Two weeks ago, Pro Football Writers of America named Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey their NFL executive of the year. Dorsey aided head coach Andy Reid in engineering one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in league history. The Chiefs made a nine-game improvement in 2013 and earned their first postseason berth in three years. Their season ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but the team still exceeded everyone’s first year expectations.
In 2014, John Dorsey will earn his paycheck. Kansas City has a number of key players scheduled to hit free agency, player personnel needs, a looming contract extension for their Pro Bowl quarterback, a restrictive cap situation, less than a normal slate of draft picks, and an ostensibly tougher regular season schedule. That’s quite a lot for a new GM to deal with in just his sophomore campaign. I tend to think Dorsey’s up for the job, but he’ll have to demonstrate that to sustain a high-approval rating with the members of Chiefs Kingdom.
Let’s take Dorsey’s year two assignment piece by piece.
Pending Free Agents
Kansas City has several pending free agents in 2014. The following list of players are scheduled for free agency in one form or another come March:
For cap reasons we’ll explore later, a few notable players on this list are unlikely to return to Kansas City. The challenge for Dorsey will be sifting the wheat from the chaff with a handful of starting-caliber players and a host of roleplayers. The football gods showed the Chiefs favor concerning injuries in 2013. They may not be as lucky next season and can’t afford a major dropoff in depth. It’s for this reason that I expect players like Abdullah, Demps, Schwartz, and Toribio to have a real chance at being re-signed.
Player Personnel Needs
One of the players I expect to defect when the free agency period begins is safety Kendrick Lewis. His departure leaves the Chiefs with a hole on the back end of their defense. Sanders Commings spent most of the regular season on injured-reserve and he’s still an unknown commodity. Dorsey can’t, in good conscience, stand pat at a position that proved to be the Achilles’ heel of the Chiefs’ defense. Free safety may well be one of their three biggest needs this offseason, but Kansas City will have options.
Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward are the best two free safeties scheduled to hit the open market. The Chiefs aren’t in good position to snare either of them. The two players are going to command big contracts if they aren’t retained by their current teams. Fortunately, a second wave of more affordable options will also be available: most notably, Mike Mitchell, Chris Clemons, Stevie Brown, Quintin Demps, and Husain Abdullah.
Alex Smith’s Contract Extension
Alex Smith is coming off of a Pro Bowl season where he posted career highs in multiple categories. His 2013 performance, a $7.5 million cap hit in 2014, and just one year left on his current deal gives Dorsey incentive to extend his contract. Smith’s presence was a major contributor to the turnaround in 2013. Leadership, efficiency, and a low turnover rate make him the answer at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Security was a prime factor in Smith coming to Kansas City so it’s likely that an extension will make him a happy man.
It’s tough to say what we can expect from the Smith negotiation, but I’d venture to guess that Matt Schaub’s September 2012 extension might be a solid point of reference. The Texans gave Schaub a four-year, $62 million deal (with $30 million guaranteed). I’m not convinced he’ll get a deal quite that lucrative, but I think it might be in the ballpark. The key here is bringing Smith’s 2014 cap number down and that may mean a 4-5 year contract. It’s possible that this may be the first domino to fall this offseason.
Kansas City is currently estimated to have about $2.5 million of cap space. That number will change when the new league year begins. The salary cap is projected to be around $126.3 million (a near 3% increase from 2013). Dorsey will have some work to do to get Alex Smith extended, players re-signed, 2-3 impact players from free agency, and his 2014 draft picks signed. He’ll be able to create space, but that will certainly require parting ways with a handful of players. It could also mean restructuring the contracts of others.
Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali, and Eric Berry all have 2014 cap numbers exceeding $10 million. That presents Dorsey with a few good options to create additional cap space. Flowers was restructured just last year so he may be an unlikely choice to restructure again in 2014. The remaining three could all be paid a visit by Dorsey about their contracts. As close as Kansas City is to becoming a viable contender in the AFC, players could be more than willing to do so if it meant an improved roster.
Fewer Draft Picks
The acquisition of quarterback Alex Smith in 2013 cost the Chiefs a second-round draft pick in the forthcoming NFL draft. Disregarding any future compensatory picks, Kansas City will have a half-dozen draft picks in May’s draft. They’ll have only one Top 50 selection in 2014 and that pick will come in the bottom-third of the opening round. Even if Dorsey can pull a rabbit out of his hat with the salary cap, the Chiefs are unlikely to have as big a free agent class as they had in 2013. That makes hitting on draft picks all the more important.
Early mocks across the web project wide receiver, cornerback, defensive end, and tight end to be the positions that will provide the best value and players available when the Chiefs go on the clock. Of that crop, names like Kelvin Benjamin, Jace Amaro, Darqueze Dennard, Stephon Tuitt, and Allen Robinson come to mind. Kansas City could be looking for new starters at as many as three spots next season.
As has been mentioned many times in the past three weeks, the Chiefs’ 2014 schedule features all four teams that made the conference championships in the postseason tournament. In all, seven of the games they’ll play next season will be against teams that qualified for the 2013 NFL playoffs (eleven games will be played against teams with winning records). They beat only one such team last year (the Philadelphia Eagles in the Week 3 TNF matchup). On paper, a return to the postseason won’t be easy for the Chiefs.
Getting back will require keeping the talent pool steady and shoring up the soft spots in the roster. That will be an intricate balancing act between free agency, the draft, and the natural development of players already on the roster. Dorsey’s only responsible for the first two parts of that trifecta, but they’re key cogs in the wheel of success in year two. The Kingdom is going to learn just how good the Dorsey hiring was when all is said and done.
What say you about the job Dorsey’s tasked with this offseason? Is this a good litmus test for him or are you already convinced he should be the long-term answer at general manager? Use the comment section below to chime in. As always, we appreciate your readership and support!
Until next time, Addicts!