Last season, the Chiefs’ high draft volume and free-agent investment in the secondary led to a solid back end. However, safeties Juan Thornhill and Deon Bush are unrestricted free agents this spring, giving Kansas City only Justin Reid and Bryan Cook as the safeties on the 2023 roster.
There are good options on the open market to consider for acquisition. I looked at them in classes:
Top-tier options: Jessie Bates III, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Jordan Poyer
If the Chiefs want to take their swing on getting the All-Pro safety they’ve missed since Tyrann Mathieu left, they have the names to go after; they’ll just have to pay up.
At ages 25 and 26, respectively, Jessie Bates III and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson both have the resume to demand a deal at the top of the market — at least $15 million, up to $19 million over four or five seasons.
If the Chiefs go after Bates, they’d be cementing a cover over the top of opponents’ vertical pass attacks. That’s where the five-year safety is at his best, using elite range to earn 43 passes defended and 14 interceptions in his career. Gardner-Johnson makes an impact closer to the line of scrimmage, playing primarily in the slot in 2022 while nabbing five tackles for loss, one sack, two quarterback hits and a league-high six interceptions.
Former Buffalo Bills safety Jordan Poyer is also available but may not be able to demand a top number at almost 32 years old. He is a year removed from an All-Pro season, picking off five passes while playing one half of their Cover 2 shell that suffocated downfield pass games.
Middle-class options: Donovan Wilson, Vonn Bell and Taylor Rapp
There is a lower tier of safeties in free agency that the Chiefs could still justify investing in over multiple years.
Former Dallas Cowboys’ safety Donovan Wilson racked up 101 tackles, seven tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two passes defended as a 27-year-old starting strong safety in Dallas’ elite defense. He led all NFL safeties in pressures last season, being used as a disruptor across the board.
Vonn Bell has been a staple of the Cincinnati Bengals’ variable coverage game plan, doing a bit of everything over his three years there. He will be 29 next year, looking to build off a 2022 season where he intercepted four passes, defended eight more, and forced multiple fumbles for the sixth time in his seven-year career.
Taylor Rapp won a Super Bowl as the starting free safety in the Los Angeles Rams defense — getting his hands on six interceptions and 12 passes to defend over the last two years. That was part of an evolution from earlier in the 25-year-old’s career when he played more in the box and was asked to make more tackles.
Going off of recently signed contracts, these three could demand deals worth around $10 million per season over two to three years.
Veteran, short-term options: Kareem Jackson, Rodney McLeod, and Tashaun Gipson
If Kansas City wanted a veteran safety to complement the younger starters, a handful of players could be preparing to settle for short-term deals to finish their careers on a high note.
Former Denver Broncos’ safety Kareem Jackson will be 35 years old next season, coming off a four-year stretch in Denver where he played primarily over the top as a free safety — but showed plenty of ability to come up and make plays against the run.
Rodney McLeod will be 33 years old by the 2023 season, but he fits a similar role as Jackson. After a six-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles that included winning a Super Bowl, McLeod went to the Indianapolis Colts last year and racked up 96 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two interceptions, and eight passes defended.
At a nearly-identical age, Tashaun Gipson was also productive last season for the San Francisco 49ers — but it was on the ball, nabbing five interceptions and defending eight other passes. It was the most interceptions Gipson had in one season since 2014, the last year he made a Pro Bowl.
The bottom line
The Chiefs have clearly prioritized the safety position since the team hired defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Tyrann Mathieu was a priority free-agent signing, and then they went after another quality free agent in Justin Reid once Mathieu left.
Reid has two years remaining on his deal, while Cook is developing on a promising trajectory. On the surface, they need a third safety to back up the starters — but things change quickly, and how Kansas City handles free agency at this position will speak volumes about the players already on the 2023 roster.