Here in the Chiefs Kingdom, today is a day when most fans will be focused on Justin Houston. That’s because Monday is the deadline for teams to announce whether they will be using the franchise tag or not.
While Houston is clearly one of the best defenders in the NFL and a player that KC must keep, he is not the player whom both the Chiefs and their fans need to worry about leaving. That player is center Rodney Hudson.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that Hudson is a better player than Houston. He isn’t. I’m also not saying that Hudson being on the Chiefs roster next season will have a greater impact than Houston being on it. It won’t. Houston is clearly the better player and the player who makes the greater impact, which is why his place on the roster is not in question.
The Chiefs simply can’t let the linebacker walk away. They will either franchise him or sign him to a long-term deal, but either way, he will be a Chief for the 2015 season.
That’s really not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about Rodney Hudson.
While Houston’s place on the Chiefs roster is a virtual lock (one way or another), Hudson’s is not. In fact, every day that passes, the likelihood of him leaving town becomes greater. In less than a week’s time (Saturday, March 7) NFL teams will be able to contact pending free agents to start discussing contracts.
Players can’t officially sign those deals until next Tuesday, but if KC doesn’t have a deal in place with Hudson by this Friday, it officially becomes a bidding war for his services—and there are plenty of teams, many of whom have more money than the Chiefs, in the market for offensive line help.
Nov 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson (61) before the start of the game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
In the past week, there have been several Hudson-related rumors circulating throughout the media. These rumors include Hudson and the Chiefs nearly agreeing to a contract last season that would have paid him $6 million per year. There are also rumors that both the Raiders and Broncos are interested in the center, and he is wanting to become the highest-paid center in the NFL. (Side note: AA Radio’s own Roughing the Kicker podcast discussed Hudson this week as well. Give it a listen HERE.)
I don’t know how accurate any of the rumors are and neither do you. This time of year, both teams and agents will float stories to the media to try and gain leverage in negotiations or public opinion (or both). Regardless, there is clearly going to be a market for Hudson’s services, and the Chiefs’ best (and possibly only) chance to keep him in KC is to get something done in the next few days. It is this blogger’s opinion that the they MUST keep Hudson in KC, even if they have to pay more than they would like.
The bottom line for me is this: The Chiefs offensive line was as big of a problem as any other part of the team in 2014. Rodney Hudson was the only bright spot on that struggling line. You cannot let the only good player at a position of weakness go, especially when he is a young, ascending talent.
If the Chiefs want their offense to improve in 2015, they MUST shore up the offensive line. The offense is built around a star running back and a quarterback who is a little gun-shy when under pressure. Both of those key elements rely on a solid offensive line in order for them to be successful.
Last season, the Chiefs let three established starters walk in free agency (Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, and Jon Asamoah). Their plan was to replace them with young in-house players who they believed would grow and improve. This plan failed. You can blame it on Eric Fisher’s surgeries that limited his strength training in the offseason. You can blame it on Jeff Allen’s injury. You can blame it on Donald Stephenson getting suspended and then losing his starting job. It doesn’t really matter.
The point is, the “We trust our coaches to develop the young guys we have” approach failed and it cost the Kansas City offense all season long. Coming off of that failure, the Chiefs simply can’t afford to make the same mistake with Rodney Hudson. COULD Eric Kush turn into a good NFL player? Sure he could, but the Chiefs aren’t in a position to gamble on it. An offensive line of Eric Fisher, Jeff Allen, Eric Kush, Zach Fulton, and Donald Stephenson would terrify me. I mean TERRIFY me.
Now, any one of those players could turn out to be a good NFL starter, but every single one of them is a question mark. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Compared to last year’s group, that offensive line is just as likely to be WORSE as it is to be better. The Chiefs need SOME kind of proven stability on that line.
It only makes sense for Hudson to be that proven stability. The center is the leader/brains of the offensive line. He makes all the calls at the line of scrimmage. In addition to the poor individual play by some of the line, you could tell they also struggled with assignments/communication at times. The only way that gets better is with continuity. That’s hard enough to develop, and it’s definitely not happening if the Chiefs replace the guy that makes all the reads/calls with a player who has never taken a snap in a regular-season game.
I don’t want to turn this post into another debate on QB Alex Smith, but I think we can all agree that things go better when Smith is comfortable in the pocket. If the Chiefs struggle at center and Smith is consistently facing pressure right up the middle, it will not bode well for the passing game. The center-QB relationship is the most important of the offensive line. If the Chiefs are going to get the most of the huge financial commitment they made in Alex Smith, they HAVE to make sure they surround him with the pieces he needs to be successful. I see Rodney Hudson as one of those essential pieces.
Plus, unlike Albert and Schwartz, Hudson is still very young. He will be only 26 years old when the season starts. So even if they were to sign him to a five-year deal, the entire length of the contract would encompass prime-playing years for an offensive lineman (age 26-30). Hudson is an emerging player who just seemed to be coming into his own last season. This makes sense given that last year was only his second full season of being a starter. He has an elite pedigree as the most decorated offensive lineman in the history of the ACC. There is every reason to believe that he will live up to his next contract.
So what about that contract?
November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson (61) blocks Denver Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (99) during the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The rumor mill says that KC was close to signing Hudson to a deal that would have paid him $6 million per season. The general consensus from most Chiefs fans seems to be “If he wants more than that, we have to let him walk.” I simply don’t agree with that line of thinking.
According to overthecap.com, an annual salary of $6 million dollars would have made Hudson the ninth- highest-paid center in the NFL. If you bump that all the way up to $7 million per season, it would make him the fifth-highest-paid center. Make it $8 million per, and it still only bumps him up to fourth.
I would hope that if they were close to a deal around $6 million per season, KC would have went up to $7 million in order to get something done. I think a young player who is improving—and whom the Chiefs invested a relatively high draft pick in—is worth that contract. Hudson being the fifth-highest-paid center in the NFL sounds fair to me.
I know that KC is not in a great situation with the salary cap, but if it were up to me, I would rather have Hudson locked up for several years than an aging Tamba Hali or Dwayne Bowe on the roster. The point being that KC can make room for Hudson if it is a priority for them.
This Armchair Addict believes that it absolutely should be.
Finally, the fact that the two teams being mentioned as targeting Hudson (Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos) are both division rivals only ups the stakes. There are several things about this that stick out to me.
First, two teams who have had to face Hudson twice a season over the past two years want to sign him. That tells me something about the quality of his play. Second, the Chiefs can’t afford to get worse on the offensive line if they want to win the division, let alone get worse AND have a division rival get better from it. Finally, having to watch Hudson play for a hated rival twice per season will be torture for fans, especially if his replacement is struggling.
The Chiefs simply have to get this done.
What do you think? Should the Chiefs make re-signing Rodney Hudson a top priority? Is he worth the financial investment that they would have to make? Would you be fine if bringing back him and Houston meant that they couldn’t sign any other big-dollar free agents? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!