- Justin Houston, LB: Six years, $101MM. $32.5MM guaranteed. Had been assigned franchise tag.
- Jeremy Maclin, WR: Five years, $55MM. $22.5MM guaranteed.
- Ron Parker, S: Five years, $25MM. $5.75MM guaranteed.
- Paul Fanaika, G: Three years, $6.15MM. $1.75MM guaranteed.
- Tyvon Branch, S: One year, $2.1MM. $1.07MM guaranteed.
- Kelcie McCray, S: Two years, $1.435MM. $75K guaranteed.
- Jason Avant, WR: One year, minimum salary benefit. $50K guaranteed.
- Richard Gordon, TE: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Vaughn Martin, DL: One year, minimum salary benefit.
The Chiefs’ offseason further improved on July 15 when they became the first team to agree to a deal with one of the disgruntled franchise-tagged stars, keeping Justin Houston on what is now far and away the standard for outside linebacker contracts. The fifth-year pass-rusher’s deal eclipses Clay Matthews‘ previous positional standard by more than $3MM per year. This keeps Houston, a 26-year-old former third-round pick, in Kansas City through his prime and also offloads some of his salary onto future ledgers, reducing the lump sum franchise tender that would’ve clogged the 2015 cap.
Negotiations appeared to have gotten somewhat acrimonious over the spring and summer, with the two sides reported to be far apart in discussions. Houston came within one sack of breaking Michael Strahan‘s now-14-year-old single-season standard last season in a monster contract-year performance, and arguably the best pure pass-pursuer in the league will anchor this unit for the decade’s remainder.
Prior to this move, the Chiefs already notched a fairly strong offseason that plugged at least one gaping hole when Jeremy Maclin agreed to terms, despite the team having entered the new league year with less than $7MM worth of cap space. Maclin provides an immense upgrade on the underachieving Dwayne Bowe, who collected exorbitant paychecks over the past two years as a result of being paid like a high-level No. 1 receiver due simply to the fact the team had no other options at the time of signing him to a five-year deal in 2013. Andy Reid‘s former disciple’s bounce-back from a torn ACL in the form of a 1,300-yard+ slate in 2014 illustrates just what kind of weapon Alex Smith will now have in Maclin, who is in his prime.
Although he was the No. 2 wideout to DeSean Jackson when he played under Reid from 2009-12 and has just one 1,000-yard showing on his resume, Maclin flourished as a No. 1 option last year and will represent the team’s best option as a go-to target since Tony Gonzalez departed six years ago.
While Smith’s risk-averse tendencies are well-documented and are perhaps an incurable part of his game at this point, the 11th-year quarterback wasn’t exactly equipped with weapons that would’ve induced him to pull the trigger consistently last season. Travis Kelce led the team in receiving yards with 862, and after Bowe’s mediocre 754-yard showing, Kansas City didn’t have a receiver gain more than 300 yards. How much the addition of Maclin will aid Smith depends on his willingness to test defenses with mid-range and deep passes, but he’s certainly in a better position than he’s been since arriving in Kansas City.
Working on a tight budget, the Chiefs did well to keep Ron Parker in Missouri by offering him the second-largest safety contract of the offseason, with only Devin McCourty‘s re-up in New England topping it. Parker filled in admirably for the ailing Eric Berry last season on the NFL’s second-best pass defense. This was fueled largely by the play of the Chiefs’ edge-rushers and Sean Smith‘s career-best campaign, but there’s now no reason the team cannot improve on it, with Parker, Berry and now Marcus Peters in the fold.
Parker’s five-year deal probably illustrated where the franchise thought Berry’s recovery was, but at least for this year, the team has a safety surplus. Paying Parker this kind of money does come with a risk, as the fifth-year veteran has less than one year of safety seasoning. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) didn’t rave about his work there, giving him by far the worst grade of the Chiefs’ three starting safeties last year. But should Berry’s triumphant return translate into regaining his old strong safety job, Parker or the underrated Husain Abdullah would be an overqualified backup and give defensive coordinator Bob Sutton extensive options in sub-packages that weren’t previously available in his initial two seasons under Reid.
Tyvon Branch furthers the Chiefs’ back-line numbers and could help in a depth role, but the former Raiders standout – who was recently cut due to playing just five games in the past two seasons – no longer serves as a reliable option. As a fourth safety, however? That’s an interesting luxury. With Berry’s recovery likely to feature smaller workloads to start the season, Branch could be needed to stabilize the corps.
- Donnie Avery, WR: Released
- Dwayne Bowe, WR: Released
- Kurt Coleman, S
- Anthony Fasano, TE: Released
- Thomas Gafford, LS
- Ryan Harris, T
- Rodney Hudson, C
- A.J. Jenkins, WR: Waived
- Jeff Linkenbach, G
- Joe Mays, LB: Released
- Sean McGrath, TE: Waived
- Mike McGlynn, OL
- Joe McKnight, RB
- Chris Owens, CB
- Kevin Vickerson, DE
- Vance Walker, DE: Released
- Justin Cox, CB: Waived
The other domino as part of the Chiefs’ most significant wide receiver makeover in years resulted in Bowe’s release. The 30-year-old ex-first-rounder did not remotely deliver on his monstrous pact. Kansas City moving on from the mercurial target did prove costly as a result of this contract, however, with a monstrous $9MM dead-money charge on its 2015 payroll.
It’s possible Bowe’s descent had some to do with the Chiefs’ quarterback play, with Matt Cassel and Smith not proving proficient at finding wideouts, but the Browns’ two-year, $12.5MM accord probably reflects the ninth-year target’s abilities at this point — and that may even be generous. But Cleveland is one of the few teams more in need of pass-catching help than the Chiefs, having lost Josh Gordon again.
In jettisoning Donnie Avery, a two-year starter in Kansas City, and first-round bust A.J. Jenkins, the Chiefs reacted appropriately to their receivers’ ignominious display in 2014. They still don’t have much behind Maclin, but the outlook is decidedly better.
Rodney Hudson will prove to be a more notable defection. The former Florida State center enjoyed a quality contract year, and the Raiders rewarded him in a way the Chiefs couldn’t, with Houston’s deal anchoring their offseason plans. Far and away the Chiefs’ best lineman last season, Hudson leaves a mostly middling collection of homegrown draft choices behind.
Receiving near-equal marks for his run- and pass-blocking performance from PFF, which tabbed the fifth-year stalwart as its third-best snapper, Hudson gives way to either rookie Mitch Morse or untested Eric Kush. With players like Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson failing to impress much their multi-year starting tenures, Hudson’s exit — which comes a year after Branden Albert‘s and Geoff Schwartz‘s — increases the burden on Jamaal Charles.
Arguably the NFL’s most talented open-field runner, the 28-year-old Charles is coming off his worst season in five years as a starter (discounting the 2011 slate ended by a torn ACL). In 15 games, Charles’ 1,033 yards were more than 250 worse than any of the seasons he’s been the team’s top back for a whole season. The Chiefs are counting on their maligned holdovers to improve, or another of their premier weapon’s prime years won’t be maximized. The starting quintet’s issues also at least partially contributed to Smith’s inability to connect with a wideout in or near the end zone, so a lot rides on certain players’ developing.
- Acquired G Ben Grubbs from the Saints in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick.
- Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 76; WR Chris Conley) from the Vikings in exchange for a 2015 third-round pick (No. 80) and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 193; DL B.J. Dubose).
The Chiefs essentially swapped Hudson for Ben Grubbs as their interior line’s anchor, and the latter is now the only Chiefs starting lineman with a positive Pro Football Focus seasonal grade to his credit.
Slightly scrutinized last year after a Pro Bowl 2013 campaign, Grubbs is an upgrade in Kansas City. He’s incredibly durable, having missed just four games in eight seasons, and at 31 still has some productive years left. Grubbs represents an enormous upgrade from Mike McGlynn, who managed to be PFF’s worst guard for the second time in his career. Shortly after acquiring Grubbs, the Chiefs extended his contract by two years in exchange for reducing his 2015 cap number, again, to help negotiate the cap amid Houston’s new deal.
This exchange probably proved worthwhile, with Grubbs putting together borderline-dominant seasons for two different franchises from 2009-13. With the finances the Chiefs were working with, using second- and fifth-round picks on linemen that will likely start for multiple seasons together is about as good as could be expected.
John Dorsey‘s semi-overhaul here, however, remains contingent on his first pick as GM (Fisher) and at least one from Scott Pioli‘s last draft (Allen and Stephenson were 2012 second- and third-rounders, respectively) developing into competent performers. Using a cluster of high picks on linemen in such a short time frame doesn’t leave many outs if all of them struggle, as replacements would drain funds that need to be used for the roster’s other needs.
Extensions and restructures:
- Tamba Hali, LB: Accepted pay cut, creating $7MM in cap space by reducing 2015 base salary from $9MM to $6MM and adding four voidable years to the end of the contract to spread out $5MM signing bonus. Deal will now void after 2016 Super Bowl. Hali can earn $3MM back via sack-related incentives.
- Mike DeVito, DE: Accepted pay cut, creating $2.5MM in cap space by reducing 2015 base salary from $3.75MM to $870K (fully guaranteed) and his $250K workout bonus to $30K. Can earn $300K in per-game roster bonuses and up to $1.2MM in playing time- and team performance-based incentives.
Tamba Hali‘s Chiefs tenure continues for at least one more season thanks to this restructuring, so he’ll have a fifth year to team up with Houston to form a top-tier pass-rushing duo. Houston’s right-edge counterpart will be 32 in less than three months, but the 10th-year performer remains one of the more underrated quarterback-disrupting forces in the game. Hali’s played and started at least 15 games in every season of his career and turned in multiple monster campaigns, with his 2010 14.5-sack showing rating as one of PFF’s highest-rated outings by a 3-4 outside backer at +53.5, which tops even this last season from Houston.
The only Herm Edwards-era first-rounder left on the team after Bowe’s release, Hali registered just six sacks last season, and with the aforementioned $9MM base wage due this year, some thought he’d have to look for work elsewhere. But this renegotiation leaves Hali with just a $4.9MM cap number in 2015 and a mere $1MM hit next season. This leaves Dee Ford in an interesting spot, with the 2014 first-rounder not playing much as a rookie (122 snaps) and set to spend each of his first two years marginalized behind the longtime tandem.
It’s a good problem to have for the Chiefs, but they eschewed vital receiving help in a receiver-flooded draft to place a pass-rusher on the bench. Without a second-round pick for two years due to the Alex Smith trade, the Chiefs have not received much from the two first-rounders in those drafts.
Along with the return of Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito agreeing to a reduced salary could help a run defense than ranked 28th last season immensely. With Vance Walker now in Denver, DeVito regaining most of the pre-Achilles’ tendon tear form is fairly critical. Kansas City does not have much depth at this position behind starters DeVito and Allen Bailey.
- 1-18: Marcus Peters, CB (Washington): Signed
- 2-49: Mitch Morse, OL (Missouri): Signed
- 3-76: Chris Conley, WR (Georgia): Signed
- 3-98: Steven Nelson, CB (Oregon State): Signed
- 4-118: Ramik Wilson, OLB (Georgia): Signed
- 5-172: D.J. Alexander, OLB (Oregon State): Signed
- 5-173: James O’Shaughnessy, TE (Illinois State): Signed
- 6-217: Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT (Southern Miss): Signed
- 7-233: Da’Ron Brown, WR (Northern Illinois): Signed
Finally equipped with their full allotment of selections, the Chiefs filled needs early. Although cornerback wasn’t the Chiefs’ biggest need, Peters could be an impact player across from Sean Smith when the veteran returns from a three-game ban. Kansas City’s already-loaded pass defense has upgraded almost across the board.
A rather notable character risk in having been booted from Washington last season, Peters picked off 11 career passes in three years. The ex-Husky looks to start across from 2014 third-rounder Phillip Gaines in Weeks 1-3 and play extensively still after the team’s No. 1 corner returns. The 6-foot Peters’ ball-hawking ability becomes vital to a Chiefs squad that, while still dominant vs. air strikes, snagged only six interceptions last season. ESPN.com’s Adam Teicher is already adamant the rookie should be an instant starter over Gaines.
Mitch Morse is among the latest college tackles immediately thrust into interior-line duty, following in the footsteps of T.J. Lang and Kelechi Osemele. A center, right tackle and left tackle for Mizzou in successive seasons, Morse, who performed the second-most bench press reps among offensive fronters at the NFL Combine with 36, probably receives the nod over Kush at center. This means four homegrown players who are all 26 or younger will take the field together in Week 1.
Each of the Chiefs’ AFC West rivals is planning to start two of their own draft choices up front (technically, Denver drafted Harris, but he played for two teams in between stints), which makes Kansas City’s investment interesting. Stephenson’s suspension and Allen’s season-ending injury halted this plan last season, so the team will once and for all see what it has in these high picks.
Chris Conley and Steven Nelson are currently deep backups that profile as projects. Conley finished just 13th in SEC receiving yards last season, albeit with an 18.3 yards-per-catch figure. He fits in with some of the unproven commodities vying for time alongside Maclin, a list also including Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas.
- Exercised 2015 fifth-year option for DT Dontari Poe ($6.146MM).
- Signed 14 players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 11 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
- Sean Smith suspended three games for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy
Smith’s suspension will test Gaines and Peters and force veteran Jamell Fleming into a key role. Sutton could get creative and play Parker in the slot on downs where Berry lines up at safety (if the team deems him ready for action this early), however. Up for a third contract before age 29, Smith will receive plenty of interest despite this incident. But further trouble could bring his price and/or contract length down.
Although currently uncertain for Week 1 with a herniated disc that shelved him for all of training camp, Poe may be the Chiefs’ second-most vital defender behind Houston. Kansas City locking him up at this price for next year was an easy decision. The odds of Poe leaving Kansas City are slim, probably slimmer than Smith at this point.
Even with Smith and Berry’s contracts coming off the books, the two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle probably occupies the largest font on the various offseason-based emails the front office exchanges.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Alex Smith, QB: $15,600,000
- Dwayne Bowe, WR: $8,894,118 (dead money)
- Eric Berry, S: $8,357,700
- Jamaal Charles, RB: $7,970,835
- Sean Smith, CB: $7,750,000
- Eric Fisher, LT: $6,051,954
- Derrick Johnson, LB: $5,250,000
- Justin Houston, OLB: $5,100,000
- Tamba Hali, OLB: $4,964,706
- Chase Daniel, QB: $4,800,000
The Chiefs almost certainly improved this offseason, and if their offensive line can take a step forward, this is a contender for a home playoff game. Defensively, the Chiefs have enough to throw wrenches into the Broncos’ and Chargers’ aerial plans.
Whether or not their offense can do the same will determine the team’s trajectory.