JASON BROWN: Chiefs’ hot start to free agency appears to have fizzled
It has been about a week since the Kansas City Chiefs opened the new league year and free agency period with the signings of offensive guards Joe Thuney and Kyle Long, signifying an attempt to redeem the previous cuts of tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz.
While those signings didn’t exactly address the holes left by Fisher and Schwartz, adding Thuney and Long bolstered an interior offensive line that was, in reality, just scraping by in previous seasons.
Prior to those signings, the cuts and restructures of Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones freed up nearly $20 million in salary-cap space. When the details of Thuney’s deal was announced, his cap hit for 2021 came in near $5 million – due to a signing bonus wiping out the remainder of annual value – it became clear the Chiefs intended to go after Trent Williams, an offensive tackle who previously played for the San Francisco 49ers. Williams wanted to be the highest paid offensive tackle in football and the Chiefs were prepared to make it happen but Williams ended up sticking with 49ers on a similar offer. Shortly after missing out on Williams, the Chiefs announced a deal with the previously retired Long which was initially announced as one season and $5 million but later revealed to be just a $1.5 million cap hit.
With those deals coming in with low cap hits, it seemed like the Chiefs were poised to sign some more impact players in the coming days.
That was not the case.
We have watched the top players at nearly every position of need for the Chiefs sign deals elsewhere as free agency is going into its 10th day. In addition to missing out on Williams, they never really had a shot at other offensive line targets like C Corey Linsley or LT Riley Reiff. Instead, they settled on bringing back Mike Remmers to compete with Lucas Niang at right tackle, and left tackle is still a wide open hole. At this point, the club is relying on finding a solid player in the draft, signing a veteran like Russell Okung or making an unforeseen trade to fill a very important position.
Unless they resign Austin Reiter, they will be in a similar predicament at the center position, which makes it hard to believe a deal won’t get done between the two parties.
With Sammy Watkins leaving the team, an addition at wide receiver made a lot of sense but has not been in the cards so far. They brought back Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson but that doesn’t address the production Watkins had unless Mecole Hardman plans on breaking out this year.
Many of the available receivers have already signed and of them all, the most puzzling is Juju Smith-Schuster, who resigned with the Pittsburgh Steelers for less money than both the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens offered. After this happened, the idea that players were willing to take one-year deals in Kansas City started to change. Smith-Schuster clearly could benefit more from playing with Mahomes as compared to a declining Ben Roethlisberger but he cited the factor of relocating in his decision. He probably isn’t the only available player thinking this way either. Is it worth moving for one season, learning a new playbook, adapting to new protocols and everything else involved with changing organizations, just for a better chance at winning a Super Bowl?
Coming into the offseason, a lot of the philosophy around improving this team involved attracting players to accept one-year deals here with the prospect of playing with Mahomes and possibly winning a championship. This wasn’t just the fans thinking so positively either. General manager Brett Veach said he believes players want to play with Mahomes and compete for titles here and it’s hard to believe that is the case at this point in the offseason.
Outside of Thuney and Long, the Chiefs have added just one player that wasn’t with the team last season and that was tight end Blake Bell, who was with the Chiefs in 2019 and is not a real answer as Travis Kelce’s backup.
That isn’t a very satisfying feeling, especially with options for how to use all of the freed-up cap space becoming limited. Not to sound negative, but bringing back Daniel Sorensen, Ben Niemann and Nick Keizer are very unexciting moves. It is good that they brought back CB Charvarius Ward and DE Taco Charlton but their positions still need to be addressed in other ways.
They’ll need about $7 million to sign their draft picks in May but if Tyrann Mathieu completes a rumored restructure, the club will still have close to $20 million available.
If the Chiefs are unable to make moves to bolster their offensive tackles, linebackers and defensive ends in the remainder of free agency, they will need a nearly perfect draft if they hope to fill those positions that way.
It is probably the worst year to need a perfect draft in a year without a league combine and coming off a hectic college football season, so Veach will have his hands full picking toward the end of nearly every round.
Jason Brown is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at email@example.com