The two days before free agency and the first couple of days in the league year make for frenzied transactions — with equally frenzied overreactions to those moves. While we wait to see how the Kansas City Chiefs complete their free agency plan, a handful of their own players are still unsigned — and there are glaring needs at wide receiver and defensive line.
As we can see the first pages of the blueprint unfolding after one full week of moves and non-moves, let's take a minute to tally up those most affected by the early days of free agency.
Offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor: Just going from Jacksonville to Kansas City is a win, but Taylor also got paid. His four-year, 80 million contract exceeded the market for right tackles and the contract that the Chiefs former left tackle landed in Cincinnati. Taylor will (most likely) have the opportunity to switch to the left side and boost his career that way. If he can make that transition, the sky is the limit for the 25-year-old. Given what we've seen of him in recent seasons, he's athletic and skilled in pass protection and should be able to grow into the long-term solution for Patrick Mahomes's blind side. If he's a stud left tackle, the contract is great. If he's a stud right tackle and the Chiefs draft their left tackle, that's great, too. Either way, fans should be optimistic that the Chiefs got an ascending talent to help keep this offense moving.
Former Chiefs Juan Thornhill, Andrew Wylie, Khalen Saunders, and JuJu Smith-Schuster: We should appreciate the contributions of these guys, who all had significant roles in bringing championships back to Kansas City. Each would have been welcomed back with open arms but found paydays elsewhere instead. Wylie got a three-year, $24 million deal with Eric Bienemy and Washington. Thornhill landed a three-year deal with the Browns for $21 million. Saunders signed a three-year contract worth up to $14.5 million, and Smith-Schuster finally got his multi-year deal with the Patriots — even if it seems less lucrative than we thought. We had a feeling many of the unrestricted free agents would leave for more money, and for the most part, they did. Congratulations to each of these guys for getting their respective bags.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: The Chiefs quickly made three additions that could replace some of the lost talent and make this defense better. Want to build on the pass rush and replace Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap? In comes Charles Omenihu — an ascending talent that can start on the outside or inside of the Chiefs' defensive line. Notice that the Chiefs linebackers are lacking in coverage? The surprising addition of Drue Tranquill turns the position into a massive strength. Need more turnovers from the secondary? The Chiefs added Mike Edwards, a ball-hawking safety to replace Juan Thornhill. Spagnuolo should really enjoy the versatility that each of these guys brings to their respective positions. It might just result in a defense that causes more turnovers and is less vulnerable in passing situations.
General manager Brett Veach: We've seen the growth in the Chiefs' general manager over his tenure. His drafts have improved dramatically, as have the contracts and the roster depth. In free agency this year, it seems like he took some gambles. The Chiefs didn't re-sign nearly any of their pending free agents; they all are testing the market. Some may return if their price fits the team's plans, but many have found paydays elsewhere. It feels like Veach and company have transitioned this organization into one that draws a pretty hard line when it comes to managing its payroll. They aren't sentimental and won't negotiate with players and agents with unreasonable demands. They trust their talent evaluations and have the hardware to prove that it works.
Linebacker Willie Gay, Jr.: The Chiefs signed a starting linebacker in free agency, and they reportedly have a significant role mapped out for him. Tranquill can do many things that Gay can do, so it will be interesting to see how they deploy them both — or if it could signal the beginning of the end of Gay's tenure in Kansas City. On the one hand, the Chiefs have needed a coverage linebacker for years — someone who can step into the subpackages and lock up a tight end or running back. But they haven't had success developing anyone in that role, so they've tended to use extra safeties instead. Tranquill could be that guy, forming a solid linebacker room with Gay, Nick Bolton and Leo Chenal — assuming the Chiefs keep all four. But even if Gay's roster spot isn't in question, his snaps certainly are. We watched last year while Darius Harris rotated in much to many fans' dismay. It would at least appear the Chiefs have upgraded over Harris, so Gay isn't likely to be that three-down linebacker anytime soon.
Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.: It seems the Chiefs were tired of negotiating with Brown and his agent — or that Brown's camp overestimated his market. The Chiefs moved on quickly, signing Taylor within a couple of hours after the opening of the negotiation period. Brown would wait a couple of days before settling on a contract with the Bengals. The Chiefs were reportedly willing to pay him over $19 million per year, but the Bengals landed Brown on a four-year, $64 million deal, so $16 million per season. One could argue that because the deal is frontloaded with a big signing bonus — $31 million — that Brown did OK. But there's no denying he got less than he could have secured with the Chiefs. He must also leave his good friend, Patrick Mahomes, to protect this guy. The Chiefs will see the Bengals again, and they will find out whether they were right to move on from Brown or not. Brown will see if it was worth it to go to the second-best team in the AFC instead of finding a middle ground with the best.