Nose Tackle: Let's Kick Some Tires

It’s entirely possible that by the time this article appears, one or more of these nose tackles will have been spirited off the market.  It’s possible the Chiefs will have signed one of them.  It’s possible Shaun Smith has gone elsewhere…  So if that’s the case, I apologize.  This was written last night. 

But I thought it would be worth the trouble to examine the best names still left on the NT sweepstakes, and for you to peruse the list.  Because I think once you do, you’ll come to one of three conclusions, based on what you think the Chiefs need the most for 2011.

My personal conclusion is at the very bottom of this post.  For now, let’s meet the contestants.

NT Pat Williams, Vikings

Age: 38
6’3″, 317 lbs, but looks to be about 330.
Quality years left: One, maybe. Williams is the oldest defensive player in the NFL.
Previous contract:
Was a three year extension worth $22 million back in 2007.
Williams has been to the Pro Bowl three times, but hasn’t been back in the past two seasons.  His play dipped pretty hard in 2010.  He was routinely owned by the better guards that he faced.  He is, however, an enthusiastic run stopper, and has openly admitted to wanting to plug the NT hole here in Kansas City.  Usually gets a couple sacks a season.
If we sign him: 
It’s a buyer beware type deal.  What he’ll do is give us a warm body and an enthusiastic locker room presense, and an outstanding mentor for Jerrell Powe.  What he won’t give us is a consistent block of granite, and he’ll probably wear down towards the end of the year (which may work, if Powe comes along).  The Chiefs could probably sign him to a medium-priced one-year deal, and would be back in the NT sweepstakes in 2012.

Hoke, Gregg, Franklin, and our own Shaun Smith, after the jump.

NT Chris Hoke, Steelers

Age: 35
Dimensions: 6’2″, 305 lbs
Quality years left:
Two years.  Hoke has been a reserve and a backup in Pittsburgh, and has tread left on his tires.
Previous contract:
A four year deal worth $6 million back in 2007. 
Hoke is the kind of guy Pioli was looking for the past couple of years, when he wanted to bring in proven winners with worker bee mentality.  Hoke entered the league as an UDFA and has played superbly as a reserve in the Steelers system.  The Steelers have faced zero drop in quality when Hampton goes down with injury.  He excels particularly at occupying blockers for interior run plays, but might as well sit out for pass plays.
If we sign him: 
He could definitely start for the team in 2011, and could probably contribute heavily deep into 2012 and beyond.  He’s a smart player that utilizes space very well, and forces offensive lines to double him.  He could make for a decent mentor for Powe.  The Chiefs could sign him to a bargain bin deal right now for one or two years, and he’d allow us to be choosier in the NT market in 2012 if we wish to be.

NT Kelly Gregg, Ravens

Age: 34
Dimensions: A more-fit-than-fat 6’0″, 320 lbs.
Quality years left:  One, in a limited role only.
Previous contract: 
A four year deal worth $20.3 million back in 2007.
Of all the guys on this list, Gregg is the one whose success may be tied most closely to the team he was on.  Having played with the core of the Ravens defense for years, he developed a special bond with many of his teammates, the kind of bond that elevates your play and allows you to build on and benefit from the ability of your teammates.  Age has worn him down, and his precipitous drop in run-stopping and passrushing was masked by the beast that is Haloti Ngata.  
If we sign him: 
He’d probably end up the starter, but it’d be about a wash with Ron Edwards, and a drop-off from Shaun Smith.  But relying on him too much could be folly; it’s hard to see how he’ll play in a foreign city, segregated from his good friends back in Baltimore.  At best, he should be used sparingly, and won’t be much of a mentor for Powe.  The Chiefs could sign him for virtually nothing right now, but we’d almost certainly be back in the market a year from now.  He’ll cost us nothing either way.

NT Aubrayo Franklin, 49ers

Age: 30
Dimensions: 6’1″, 320 lbs
Quality years left:  As many as his will desires.
Previous contract: 
It doesn’t matter.  He’s the lone wolf on the market right now, and will command top five money.  That equals out to a $10 million signing bonus, and a five-year deal worth roughly $8 million a year.
Franklin is among the league’s best run-stoppers the past couple of years, a fact that gets lost on the media because the 49ers have been such a dreadful team.  Franklin is a reliable block of granite in the middle of the line, but has absolutely no interest in passrushing, totaling four sacks in seven years in the league.  He is a two-down player.  As ready as he is to leave San Francisco, he can probably be relied upon to live up to expectations, but not his gargantuan contract, the next few years.
If we sign him: 
We will be halfway to fulfilling our cap obligations for 2011, for starters.  Our defense will finally have the stud nose guard it’s needed since day one, though the passrush will almost certainly have to come from virtually every other player on your defense, not him.  Given his age and his contract, the Chiefs will be forced out of the nose tackle market for the next several years at least, if not the next four or five — so if he busts, you’re busted.  He will not be much of a mentor to Jerrell Powe at all, but he’d take virtually all pressure off of him.

NT Shaun Smith, Chiefs

Age:  29
Dimensions:  6’2″, 325 lbs
Quality years left:  Three or four.
Previous contract:  One-year deal worth a couple million.
Performance:  Smith has been reborn in Kansas City.  Once a player known to be a weak-motor, gutter-character guy, he miraculously evolved into a defensive leader and a tireless plugger in the Chiefs 3-4 defense.  He played at DE, but his awful passrush and sturdy run defense makes him a good fit at the nose.  He gives your defensive line a fantastically nasty attitude.
If we sign him:  It will require a several-year deal that, if too large, would remove us from the nose tackle market for a couple years.  It’s reasonable to expect him to repeat his performance from 2010 if he stayed in Kansas City.  He would be a strong mentor to Powe, and if nothing else could provide some flexibility at defensive end if we were hurting there.

My Conclusion

This is typically a very hard position to fill through any other way but the draft, but at least we’ve got options. 

Option A: You are of the opinion that the Chiefs are on the way to being built the way they need to be, but aren’t that close just yet.  They aren’t going to be a playoff team in 2011, and should be building for the future, in which case Chris Hoke makes the most sense.  None of these players are good bets to be stalwarts from 2011 on, not even Franklin.  Hoke is as reliable and bust-free as you’re going to get, and can allow the Chiefs to take a better stab at the position in 2012.

Option B: You are of the opinion that the Chiefs can compete for a playoff run right now (not just making the playoffs, winning in the playoffs), but are one or two major pieces away, one of which is the nose.  Aubrayo Franklin is clearly the option here, as he provides the highest ceiling and the best talent on the market, and you’re willing to pay top dollar for him — top dollar that will preclude you from making too many big splashes over the next couple of years.

Option C: You are of the opinion that the Chiefs pretty much look the way they need to as of this instant, but will need a year or two to mature the youth on this team, and cycle in occasional talent.  Taking Shaun Smith is the absolute best option here, as he allows the team to be picky with regards to future NTs, but won’t preclude them from wading into the market there if they wanted to.

I’m of the belief that Option C is the most sensible, and I endorse bringing back Shaun Smith above all other options here.  But I would understand a move for either Hoke or Franklin.  Pat Williams or Kelly Gregg would both be mistakes.

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