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Predicting the Chiefs’ decisions on offensive free agents

Kansas City has decisions to make on a Pro Bowl offensive lineman — and some key role players.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In three weeks, the NFL’s 2022 league year will have started — and following the legal tampering period that begins on March 14, many key free agency decisions across the league will have been made.

The Kansas City Chiefs will need to make decisions on many of their own players about to enter free agency. Let’s look at the Chiefs’ 15 pending offensive free agents — starting with their most important decision.

Left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr.

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Given the high price paid to acquire Brown in trade from the Baltimore Ravens a year ago, the Chiefs are widely expected to place the franchise tag on him before March 8. After making the Pro Bowl in his first season in Kansas City, Brown is set to earn top-of-the-market left tackle money if a long-term agreement is reached. With other decisions in front of them, the Chiefs may prefer to wait until 2023 before pushing hard on a long-term deal. With no other top free agent left tackles — and 2019’s underwhelming draft class at tackle unlikely to sign lucrative extensions — Brown’s market value is unlikely to change significantly before the 2023 offseason.

Prediction: Brown plays 2022 under the franchise tag before signing an extension before the 2023 season.


Quarterback Chad Henne

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Henne has been the Chiefs’ backup quarterback since Patrick Mahomes took over as the starter in 2018. With Kansas City, he is best known for his clutch fourth-down throw to Tyreek Hill to clinch a playoff win against the Cleveland Browns in 2020. After promoting 2021 undrafted free agent signing Shane Buechele to the active roster, the Chiefs appear set to go younger at backup quarterback in 2022. Mahomes and Buechele also appear to be approaching the offseason as if they will continue working together.

Prediction: The Chiefs will allow Henne to leave in free agency. But if Buechele underwhelms in the offseason — and Henne is still available — they may pursue a reunion before training camp.


Running backs Darrel Williams, Jerrick McKinnon and Derrick Gore (ERFA); fullback Michael Burton

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While all three running backs sometimes played key roles for Kansas City in 2021, none of them are likely to be highly sought-after free agents.

Even with his playoff heroics, McKinnon’s age and injury history will prevent him from receiving a contract offer the Chiefs cannot match. With Williams’ experience in the offense, he probably has more value to the Chiefs than he would to other teams.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs can keep Gore off the market by extending an exclusive rights tender to him. That would keep him from negotiating with other teams, but would not guarantee him a salary if he fails to earn a roster spot.

In 2021, Burton proved to be a reliable blocker and short-yardage option. The Chiefs are likely to be interested in a reunion — and with few teams rostering fullbacks, Burton will probably have very few options.

Prediction: One of McKinnon or Williams returns, the Chiefs extend an offer to Gore and then sign a low-cost free-agent running back. Burton returns on a minimum salary.


Wide receivers Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Marcus Kemp

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Outside of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Kansas City’s 2021 receiving options largely underachieved. Other than as potential injury replacements who know the offense, there is little reason to think that Robinson and Kemp have significant value to the team.

But in the second half of the season and the playoffs, Pringle appeared to be carving out a role for himself — though the Chiefs should be pursuing a better option to be their No. 2 wideout. Given a deep free-agent class — and what is expected to be a third consecutive draft stacked with receiver talent — Pringle shouldn't be prohibitively expensive to re-sign. At 28, he is also entering free agency for the first time; he is only ten months younger than 2014 Kansas City draft pick De’Anthony Thomas. Expect him to choose the most lucrative offer — regardless of the team and situation.

Prediction: The Chiefs sign Pringle to a two-year contract while pursuing upgrades at receiver in free agency and the draft. Robinson and Kemp are not retained.


Tight ends Blake Bell and Jody Fortson (ERFA)

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In 2021, Bell returned to primarily being a blocker — while continuing to play a minimal role in the passing game. (He did, however, establish a new role: lining up under center for quarterback sneaks). With 2021 fifth-round selection Noah Gray performing better than expected as a blocker, the Chiefs may move on from Bell a second time. As a former high school quarterback, Gray could also be a candidate to shift under center during pre-play motion.

After three years, Fortson — another pending exclusive rights free agent — finally found a role with the offense, scoring two touchdowns before tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 6. Traditionally, the Chiefs have not kept a roster spot for injured free agents — but given Fortson’s role (and the team’s investment in him), they are likely to make an exception.

Prediction: The Chiefs will tender Fortson — while not re-signing Bell.


Offensive linemen Andrew Wylie, Austin Blythe, Mike Remmers and Kyle Long

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After a respectable showing at right tackle in relief of Lucas Niang — who may not be ready to start the season after knee surgery — we should expect Wylie to be one of the team’s offseason priorities. He will be a good candidate to sign a four-year qualifying offer with the Chiefs, which will allow him to earn up to $1.35 million above the $1.035 million veteran minimum salary — with the additional funds not counting against the salary cap.

In 2021, Long came out of an injury-forced retirement — only to sustain a knee injury that sidelined him for most of the season. He will likely return to retirement — or perhaps pursue a starting opportunity with a new team.

After struggling with back and knee injuries that kept him from playing after Week 7, Remmers is also likely to be looking at retirement. Blythe will likely pursue a better opportunity to compete to be a starting center or guard — although if that chance does not develop, the Chiefs would be wise to bring him back.

Prediction: The Chiefs will be aggressive in keeping Wylie in-house, while allowing Blythe to test free agency. Long and Remmers will retire.


Next week, we will look at the pending free agents on the defensive side.

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