Kansas City Chiefs: Improving during downtime

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Tightening Up the Tight End Position

If there’s one spot I can see the Chiefs making a move during the next 6 weeks it would be tight end. The position was one of the weaker positions to begin the offseason with and now we aren’t sure what the status of Demetrius Harris will be by the beginning of the season. James O’Shaughnessy is a rookie from a small college and may be a not-ready-for-prime-time-player.

Some may be doubting the weakness of this position while touting Travis Kelce’s as one of the best players on the team. So, answer this little Miller’s Analogy riddle: Justin Houston is to Tamba Hali… as Travis Kelce is to ___________ (who)?

You can argue that the Chiefs don’t run a two tight end set all the time and you can argue that all you want… but exactly who will you put in to run a two-tight-end-set with Kelce? Much less a three tight end set. Richard Gordon? The 6-foot-4, 268 pound Richard Gordon who’s caught 4 passes in his 4 year career for 14 total yards… THAT Richard Gordon?

Any reasonable assessment of the Chiefs tight end depth following Kelce says… they need another guy… and almost any available free agent will be a better option than what’s in house. 6-foot-3, 254 pound Ryan Taylor, who is also on the Chiefs roster, with 8 receptions in 6 seasons, appears to be too small, and not talented enough as a pass catcher to be part of the answer.

Let’s take a look at some free agent tight ends who are still available. First, if there is one negotiating point to be made clear here, it is this: the period from late June until training camp begins, is likely the worst time of year to maximize your value if you are a free agent still trying to hook up with a team. That however is exactly why we just might see Mr. Dorsey signing a tight end.

Fred Davis, 6-foot-4, 247 (Washington)- 29 year old Davis was cut by the Pats just yesterday. He had a four year stretch in which his receiving totals were, 509, 316, 796 and 325.

Joel Dreessen, 6-foot-4, 245 (Broncos)- 32 year old, injury plagued with (3) knee operations in the past year. 158 career receptions.

Jermaine Gresham, 6-foot-5, 260 (formerly of the Bengals)- 27 year old, still out there and it’s rumored that the Saints are interested. 280 career receptions.

Mike McNeil, 6-foot-4, 240 (formerly with the Panthers)- 27 year old out of Nebraska who served mainly as a blocking tight end for Carolina. 5 career receptions.

Zach Miller, 6-foot-5, 255, (formerly with the Seahawks)- 29 year old with gas still in the tank. Rumored that Baltimore is interested. Might be more than the Chiefs want to spend. 328 career receptions.

Fendi Onobun, 6-foot-6, 260 (formerly of the Jags)- 28 year old who went on IR with a torn quad last August. Been with 7 different teams since being drafted in 2010. Rehab progress unknown. 2 career receptions.

Michael Palmer, 6-foot-5, 252 (formerly with the Steelers)- 28 year old with 23 receptions in 5 seasons. Claimed by Pittsburgh as a blocking specialist. 23 career receptions.

Alex Smith, 6-foot-4, 250 (formerly with the Bengals)- 33 year old who’s been out of commission since last September because of a bicep injury. His best days are likely past.

Given the current injury reports, the best options in order of preference appear to be,

  1. Jermaine Gresham
  2. Zach Miller
  3. Fred Davis
  4. Michael Palmer
  5. Mike McNeil

For the Chiefs to afford Gresham or Miller, who will both still be asking for more money, the Chiefs would have to create cap space. Davis, Palmer and McNeil could likely be signed for less than the amount of cap space the Chiefs currently have available: $978,287 according to overthecap.com, which is least in the league. Davis’ substance abuse problems make his signing problematic.

While the best bet in this group appears to be Michael Palmer, it is anyone’s bet who would join the tight end rotation. By cutting two players and signing one late on Thursday afternoon, a roster spot is open. It’s clear, crystal clear, that one of these gentlemen mentioned above is needed.

This is not necessarily just about having two tight ends, but three. In a piece by Adam Teicher, he states,

"“Through the first eight games [of the 2014 season], the Chiefs went with three tight ends on 56 plays, more than all but three other teams. Quarterback Alex Smith on those 56 plays completed 22-of-25 passes. That’s an 88-percent completion rate. Those passes had a per-attempt average of 8.6 yards, and four of them went for touchdowns…. The Chiefs were also able to run the ball for a healthy 4.4-yard-per-carry average with three tight ends on the field.”"

Teicher believes Richard Gordon may be the tight end to help make the three tight end sets work. That’s a possibility but, a #2 tight end is needed first, in order for that possibility to exist. It may sound like I’m counting Demetrius Harris out this year but while I certainly hope not it’s hard not to doubt his presence at training camp when he just had a screw inserted into his foot… for “healing purposes”… 25 days ago, with 41 days to go until training camp. You do the math but that little two month period hardly seems like enough time to heal a foot that broke last November and required a second surgery on May 26th. You know how Andy Reid gets with players coming off of injuries. He not only eases them back in but he also holds them out (think Derrick Johnson, Mike DeVito or Tyler Bray).

The Chiefs need Kelce to be Kelce… Harris to be Harris… and Gordon (or possibly O’Shaughnessy) to be everything he can be… in order for this offense to fly. If not, then three tight end sets are like muddy boots and two tight end sets are a dark horse on a rainy day… so don’t bet on it. That would leave this offense weaker and more vulnerable than when it fielded the 2014 trio of Fasano, Kelce and Harris.

Next: You do the Mathis. Does it Add Up?