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7 underrated free agents the Chiefs could consider

With the NFL’s legal tampering period set to begin next week, let’s examine some potentially good value signings.

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At this moment of the offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs — led by the Hall of Fame trio of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill — aren’t lacking star power.

But while a series of moves we are likely to see over the next several days should position the front office to make a couple of splashy additions during the early phase of free agency, it is the middle portion of the 53-man roster that might see the most change during the next month.

Let’s consider some free-agent players who could join the Chiefs at a good contractual value. Now that so many current Kansas City players are (or soon will be) signed to very large contracts, value contracts will the Chiefs need more than ever.

Safety Quandre Diggs

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Diggs has developed into a true playmaker, collecting five interceptions in each of his last two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Instinctive and rangy in coverage, he could project as a cheaper alternative to Tyrann Mathieu — that is, if the Chiefs don’t want to add a safety in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.

Working against Diggs is his age. At 29 years old, it’s probably too late for him to earn a four or five-year contract on the free market; a three-year deal worth $8-12 million per season would be more realistic.

Considering that Diggs does offer some of the same intangible leadership skills that Mathieu has shown in the last three seasons, that investment could well be worth it.

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson

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Just 26 years old — and buried beneath a loaded Dallas Cowboys wide receiver depth chart — Wilson still took advantage of every opportunity in 2021, entering free agency after his best season: 45 catches for 602 yards and six touchdowns.

Wilson deserves the chance for more playing time. He is versatile, showing the ability to play in the slot or near the boundary. His ability to rack up yardage after the catch would make a lot of sense in Kansas City, where the coaching staff can get the football to players in space so well. If the Chiefs strike out on more-established starting wide receivers early in free agency, Wilson will be an intriguing second-phase option.

Defensive tackle Tim Settle

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It’s entirely possible — if not likely — that the Chiefs will re-sign defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi to help defend the run in 2022. Either way, adding another rotational defensive tackle like Settle — who offers a little more pass-rushing skill — makes a lot of sense.

Settle could be a less-expensive player to fill the role Jarran Reed played in 2021. While there are plenty of free-agents who could take those snaps, Settle is a fun, high-upside player who will be just 25 in July.

But after getting five sacks in 2020, Settle had none in 2021. Still — despite Washington having the league’s deepest interior defensive line — Settle stuck on the team’s roster for four years. That says a lot about the man.

Wide receiver Russell Gage

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We can throw Gage into a similar bucket as JuJu Smith-Schuster: a chain-moving wideout who can be a tough matchup in short-to-intermediate areas of the field. That’s a role that could really help round out the Kansas City offense.

In 30 games over the past two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, Gage logged 138 catches for 1,556 receiving yards — over 700 yards each year — and four touchdowns in each season. He can separate from man coverage in one-on-one situations — something he would likely see a lot while playing in Kansas City. Right now, the 26-year-old Gage isn’t a top-of-the-market receiver, so it’s difficult to predict his contract value — but he is most definitely a starting-level player who could represent an upgrade as Kansas City’s No. 2 wideout.

Running back Leonard Fournette

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A Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ playoff hero in 2020, Fournette is set to hit free agency again — this time at 27 years of age. The appealing (and also limiting) thing about him is that you know exactly what you’re going to get: a tough, physical runner who will create some yards with power, catch plenty of passes in short areas of the field — and also miss three to five games each season with soft-tissue injuries.

That said, Fournette could do some of the things Darrel Williams has done — just at a more explosive level. He has the long speed to make defenses pay for repeatedly playing softer, deep-shell coverages. He would fit perfectly as a primary runner in the gap/power plays that became a more common part of the Kansas City offense in 2021. A one-year, incentive-laden contract would be ideal.

Defensive end Arden Key

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It took a while for Key to get his feet underneath him in San Francisco, but he finally hit his stride as a talented pass rusher in 2021.

Despite being a base EDGE player, Key clearly offers versatility that enables him to move all over the defensive front. For Kansas City, he could be a chess piece who can handle running downs at defensive end — but also be a dynamic pass rusher in the team’s twist game package or as a 3-technique in front of offensive guards.

Defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day

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A three-year starter for the Los Angeles Rams whose 2021 season was cut short due to a torn pectoral muscle, Joseph-Day could potentially replace (or be paired with) Nnadi in rotation. His run-stopping prowess is unmistakable — and after notching three sacks in seven games last season, his pass-rushing skills are trending up. He could immediately become a consistent disruptor against good running offenses.

Already accustomed to playing at a high level next to Aaron Donald — the league’s best interior pass rusher — being next to Chris Jones would require no adjustment. He would still see plenty of one-on-one matchups — and in those instances, he is well equipped to handle himself.

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