As the week began, we began tracking the reported moves the Kansas City Chiefs were making to prepare for Tuesday’s final roster cutdown. One of the biggest pieces of news was the team waiving third-year running back Darwin Thompson. Then — late in the day — we learned that the team was sending a second-year offensive lineman to the New England Patriots for a 2022 seventh-round pick.
Durant, 23, joined the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent out of Missouri following the 2020 NFL Draft. Durant garnered a total of 91 offensive snaps for the Chiefs last season, which included 24 at right tackle when Mike Remmers left the team’s Week 14 against the Miami Dolphins due to injury. He also took 53 snaps at right guard against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 17, as the club rested its starters.
The Chiefs had been primarily working Durant at the guard positions during the 2021 preseason before trading him to the Patriots on Monday night.
Monday also brought news of another listing of the league’s top players — including two Chiefs who didn’t make the previously-released ranking.
You could say that being voted into the NFL Network list is kind of like being selected for the Pro Bowl while making the ESPN list is more like becoming an All-Pro — with NFL players taking the place of NFL fans in the former list.
While both rankings picked the same top five Chiefs — in close to the same order — the predictive nature of this list made it possible for Kansas City’s new offensive linemen Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown, Jr. to claim spots near the bottom. Since neither player made this ranking a year ago, it’s clear that the ESPN writers who make up most of the 50-member voting panel believe that Thuney and Brown will be better when playing next to each other on the left side of the line.
As we waited to learn the makeup of the initial 53-man roster on Tuesday, reporters met with head coach Andy Reid — who had some injury news to share.
“Frank Clark did a little bit [Tuesday] and Austin Blythe, again, he did not practice [Tuesday].”
Clark is continuing to deal with a hamstring injury, and Blythe is recovering from sports hernia surgery. Reid did not mention running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams, or cornerback Rashad Fenton — which is likely to be a good sign for their upcoming availability.
Reid later clarified the timetable for Gay as the Chiefs look forward to Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.
“I think the next few days here, or week or so will tell us,” said Reid. “We’ll just see where we’re at with it. Those things are sensitive. Like I said, we’ll play it by ear and see how he does.”
Reid knew what he was talking about. On Thursday, the Chiefs placed Gay on injured reserve.
In Tuesday’s final cutdown, Kansas City had waived 22 young players. By the claiming deadline on Wednesday, two of them were gone.
Keyes, 23, was the No. 237th overall pick for the Chiefs in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Kansas City was done picking in that draft before trading with the Tennessee Titans to get back in and take Keyes out of Tulane University. Keyes had just 11 defensive snaps for the Chiefs in 2020 before starting Week 17 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Chris Lammons edged him out for the sixth and final cornerback spot on the initial roster.
Ward, 24, began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs in 2019. The Chiefs brought Ward aboard with 2020 in mind, given that he had torn his ACL at Old Dominion that November. Like Keyes, Ward saw all of his 2020 defensive snaps in the Chiefs’ final game as they were resting their starters. Ward had 3.0 sacks for the Chiefs this preseason — which likely caught the Jets’ attention.
Then it was time to start tracking reported practice-squad signings — and for the team’s general manager to meet with reporters.
“I also took three or four calls from teams asking about our tight ends over the weekend. So it became clear that [if they were waived], these guys weren’t making it through the claim period.”
Still... Veach was reluctant to say that particular factor ended up carrying much weight in the team’s decision.
“I don’t think it was a situation where we thought, ‘Well, they want these guys, so let’s keep them — because we can’t get them on the practice squad,’” he maintained.
Veach also said that one of the team’s special-teams aces — who hadn’t made the initial roster — would be coming back.
“He’ll be back. He’ll be back,” said Veach in a Zoom call with media members on Wednesday. “I would anticipate him being back on the active roster, and we’ll have a corresponding move at a certain time here. We have some different areas to do different things, but I’d expect it’s safe to say that Marcus Kemp’ll be back here and be ready to contribute — hopefully, Week 1.”
Kemp caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown during the Chiefs’ three preseason games.
Before the day was out, Kemp was on the roster — after safety Tyrann Mathieu was placed on Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Then the GM talked about one of the more controversial moves he had made for the initial cutdown.
While it’s a fair point that Ward’s production primarily came against second or third-string offensive tackles, he nonetheless played well — well enough to be a high priority to other teams that had more than 800 other recently-available players from which to choose.
“It’s a combination of being committed to keeping 10 linemen and four tight ends,” noted Veach. “Saying, ‘Now moving forward, where are we and how can they contribute?’ Not just on game day, but on special teams. It was definitely a tough decision... It comes down to guys like [wide receiver] Daurice Fountain, guys like [tight end] Jody Fortson — and then [cornerback] Chris Lammons is another guy that is one of the better gunners in the league, too.”
By Thursday, John Dixon thought there was a reason why a number of reported moves for both the initial roster and the practice squad had turned out differently than expected.
Reading between the lines of general manager Brett Veach’s comments to reporters on Wednesday, it was clear that many of the team’s final-cutdown decisions were very difficult. This shouldn’t be surprising. Following Friday night’s final preseason game, multiple members of the local press released Chiefs roster projections that were accompanied by remarks saying that they had never found it harder to predict what Kansas City would do; a week ago Tuesday, I myself had said much the same thing to Pete Sweeney during our Arrowhead Pride Editors Show podcast.
If a team’s GM has to go back and forth on roster decisions right up to the deadline, doesn’t it follow that they have a great many good players from which to choose?
And that’s a good thing, isn’t it? If a team’s GM has to go back and forth on roster decisions right up to the deadline, doesn’t it follow that they have a great many good players from which to choose? I can remember many Chiefs seasons in which the final roster decisions appeared to have been made well before the deadline — sometimes before the third preseason game. I can also remember many final cutdown days that weren’t followed by reports of just-terminated Chiefs immediately landing with other teams.
Then on Friday, Bryan Stewart looked at the film for two second-level Chiefs players.
We will not be seeing Gay Jr. in action Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns due to his toe injury. It shouldn’t be a long-term thing (thankfully), and that means in due time, he should be making splash plays for a defensive unit looking to have their best season since defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo joined the staff.
This also means Bolton likely plays more defensive snaps earlier in the year than he was originally expected to. Fans should be confident he will be mentally sharp and prepared for the task, even if some rookie mistakes come along the way.
Beyond 2021, however, if these two physical playmakers can remain healthy and do their jobs while playing to their own individual strengths, the Chiefs should possess one of the NFL’s absolute best inside linebacker duos.