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Ring Chasers: 3 defensive free agents who could bolster their resumes with the Chiefs

There’s no better NFL franchise to join on a short-term contract right now.

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Last week, we started the Ring Chaser series by looking at three offensive players who may want to join the Chiefs to pursue a Super Bowl title or larger contract in the 2024 free agent period.

This week, we turn to the defensive side, where help is needed to fill out the depth chart at two levels: the defensive line and the secondary.

Who could be the next Justin Reid or Carlos Dunlap for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023?

1. Defensive tackle Poona Ford

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It should be noted immediately that — based on his first five free agency periods in that role — general manager Brett Veach is not likely to invest significant financial resources into older players when the legal tampering period opens Monday. Veach and his staff like to focus on younger players approaching their prime... not past their prime.

This brings us to a player like Poona Ford, who spent his first five seasons with the Seattle Seahawks while starting 64 games at defensive tackle. He collected 7.0 sacks in the past three seasons when he was a full-time starter but does his best work stuffing opposing running backs. Ford had a bit of a down year in 2022 in the eyes of most Seahawks fans, but he still represents a potential upgrade for Kansas City at the 1-technique (nose tackle) alignment. With fellow defensive tackles Khalen Saunders, Derrick Nnadi and Brandon Williams all set to hit the market, Veach has to make moves to bring big, heavy, run-stopping bodies into the rotation.

At his peak, Ford was a better defender than arguably any Chiefs defensive tackle not named Chris Jones of the past two years. It would likely be a one or two-year contract that gives Kansas City a suitable replacement if Saunders isn’t brought back.

2. Defensive end Arden Key

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Arden Key — also coming off his fifth NFL season — has come into his own the past couple of years. Coaches in San Francisco and Jacksonville identified the best ways to use his versatile talents as a rotational pass rusher who can align at multiple spots up front, both on the interior and edges.

Key met with the Chiefs during last year’s free agency period before electing to sign for more money in Jacksonville. This year, he’s probably looking at another short-term contract. He might be able to get a more competitive financial offer from Kansas City now that defensive end Frank Clark is headed elsewhere.

Key played in 34 of 34 possible games the past two seasons, combining for 11.0 sacks, 32 quarterback hits and three pass deflections. He’s not a starter, but clearly, the Chiefs had an interest in his talents just a year ago, and he can contribute to winning with his versatility.

3. Free safety Deshon Elliott

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In the defensive backfield, Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill could be on his way out as he prepares for his first-ever unrestricted free agency run. Thornhill is the type of player who other teams may value more, given his experience with an elite-level organization.

If the Chiefs don’t bring Thornhill back, it opens up a starting spot in their defense. The odds are that 2022 second-round pick Bryan Cook is preparing to take over that primary role. Even still, Kansas City will need to add depth at the position as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo loves utilizing three-safety personnel groupings.

With Deshon Elliott, the Chiefs get a more versatile piece than Thornhill in terms of how effectively he can align all over the field. Truthfully, Elliott may be too expensive as a third safety. Last year, though, he signed with the Detroit Lions for just over $1 million. After a strong 2022 season, a slightly improved market could still show him in Kansas City’s price range.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old Elliott is a physical presence at the safety position that matches up quite well with current starters Justin Reid and Cook. With rumors that Thornhill has priced himself out of Kansas City, keep an eye on a player like Elliott for the next few weeks.

The bottom line

Remember, the Chiefs don’t like to sign older veteran players until later in the summer when the draft is complete. The actual ring chasers may not show up until then.

For now, these younger players who can improve the roster's depth should be monitored. These defenders are getting closer to playing the best football of their lives, and the Chiefs' front office will try to ensure it takes place in red and yellow.

Even if it’s just a one-year contract meant to set a player up for the long-term contract next year, he could still end up with a Super Bowl LVIII championship ring, too.

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