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Question of the Week: How does Omenihu’s injury change the Chiefs’ offseason plans?

Now that Kansas City’s defensive end has suffered an ACL injury, does that change upcoming personnel decisions?

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kara Durrette/Getty Images

With the Kansas City Chiefs on a bye week before their Super Bowl matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, we briefly return to our normal Question of the Week series. The last time we did this, we discussed how vital it is to keep Drue Tranquill in 2024.

Today, let’s consider the recent injury news to defensive end Charles Omenihu.

How does Omenihu’s injury change the Chiefs' offseason plans?

When the team signed Omenihu in March, it was hoped that the former San Francisco 49ers defensive end could replace (or even improve upon) the pass-rushing productivity of Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap, who were essential players on the Chiefs’ 2022 defensive line. While Omenihu wasn’t as proven as either of those players, he had shown signs of serious potential. His pterodactyl length, compact power and explosiveness were thought to give him an upside he hadn’t yet displayed in the NFL. The Chiefs hoped they could help the defensive end tap into the best parts of his game.

After beginning 2023 with a six-game NFL suspension, Omenihu played some of the best football in his career. In only 11 regular-season games, Omenihu posted 29 pressures (a pressure rate of 11.6%), a career-high seven sacks and five quarterback hits. He posted a career-high 17 tackles for loss.

Omenihu was an ideal reinforcement to Kansas City’s defensive line. His ability to play on both the inside and outside gave the Chiefs more ways to match up against (and hunt) specific offensive linemen. Since he’s long and powerful enough to crush a pocket from the inside, his presence also unlocked defensive tackle Chris Jones as a pass rusher.

Finally, he gave Kansas City another option to attack short-armed tackles. While defensive ends George Karlaftis and Mike Danna are both good players, neither has the length to be effective against tackles who themselves lack length or power. Omenihu has a length advantage over 95% of the league’s offensive linemen.

Omenihu made a significant impact during the playoffs. His run defense has been excellent — but his strip-sack of Lamar Jackson was a critical factor in Sunday’s AFC Championship victory over the Baltimore Ravens. It was the highlight of his season.

Unfortunately, on the team’s very next defensive snap, Omenihu suffered a torn ACL. As our Dakota Watson explained on Wednesday, his surgery and recovery could make him unavailable for 9-12 months. He’ll not only miss the Super Bowl against his old teammates, but will be fortunate to be ready in time for the beginning of the 2024 season.

Next week, I’ll have more about how Omenihu’s absence could affect the championship game. But for right now, let’s consider the offseason.

In 2024, defensive end Mike Danna will be a free agent. Following a career year in which he showed his value as a starting NFL defensive end, he be could worth $8-14 million per year — which might be more than the Chiefs want to pay. With both Omenihu and George Karlaftis available to begin the season, it would have been easier for Kansas City to let Danna walk.

Omenihu’s injury complicates all of that. Unless he has a terrible recovery process, he’s likely to play some (if not most or all) of the season. Barring unforeseen troubles, Omenihu will be back. But with what we now know, his availability for the beginning of the season is at least questionable.

Once Omenihu returns, however, it will be fair to question the quality of his play. It varies from athlete to athlete, of course, but it’s not uncommon for a player with an ACL injury to need a full year back on the field before they feel like themselves. Maybe Omenihu will do much better — but it’s fair to question whether he will be as impactful after the injury. How long will it take him to ramp up into shape? Could he be himself by the playoffs?

The Chiefs do, however, have some other options. Felix Anudike-Uzomah was selected in the first round of last spring’s NFL Draft. With Danna, Karlaftis, Omenihu and Jones commanding subpackage snaps at defensive end, finding reps for Anudike-Uzomah during his rookie season was always going to be difficult — but he could be a contributor in 2024. The same is true for lottery tickets like Malik Herring or B.J. Thompson.

Now that Omenihu could miss some of the final year of his deal, does re-signing Danna make more sense? Will it be worth investing in another starter-level player in case Omenihu isn’t able to perform as well in 2024? If the Chiefs can’t afford to keep Danna, could Anudike-Uzomah step in and produce? Based on what we saw of him this season, I wouldn’t feel great about that. But the question is still worth asking, because the Chiefs did invest a first-round pick in the former Kansas State defensive end.

Omenihu’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. It not only limits the Chiefs in the upcoming championship game, but is also likely to affect the defense next season. Hopefully, Omenihu quickly makes a full recovery — making these questions irrelevant — but history suggests these are all questions for which we will need answers.

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