Last week we began this two-part article by taking a look at the offensive options available in the forthcoming free agency period. On the chance that you missed last Tuesday’s article, take a moment to get up to speed. For the rest of you, let’s pick up where we left off and look at defensive players scheduled to hit the open market.
For all of the praise heaped upon the Chiefs’ defense in the first half of 2013, it might still be the unit that needs the most attention this offseason. Kansas City has three starters and several key contributors who are pending free agents. Among them are: Tyson Jackson, Kendrick Lewis, Akeem Jordan, Frank Zombo, Husain Abdullah, and Quintin Demps. The surrender of 28 second half points, in a playoff loss to the Colts, amplifies the idea that the defense needs a few upgrades.
Without further ado, here are the defensive options the Chiefs should consider in the 2014 free agency class. Remember while this list is numbered, the players aren’t in any particular order.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that despite marked improvement, Tyson Jackson won’t return to the Chiefs in 2014. There’s some question as to whether or not he improved enough to warrant a new deal. I’m convinced that John Dorsey can identify a comparable replacement at a cheaper price. Kansas City has a pair of young defensive ends in the cupboard, but neither of them are proven commidities.
1. Corey Wootton (Chicago Bears)
The fourth-year man out of Northwestern, playing as the under tackle in their 4-3 scheme, became a full-time starter in 2013. His pass-rushing numbers saw a decline, but he’s a 26-year old football player will room left to grow. Wootton would play defensive end in Kansas City and be a suitable alternative to Tyson Jackson (should the Chiefs allow him to become an unrestricted free agent). Wootton could stand to bulk up a bit, but is stout at the point and is an above-average run defender. He’s probably a slight upgrade over Jackson where it concerns a passrushing skillset. Wootton has 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons (compared to just 7 for Jackson). The major concern with Wootton is the hip surgery he had earlier in the month. He isn’t expected to return to football activities until right around the time that teams open training camps.
2. Matt Shaughnessy (Arizona Cardinals)
Shaughnessy is a player the Kansas City Chiefs are familiar with. He spent four years in the AFC West with the Oakland Raiders (from 2009-2012). He recorded 15.5 sacks during his Bay Area stay, before joining the Arizona Cardinals last season. Shaughnessy suffered a shoulder injury early in 2011 that caused him to miss that entire season. When he returned in 2012, it was clear that while he’d recovered enough to play, he hadn’t returned to form. He was better in 2013 and proved that he’s ready to play at a high level again in this league. Shaughnessy’s coming off of a one-year deal with the Cards and shouldn’t command heavy coin on the open market this year either.
3. Mike Neal (Green Bay Packers)
Neal is an intriguing option at defensive end for Kansas City. At just 27 years old, he’s still in the prime of his playing career. Last season, he cut nearly 20 pounds and was moved from end to outside linebacker. That versatility would be beneficial to this defense. He’s a bit like Chiefs’ rookie Mike Catapano in that he can stand up or play with a hand on the ground. Green Bay has more than a half-dozen notable players scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Neal won’t be a high priority on that list so there’s a good chance he’ll play for a new team in 2014. Injuries have been an issue in the past, but a healthy Mike Neal would prevent a big dropoff at defensive end (if Jackson defects).
The ILB spot, next to Derrick Johnson, seems to be one that’s been unsettled for years now. The two most recent starters there are the late Jovan Belcher and his successor Akeem Jordan. The latter’s one of Kansas City’s pending free agents this offseason. Jordan was a serviceable option at the position, but I’m not sure he’s the answer. The Chiefs also have young Nico Johnson in the fold, but it remains to be seen if he can step in and play effectively in that role.
1. Brandon Spikes (New England Patriots)
Brandon Spikes is the kind of player the Chiefs could use in the middle of their defense. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the highest-rated inside linebacker in run support two years running. Adding him to Kansas City’s linebacking corps would be a tremendous way to aid a defense that struggled all season with stopping the run. Spikes will be returning from a PCL injury in 2014. The good news is that it wasn’t grave enough to require surgery. Spikes had a consultation with Dr. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and he’s been told that the ligament should heal on its own. There was some controversy behind him being placed on injured-reserve. There’s been talk that Spikes didn’t consent to being placed on IR and that a missed practice may also have contributed to the team’s decision. Put a bookmark there because that may have sealed his departure from Foxboro.
2. Akeem Jordan (Kansas City Chiefs)
The former Philadelphia Eagle joined the Chiefs as part of their free agent class just last year. Jordan had a respectable performance in 2013, registering 67 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. Unfortunately, he’s still just a middling player who doesn’t resolve the question the Chiefs have had at inside linebacker for a few years now. Jordan’s a liability in coverage so he’s limited in the number of downs he can play per defensive series. The Chiefs drafted Nico Johnson, who they hope is the answer to their prayers, but it’s still unknown if he can play effectively in the role. Despite his limitations, Akeem Jordan will be one of the most talented and affordable ILB’s available in March.
Free safety is easily the most pressing need for the Chiefs’ defense in 2014. Of all of the pending free agents, I think Kendrick Lewis is the most likely not to return next season. His decline has been sharp and he might be the most maligned player in all of Chiefs Kingdom. Lewis was routinely out of position in 2013, lacks recovery speed, tackles poorly, and tends to take bad angles to the ballcarrier. Sanders Commings should return from his injury last year, but it’s tough to say how effective he’ll be until the real bullets start flying. Until such time, safety is another position where there will be lots of help available in free agency.
1. Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills)
Byrd will be one of the most highly sought after defensive players in all of free agency this offseason. He’s the crown jewel of coverage safeties in the National Football League. No safety has more interceptions since he was drafted in 2009 (22). In a shortened season in 2013, where he played only 11 games, he still had 4 interceptions. Byrd could become one of the highest paid safeties in the NFL in a few months. The Chiefs aren’t in any real position to win a bidding war for his services, but having him would turn a good defense into an elite defense. Byrd is as complete a safety in this league as you’ll find and next to Eric Berry would be a wet dream for members of the Kingdom.
2. Husain Abdullah (Kansas City Chiefs)
Abdullah rebounded well from a full year away from the NFL in 2012. He was unable to wrangle much playing time away from Kendrick Lewis, but still played well in spot duty. Abdullah’s twin interceptions of Andrew Luck were among a precious few defensive bright spots in the playoff loss to the Colts. The five-year player will be just 29 when the new season starts. He’ll be among the best low-risk, high-reward options on the market at free safety.
3. Quintin Demps (Kansas City Chiefs)
Quintin Demps was one of John Dorsey’s best free agent acquisitions in 2013. Demps lead all Chiefs’ defenders with four interceptions. His ball-hawking skills helped turn that unit into one of the most opportunistic in the league (their 21 interceptions were good for a share of third-highest total in the NFL). He was also valuable on special teams where he lead the team in kick return yardage. Demps is a versatile player who, like Abdullah, will be just 29 when the season opens. He was a major contributor to both units he was a part of in 2013 and would be a likely candidate to return to the team.
4. Mike Mitchell (Carolina Panthers)
Mike Mitchell is another player the organization knows from his playing days in Oakland. He’s a former second-round draft pick taken by the Raiders in the 2009 NFL Draft. In 2013, for the first time in his career, Mitchell became a full-time starter for the Carolina Panthers. There he posted his best season since turning pro (registering 67 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 passes defensed, and 4 interceptions). Mitchell doesn’t have the name value of a Jairus Byrd, but he’s similarly well rounded. He’s got a great combination of size and speed, is rangy, and provides solid run support. Mitchell will only be 27 years old when the Chiefs make their annual trek up to St. Joseph.
Our 2014 outlook on the Chiefs’ free agency picture is now complete. What quality football players were omitted from my lists? Are there any players I named that you’d prefer the Chiefs stay away from? Will the Chiefs be active or can we expect them to rely upon players already under contract? Use the comment section below to begin the discussion. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.
Until next time, Addicts!