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Brett Veach details Chiefs’ strategy at cornerback position

Whether in free agency or the draft, the best options do not come cheap.

NFL: JAN 16 AFC Wild Card - Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Like all NFL decision-makers, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach sometimes faces criticism of the team he and his staff have built. One of the most common shots taken at Veach is his seeming lack of urgency to acquire talented cornerbacks. Through four full offseasons at the helm, Veach’s most significant free-agent investments in the position were a pair of one-year deals to Bashaud Breeland — which had a combined total of less than $5 million.

Veach has shown a similar disregard for the position in his four drafts. He has used a total of four day-three draft picks at the position — never drafting a cornerback higher than L’Jarius Sneed in 2020 with the 138th overall pick. Sneed and 2019 sixth-round pick Rashad Fenton are the only drafted corners remaining with the Chiefs this offseason.

Throughout Veach’s tenure, the position has primarily been filled with late-round picks, second-tier free agent signings and castoffs from other teams — including multiple former top-50 picks. The strategy has had mixed results — often appearing adequate when paired with top safety play and an effective pass rush with the potential to be exposed against top offenses.

“I think there’s some of the misconceptions about not valuing the corner position,” explained Veach during his Tuesday press conference. “A lot of what happens in the league and a lot of how you spend your draft capital — there is some element of being circumstantial. You’re going to value the O-line and D-line.

“Then you’re going to value corners too because they’re hard positions — but at the same time, not having a ton of cap space every year and not picking in the top 10, it’s hard to just say, ‘We’re going to go out and get a corner.’ There are other elements too.

“Sometimes it’s difficult when you have a little bit of cap space — and those guys aren’t cheap too. They’re up there with the O-linemen and pass rushers. That market has skyrocketed, but if there’s an opportunity to snag one of those guys, that will be right up there with a D-line priority and an O-line priority.”

Veach is correct about the expense of the position.

Five cornerbacks were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft — including two of the first 10 selections. The top-earning 2021 free agent cornerback — William Jackson of the Cincinnati Bengals — signed a three-year contract worth $40.5 million. As he discussed the process, Veach suggested it has been a riskier position to evaluate than others.

“Let’s say you’re picking at 30, and the top two consensus corners are gone,” Veach explained, speaking hypothetically. “There may be a corner that you have graded in that too. But as you pass the medicals, the coaching, the scheme, the fit, it’s not always the raw numbers — there are so many factors that come to play. Again, you talk about the value of a player. You talk about the scheme. You talk about the fit with the coaching staff. You talk about their medical history. There’s been a couple guys over the years that we liked, and we just didn’t think they were healthy. We worried about that, but we’ll certainly look to add. Anytime you can get a good young corner, I think that’s something any team wouldn’t pass up.”

Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It may be an opportunity the Chiefs have to search for actively.

Charvarius Ward — who has played at least 85% of the team’s defensive snaps at cornerback each of the past three seasons — will be an unrestricted free agent when the league year begins in March. Spotrac estimates Ward to be in line for a four-year contract worth more than $41 million.

“Charvarius has done a nice job for us,” offered Veach of the starter’s impending free agency. “He’s another guy you throw in that mix of the guys that are up that we’d like to talk with.”

Whether he is eventually able to talk to Ward, Veach will have to find a way to add multiple bodies to the position this offseason.

As mentioned above, Sneed and Fenton are currently the only cornerbacks signed to the 2022 Chiefs roster. Former New York Giants first-round pick Deandre Baker will be an exclusive rights free agent — allowing the Chiefs to control his rights if they chose. 2021 undrafted free agent signing Dicaprio Bootle — who appeared in three games this season for Kansas City — ended the season on the practice squad and will likely sign to the offseason 90-man roster.

How Veach approaches the cornerback room will be one of the stories to watch as attention turns to free agency and the draft.