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4 of the Chiefs’ free-agent options at defensive tackle

Kansas City has holes to fill on the interior of the defensive line.

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When NFL free agency opens at 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs will be able to sign free agents. The Chiefs are currently slated to have $17.8 million in cap space when the new league year begins.

At defensive tackle, the Chiefs are in flux. Chris Jones could be extended this offseason — but outside of Jones, the team is short-handed at the position. Derrick Nnadi, Khalen Saunders and Brandon Williams are all becoming unrestricted free agents on Wednesday. The Chiefs did re-sign practice-squad players Danny Shelton and Daniel Wise to reserve/future contracts — and will also have the opportunity to retain restricted free agent Tershawn Wharton — but right now, they lack the experience needed to field a solid interior on the defensive line.

So this is a position Kansas City might address in free agency. Here are four options for the Chiefs to consider:

1. Javon Hargrave

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If the Chiefs decide to spend a lot of money on a defensive tackle, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Javon Hargrave — one of the league’s more dynamic pass-rushing defensive tackles — would be the best investment. Hargrave can win consistently with both speed and power. Since both he and Jones regularly require double teams, Hargrave’s presence would be terrifying to the rest of the NFL.

There would, however, be some risk. Hargrave is too small (6’2” and 305 pounds) to be a traditional nose tackle, so putting him next to Jones on running downs would be challenging. Paying a premium for a defensive tackle who is used primarily on third downs is not ideal. But since Hargrave can be more of a penetrator, you can rotate him with Jones on early downs without losing against either the run or the pass. That could help keep Jones fresher for critical third-down plays.

2. Poona Ford

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If Saunders leaves in free agency, the Seattle Seahawks’ Poona Ford would make sense as a potential replacement. Like Saunders, Ford is a shorter, stouter nose tackle (5’11” and 310 pounds) with elite explosiveness and mobility. Ford has consistently played around 60% of the Seahawks’ snaps. He tends to play with a penetrative style — rather than the more traditional anchor style.

At one point, Ford was seen as a potential star in Seattle’s defense, but concerns about his size left him limited in Seattle’s two-gapping system — and his play regressed. In Kansas City, he would be able to fill Saunders’s role perfectly, working more as a penetrator and pass rusher than as a traditional nose tackle.

3. Linval Joseph

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Compared to Ford or Hargrave, the Eagles’ Linval Joseph is more of a traditional nose tackle. A double-team machine, he consistently takes on blocks on the interior and plugs holes in the running game. Prior to his signing in Philadelphia, the team had trouble stopping the run — but his acquisition shored up the run defense.

Joseph has familiarity with a 4-3 scheme from his days with the Vikings, so he would be an instant fit Kansas City. Joseph is now 34 — but if he can play well for another year, he would be the best nose tackle the Chiefs have had since Dontari Poe. If his price isn’t high, he’d be a great option.

4. Greg Gaines

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Of all the mid-tier free-agent interior defensive linemen who will be available, the Los Angeles Rams’ Greg Gaines might make the most sense. He can play as both a nose tackle or a 3-technique, which makes him valuable to any kind of a defensive line. From either position, he’s big enough (6’1” and 312 pounds) to handle the run, but also brings juice as a pass rusher. Having someone who can play either spot gives a team injury insurance — and is another way to keep the rotation fresher.

In this way, a Gaines signing would be similar to what the Chiefs did with Jarran Reed in 2021. He was also brought in to provide depth at both positions — but Gaines is now a better player than Reed was at that point of his career. While the Chiefs would still need more options on the defensive interior, bringing Gaines aboard would help Kansas City address other positions.

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