While it wasn’t the biggest move the Kansas City Chiefs have made so far in free agency, the signing of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Mike Edwards is certainly interesting.
Drafted out of the University of Kentucky in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Edwards has registered 184 tackles (125 solo, seven for loss), seven interceptions (including three returned for touchdowns), 21 passes defended, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries and two sacks over 58 games (including 23 starts) over his four-year Tampa Bay career.
While 2022 was his only season as a full-time starter, he was able to make an impact with his ability to play physically in the box, prevent big plays and make game-changing plays in coverage.
Edwards has a nose for the ball — and is not afraid to make contact. While lined up as the Buccaneers’ strong safety, he displayed the ability (and willingness) to play in the box, stopping runs at the line of scrimmage.
Mike Edwards flies into the box to help bring down Chubb. Gets around the corner and puts a solid hit on the RB. Definitely some traits the Chiefs would look for in the box safety role. pic.twitter.com/dUk38nWiUc— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) March 18, 2023
On this play, Edwards uses his natural instincts to quickly read the play and blaze into the backfield to help bring down the Cleveland Browns‘ Nick Chubb. Accelerating around the end, he cuts down his angle to blast the running back just as the defensive line is about to meet him.
At 5’10” and 205 pounds, Edwards may be slightly undersized to be playing as a box safety, but his willingness to tackle still goes a long way. Even Kareem Hunt — who has made a career of demoralizing would-be tacklers with his physical style of running — can’t always get past him.
Kareem Hunt is a hard man to bring down. Mike Edwards pays the toll, but he prevents Hunt from scoring a touchdown here. Not afraid of the contact and wraps up even after he gets knocked down. pic.twitter.com/qaJQe7JTQl— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) March 18, 2023
As the single-high safety on this rep, Edwards is responsible for preventing a big play. Up front, the Browns block well. Hunt has a big seam — with only Edwards between him and the end zone. Although Hunt bowls Edwards over, the safety is still able to latch on. He prevents a touchdown by wrapping up the running back’s lower half, giving his teammates the time to swarm in and stop the play.
While Edwards’ tackling ability in the box has likely attracted Kansas City's attention, he is more than just a downhill run stuffer. He is disruptive in coverage, showing good tracking ability.
Coverage here by Edwards. Nice job tracking the ball, and does a good job disrupting the WR's focus at the end of the play. The WR tries to push off and create separation at the end, but the ball is offline. pic.twitter.com/C5yB2mg5Be— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) March 18, 2023
Here we see Edwards one-on-one against an inside receiver. The Buccaneers primarily use zone coverage — and since Edwards starts with his back to the sideline, it appears he is reading the play when the receiver breaks to the outside.
This play is likely meant to attack Tampa Bay’s zone tendencies — but after Edwards makes a full 360-degree turn, he is able to track down the ball in mid-air and close the distance between himself and the wideout. While the receiver pushes off to create separation, doing so preoccupies him from going up to grab the ball — so the pass falls incomplete.
Being solid in pass protection is one thing, but being able to make game-changing plays can change a game’s outcome. Edwards has the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes — and make his breaks from spots that they cannot see.
Edwards does an amazing job to jump this pass and take it back for a touchdown. The QB eyes down the curl but does not see Edwards lurking at the hash. Quick and decisive break on the ball. Chiefs were -3 in the turnover differential last season, bottom third of the league. pic.twitter.com/hiKzMsZJ6W— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) March 18, 2023
On this play, Tampa Bay shows a potential Cover-3 look. Lined up as the middle safety, it appears Edwards is responsible for passes to the slot and deep around the hashes.
Off the snap, Edwards works toward the middle of the field. As he does, the quarterback eyes the slot receiver working the middle; he feels confident he can throw to the curl route to the second receiver.
Edwards reads this decision, quickly darting toward the numbers to jump the pass and return it for a touchdown. By breaking the defense’s tendency, he creates a game-changing play.
The bottom line
While Edwards is more likely best used in sub packages, his abilities could earn him a spot as a starting safety.
In 2022, the Chiefs collected only 20 turnovers during the regular season, which ranked 20th in the league. While the team did create turnovers more often in the postseason, ending an opponent’s possession by scoring a touchdown can often be the difference between winning and losing. And since 2019, Edwards has three pick-sixes — tied for first among all NFL players.
While this unique skill could play an important role in specific games, Edwards’ real value will come from his ability to find the ball, stop big plays and be a reliable, hard-nosed player whenever his number is called. Edwards’ signing is mostly about acquiring a player who can adjust from week-to-week, allowing the team to maximize his impact.
Edwards’ willingness to tackle — combined with his versatility and ability to make big plays — should earn him a spot in the Chiefs’ secondary, giving the unit a dynamic aspect that it did not possess last season.