Dec 4, 2011; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Marion Barber (24) runs past Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Jovan Belcher: The Forgotten (Restricted) Free Agent

With all the talk about the impending free agency of CB Brandon Carr and WR Dwayne Bowe, I fear that many Chiefs fans have overlooked the fact that another starter, Jovan Belcher, is set to be a restricted free agent. That means the Chiefs control Belcher’s rights and can offer him a tender. If Belcher signs the tender, he can be courted by other teams, though the Chiefs will have the right to match any offers he receives. Depending on tender the Chiefs offer, they would receive draft picks from any team wishing to sign Belcher away.

Belcher certainly isn’t as flashy a name as Bowe or Carr but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an important part of the defense.

KC fans seem to be rather lukewarm in their opinions of Belcher. He doesn’t possess the athletic ability of fellow ILB Derrick Johnson. He doesn’t make many flashy plays. There are few sacks and even fewer interceptions. I think if polled, most would agree that Belcher is fine but that he could be upgraded.

Belcher is an under-the-radar guy. We don’t find ourselves talking about him very much. This could be a good or a bad thing considering your point of view. Is it bad that we don’t see Belcher making a lot of big plays or good that we don’t see him blowing plays a la “Shabby” Sabby Piscitelli?

How good is Belcher? Can he get better or has he reached his ceiling. More importantly, what exactly does Belcher do on defense? Might there be a reason for his lack of eye-popping statistics?

Let’s take a closer look with our friends at Pro Football Focus!

They way I decided to break this down is by addressing some of the common comments we often hear in relation to Belcher. We’ll take those statements and look at the numbers to determine how true they really are. When we are done, we may perhaps have a better idea of Jovan’s value.

1. Belcher is good against the run.

Is he?

Yes, he is.

Belcher played 662 snaps for Kansas City on defense in 2011 and 414 of those snaps were running plays.

Of the 50 ILBs (3-4 or 4-3 defenses) that played at least 25 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, Belcher was graded out as the 18th best run-stopper with a +9.2 mark.

The best ILB against the run in the NFL?

Derrick Johnson, who ties with  NaVorro Bowman at +19.4.

2. Belcher can’t cover.

No, he can’t.

Of the same 50 ILBs, Belcher came in at number 47 with a grade of -6.8.

3. Belcher is a liability in coverage.

Not really.

While Belcher isn’t a guy you want dropping into coverage to handle a TE or even probably a running back, he just doesn’t do it.

Belcher was targeted only 20 times all season long. Sure, he allowed 17 catches but only one TD. I wouldn’t say that is enough to call Belcher a liability. The fact of the matter is that the Chiefs get Belcher out of the game for passing plays. He played only 213 snaps that were passes. Of those, Belcher rushed the passer 35 times coming up empty in the sack department.

In the end, Belcher was targeted about 1.24 times per game in coverage. He gave up just over one catch per game for an average of 12.5 yards per catch. In fact, Belcher was never targeted more than two times in 2012. Of the six games he was targeted twice, in four of them one of the passes fell incomplete.

Belcher may not be great in coverage but he is so rarely in coverage that he isn’t costing the Chiefs games. At best, he’s costing them one cheap first down a game.

Belcher’s job is to play the run and his grades indicate he is slightly above average at doing so.

From the team’s perspective, however, that may not be enough. If the team wants a more complete player, Belcher could be replaced.

So will the Chiefs re-sign Belcher or tender him?

Sure the team has re-signed Brandon Siler but considering Siler has yet to play a regular season game for the Chiefs I wouldn’t necessarily call him a reliable replacement for Belcher. Jovan has been starting for two seasons in KC and signed as an undrafted free agent and made only $480K last season. He likely wants to get paid starters’ money which could be slowing the contract talks, especially if the Chiefs think they can replace him with someone better.

If we are to believe Pro Football Weekly, that is just what the Chiefs plan to do. The following is from Jan. 13.

A Chiefs starter who might be out of a first-team role next season is ILB Jovan Belcher. Despite Belcher having finished second on the team in tackles with 87, there is a belief the team will try to upgrade the spot next to star ILB Derrick Johnson next season. Brandon Siler, who was placed on I.R. in training camp, just signed a one-year extension with the team, and inside ‘backer is expected to be a position the team targets in the upcoming draft. Belcher, who went undrafted out of Maine in 2009, was called “an impressive player considering where he came from” by a team insider, who also added “but Belcher just isn’t very good overall.”

My guess is that the Chiefs would like to keep Belcher but probably at a much more reasonable contract than Belcher thinks he deserves given his last two seasons starting. This puts the team in a bind because to keep Belcher they might have to pay him starters’ money to eventually play backup and while the Chiefs can technically afford to do so, it wouldn’t be a very smart move. As such, the team will likely tender him, probably at a 2nd round level and see if anyone is interested.

What do you think, Addicts? Will the team re-sign Belcher or tender him? More importantly, are they foolish for believing he’ll be so easily replaceable?

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