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Chiefs should consider these 5 players before free agency starts

These players have red flags to vet but could still offer value as role players.

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for the offseason, they will need to weigh the cost of splashy moves against financial considerations. While unrestricted free agency is still weeks away, there are dozens of players currently available to sign who will eventually compete in 2022 training camps.

These players often have the motivation to sign in February or early March — before hundreds more free agents join them on the market. As Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and head coach Andy Read contemplate the offseason, these are five players they may consider to begin addressing offseason needs at a lower cost, as they stay wary of the reasons they are currently available.

While these signings would not fully address any offseason need, they could combine with higher profile signings to better upgrade position groups, compete with and push younger players, or provide a cushion to allow draft picks to adjust to the league without the pressure of playing right away.

DT Geno Atkins

New York Jets v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The eight-time Pro Bowl selection for the Cincinnati Bengals did not play in 2021 as he continued to recover from a shoulder injury sustained during training camp in 2020. The Bengals considered signing him for their playoff run, but he was reported to still be rehabbing the injury in hopes of working out for teams in the spring. Though the prognosis for shoulder injuries is unpredictable, Atkins is a player who could be helpful to the Chiefs if they are comfortable with his medicals.

Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has identified the defensive line as the team’s main priority this offseason. While Veach likely intends to pursue higher-upside options, the Chiefs also simply need players in the defensive line room. Derrick Nnadi and Jarran Reed — with 1,163 defensive tackle snaps in 2021 — are both set to be free agents. Atkins could rotate and take some snaps in the middle of the line at a lower price.

CB Malcolm Butler

Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Butler, who will turn 32 in early March, signed with the Arizona Cardinals for the 2021 season — only to abruptly retire at the end of training camp. Last week, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that the former New England Patriot and Tennessee Titan plans to play in 2022. Butler — best known for his game-sealing interception of Russell Wilson in the last minute of Super Bowl XLIX — hardly looked like a washed defensive back in his previous league action with the Titans, earning a grade of 71.6 from Pro Football Focus while starting all 16 games and reaching a 97% defensive snap count.

The Chiefs should consider Butler given the chances of losing starting cornerback Charvarius Ward and Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu. With experience lining up outside and in the slot, Butler shows the versatility that Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo values. As a two-time Super Bowl champion, Butler has experience in a winning culture and could be a valuable bridge to give potential draftees time to develop.

EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Fowler’s contract with the Atlanta Falcons voided following a restructure. The third overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft may have trouble finding a new team. Fowler appeared to shed the “bust” label when the Jacksonville Jaguars traded him to the Los Angeles Rams in 2018. He broke out and ended his rookie contract with an 11.5-sack season in 2019. However, Fowler only recorded 7.5 sacks over the past two seasons with the Falcons after signing a three-year, $45 million contract.

Still only 27, Fowler will likely get a shot with a fourth team. With a defensive line transition looming, the Chiefs may roll the dice on a player like Fowler. While Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones is not on Aaron Donald’s level, Fowler has shown success when paired with a premium interior rusher. Fowler’s greatest potential value could be putting pressure on players like 2021 fourth-round selection Joshua Kaindoh to compete for a situational pass rusher role.

EDGE Olivier Vernon

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Never a star, Vernon has been a remarkably consistent player in nine seasons. Before tearing his Achilles in Week 17 of the 2020 season, Vernon had turned in a tremendous age-30 season with nine sacks on 28 pressures — helping the Cleveland Browns reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Vernon has at least 6.5 sacks in seven of his nine seasons.

Given the need mentioned above, any experienced pass rusher is a player that the Chiefs will likely consider. If healthy, Vernon’s experience in Spagnuolo’s system could make him a fit. Spagnuolo was Vernon’s defensive coordinator — and later interim head coach — with the Giants in 2016-17. Vernon earned PFF grades of 75.3 and 77.2 as he racked up 15 sacks during his time with Spagnuolo.

OT Rick Wagner

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The now 32-year-old Wagner started nine games and both playoff games for the 2020 Packers, earning a PFF grade of 77.0 with a single sack surrendered over 610 offensive snaps. The Packers released him in a cap-saving move after the season, and he never signed with a team for 2021. ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky reported Wagner was considering retirement after playing through a knee injury, though the player seemingly has never announced anything official.

Even after revamping their offensive line last offseason, questions remain for the Chiefs at right tackle. Lucas Niang has now undergone hip surgery and knee surgery since October of 2019. Prince Tega Wanogho is on the roster — but he has injury concerns of his own and only dressed for two games last season. Andrew Wylie has been a valuable reserve — but he is a free agent and is not a player the Chiefs should pencil in as a starting tackle. If Wagner returns to the league this season, he could be an option to add depth and compete for a starting position at a lower cost without having to invest a premium draft pick.

Poll

Which player most interests you when it comes to the Chiefs?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    DT Geno Atkins
    (956 votes)
  • 22%
    CB Malcolm Butler
    (977 votes)
  • 32%
    EDGE Dante Fowler Jr.
    (1452 votes)
  • 14%
    EDGE Olivier Vernon
    (647 votes)
  • 8%
    OT Rick Wagner
    (390 votes)
4422 votes total Vote Now