-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Danna played a significant role for the Chiefs. He was on the field for 32% of the defensive snaps in the regular season, which is skewed by his three-game stint on injured reserve for a hamstring injury. In the postseason, his playing rate decreased by a few percentage points. He ended up with 2.5 sacks, 25 total tackles and three quarterback hits in 16 games.

By the end of the season, it felt like Danna had become the most reliable defensive end behind Clark and Alex Okafor. Since Okafor, Tanoh Kpassagnon and Taco Charlton are all now unrestricted free agents, there’s an opening for a defensive end capable of starting opposite Clark. That said, I don’t think the team should bank on Danna being the answer.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo traditionally wants more length on the edge than Danna can offer. At least for this upcoming season, he should be viewed as a dependable, rotational player — just like he was in 2020.

My opinion: Don’t force him into a bigger role than he’s currently capable of.

Tim Ward

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It took nearly two years for Tim Ward to see his first NFL snaps. After the 2019 undrafted rookie spent his first season on the practice squad, he was finally called up to the active roster before Week 11 in 2020. The reserve defensive end was then a game-day inactive in every game until Week 17, when he played 57% of the defensive snaps and tallied one sack, one quarterback hit and an additional pressure.

His Week 17 flash will earn him some hype leading into training camp. He showed impressive burst and athleticism, while flaunting his incredible length and wingspan. His physical profile will have Spagnuolo doing everything he can to turn him into a playable asset.

My opinion: Keep for the chance to develop into quality depth.

Demone Harris

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Harris only appeared in one Chiefs game in 2020 — 38 snaps in Week 7 against the Denver Broncos — but it was his 2019 contributions that probably got him a reserve/future deal for 2021. After being acquired mid-season, Harris played 18 or more snaps in each of the last four regular season games — and then had 50 snaps in the postseason. He accumulated five total pressures — including one quarterback hit — over his six games.

So even if he didn’t play in the game itself, he played a role in the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV victory. Now 25 years old, Harris is running out of time to be a practice squad player. He’ll have to make the team — and once more players are added this offseason, I don’t think there will be room for him.

My opinion: Use his practice squad spot on a younger player with more upside.

Austin Edwards

After going undrafted as a defensive lineman out of Ferris State last season, Edwards was signed by the Atlanta Falcons — for whom he played six total snaps in one game. The Chiefs scooped him up on a reserve/future deal after the season.

Edwards ended his collegiate career by earning the Gene Upshaw Award as 2019’s best Division II defensive lineman. Listed at 6-feet-5 and 280 pounds, he’ll be an interesting player to watch in training camp.

My opinion: Keep him until at least training camp to see what he can do

Who they could sign

With all the cap space they already have tied into Clark and Chris Jones, the Chiefs can’t really afford to sign another big-time player on the defensive line.

Reasonable options would include re-signing Charlton or Okafor, but they could also look at free agents like Washington Football Team’s Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy of the Buffalo Bills, Kerry Hyder of the San Francisco 49ers or the New York Jets’ Tarrell Basham.

Who they could draft

Don’t be surprised if defensive end is the position the Chiefs address right off the bat. It is likely to depend on how the offensive line class is being drafted.

If they do go defensive end at pick 31, names to become familiar with are Miami University’s Jaelan Phillips and Gregorey Rousseau, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, Texas’ Joseph Ossai and Penn State’s Jayson Oweh.

If they want to address the position later, players that fit what the Chiefs are looking for include UAB’s Jordan Smith, Notre Dame’s Daelin Hayes, Pittsburgh’s Rashad Weaver or Iowa’s Chauncey Golston.

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