The backlash this organization felt from failing to land future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning in free agency (or, sadly, even get him to talk to us) is real and painful. It’s miserable that we were the better option for his talents than all four teams he visited and gave serious consideration to. As we sat on the sidelines, asking for permission to talk, but shut out of the game early and, in the media, often.
As a result, some fans might want to fix this particular hole in their heart by piling onto GM Scott Pioli.
The Chiefs are being built the right way; the Draft is the primary building block with contributing pieces being added in free agency. Peyton Manning was a once-in-a-generation opportunity that the Chiefs absolutely had to try, but their failure to get a bite from the Manning camp will lead to too many fans asking for other big-splash free agents instead.
Pioli and the Chiefs should stay the course, and resist overreacting. Stay true to the method of drafting well and seeking “value” above any and all players in free agency.
In that spirit, I’m offering several players that haven’t yet been signed that I think would improve the team in this regard. With one exception, they are all “value” acquisitions who can yield great returns that outpay their contracts.
You will not see Peyton Manning (may he rest in pieces in Denver), Mario Williams, or even Eric Winston mentioned. I’m going for role players who can subtly improve this team in ways only a methodical, value-treasuring GM can.
They are numbered one through 10 in order of how badly I want them in a Chiefs uniform in 2012:
1. NT Paul Soliai, Dolphins
Once again, I am not a believer that you build through free agency, but just as I carved out an exception for Manning, I will similarly excuse this rule from applying to Soliai, a 6’4″, 355 lbs block of granite that clogged running lanes for several years in Miami. Miami has allowed Soliai to hit the market since he no longer fits their defense (though it should be noted the Dolphins are fighting to retain him).
Soliai is the only free agent on the market (now that Manning is surely no longer a future Chief) that would truly break my heart if we were unable to land him. He has multiple years of experience manning the nose tackle in the two-gap, Romeo Crennel-style 3-4 defense, and doing it well. You simply do not get those players on the market, and you never get them in the draft.
Because of that, he won’t be had for a bargain. But he’s worth betting the farm for. If nothing else, Pioli and owner Clark Hunt are in need of a big win to make up for the Manning disaster. And they can finally lock down a position that’s vexed them for a couple years now.
Sign him! 5 years, $40 million total, $18 million guaranteed.
2. RB Mike Tolbert, Chargers
Tolbert may be visiting the Chiefs as we speak, and there’s been plenty of talk about him already on this blog, so I’ll keep this short. Unlike other big backs on the market (Michael Bush, Peyton Hillis), Tolbert is not injury prone. He’s also got more zip around the edge, and runs with more pure fury than either runner (Hillis’ fire went out a season ago).
I see Bush and Hillis as rotational big backs. Tolbert can truly carry the load.
Sign him! 3 years, $12 million total, $3 million guaranteed.
3. ILB London Fletcher, Redskins
Conventional wisdom is that the Redskins will work their tails off to re-sign their defensive captain. But what if I told you that the Redskins were restricted by over $30 million in cap space due to cap abuses, and that Fletcher is coming off the best tackling season of his career?
I’d say that he’s a candidate to hit the market. And while he is an elderly 37 years old, he is the definition of consistency, leadership on the field, and leading by example in the locker room. I would prefer the Chiefs to scoop up Fletcher to flesh out their ILB rotation with Jovan Belcher and Derrick Johnson.
Pioli has shown a propensity for making a run at talented players with great track records as their best seasons are way behind them, as cheap signings, as well as for their leadership. Fletcher would be the defense’s Thomas Jones, assuming we can sign him for what would have to be a similar deal.
Sign him!: 2 years, $7 million total, $2.5 million guaranteed.
4. OT Anthony Collins, Bengals
This is the perfect time to make a move on newly freed tackle Collins. Right now, everybody in the league (including the Chiefs) are interested in Texans tackle Eric Winston. Collins’ value will never be lower while this carousel goes on, which could play into our hands if the Chiefs make a move for him.
Collins is an athletic tackle with some left tackle ability should you need one in a pinch. His run blocking is strong but his passblocking is on par with virtually every other right tackle that’s hit the market this offseason. There’s a reason PFF was trumpeting him as a good fit for the Chiefs at the team’s perilous right tackle situation.
Sign him before Collins signs, because his worth will spike immediately afterwards.
Sign him!: 3 years, $13 million total, $2 million guaranteed.
5. QB Chad Henne, Dolphins
The truth is, so long as Peyton Manning remains out of the Chiefs’ grasp, there is no starting QB for the Chiefs in free agency. Matt Flynn is a two-game wonder who hasn’t received a phone call from his former QB coach in Miami. Avoid. Kyle Orton has signed with the Cowboys.
So long as there is no starting QB that the Chiefs can acquire, let’s buy low on a guy with some upside to challenge incumbent starter QB Matt Cassel. Henne has shown some flashes before that show he is slowly wrapping his head around the game, and current offensive coordinator Brian Daboll certainly knows how to utilize him.
The best case scenario is we can apply pressure on Cassel from behind on the depth chart. The worst case scenario is that we have a solid backup guy for the inevitable game or two that Cassel misses.
Sign him! 2 years, $9 million total, $2 million guaranteed.
6. FB Le’Ron McClain, Chiefs
We all know Le’Ron plenty well here in Kansas City. I have no faith in secon-year Yale fullback Shane Bannon (even though he hails from the same elementary school I do), and I felt like McClain is the feisty presence this offense sorely needs.
Sign him!: 1 year, $1.75 million total.
7. WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts
By all accounts, Gonzalez is a very talented receiver. He’s heady, runs good routes, and has pretty good speed. He can play pretty effectively in the slot and can line up on the outside. But he’s most famous for not being remotely able to see the field because of extreme injury concerns.
The good news is, the Chiefs are in a position to buy low on Gonzalez. Law of averages means he’s gotta have a healthy season, eventually, right? Beside, you can sign him to a one-year deal for no risk. No other team really wants to sign him for any guaranteed money because of the injury risk. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are already solid at receiver, and would be mostly benign if his health problems continue.
Sign him!: 1 year, $1 million total.
8. TE Martellus Bennett, Cowboys
With the two tight end sets becoming vogue in the NFL, bringing Bennett in would be an interesting experiment. After looking like he was primed to be a strong receiving threat in this league, Bennett simply couldn’t get playing time behind Jason Witten as was plagued by concerns around his intelligence and work ethic. But his talents are clear: he is a gazelle more than he is a workhorse, and his long, lanky frame make him a great red zone target.
Bennett might not command that much money on the free market because of these problems he’s had, and the Chiefs already have a premier tight end of the future in Tony Moeaki. But some security in case Mo goes down with injury again makes sense.
Sign him!: 2 years, $3.5 million total.
9. OLB Matt Roth, Jaguars
The Chiefs had their prayers answered in 2011 when third-round rookie Justin Houston turned into the passrushing force this team has needed across from Hali late in the season. While this position remains a strength on the starting roster, none of the multitude of players the Chiefs have on the bench seem to be able to fill in should either go out. Andy Studebaker misses tackles. Cameron Sheffield can’t get onto the field or into the backfield. And Gabe Miller was Colin Brown’d onto injured reserve.
Depth is needed at this position, and the Chiefs don’t have it. Roth, however, makes for a great blue-collar backup. He’s not going to get double-digit sacks any season, in any circumstance, but he will play well in run defense and provide a better semblence of passrushing than any of the aforementioned backups.
Sign him!: 3 years, $8 million total, $1 million guaranteed.
10. S Brodney Pool, Jets
I advocated for the Chiefs to sign Pool last year, but the Jets brought him back on board. That’s probably enough precedent for me to conclude that this is a foolish mission to write about, but Pool can serve as the solution to a lot of the problems this team has at safety depth. Pool can play both positions, and serves as better depth at these positions than any of the players we put out last year (Langford, Piscitelli, McGraw, Washington).
Sign him!: 1 year, $2 million total.