Now it’s time to address the big worry that Tarek Mavani had with replacing Sean Smith. To do that, we have to understand that Jamell Flemming, Tyvon Branch, and Husain Abdullah are all set to be free agents this offseason. Not only that, they are set to be free agents that the Chiefs are very unlikely to retain. So already, the Chiefs options for replacing Smith are set to be different than the situation that we saw in 2015.
That means John Dorsey and his staff have likely already begun working on searching for options outside of Kansas City for retooling the secondary. I’ve touched on that in my offseason primer series when I looked at Free Agency and the Draft. Both areas have plenty of options for the Chiefs to explore in finding a way to not only replace Sean Smith, but to upgrade the secondary as a whole.
As for the players the Chiefs can turn to in 2016, the cabinet is not bare.
First off, the Chiefs have Marcus Peters to address the other side of the field. In fact, if you’re talking about who will be replacing Sean Smith, the answer is actually Marcus Peters. Peters should continue to develop, and will be responsible for shutting down half the field. That should allow Bob Sutton the freedom to gameplan towards covering the other side as needed. Some fans are quick to point out that he didn’t do that when Sean Smith was out at the start of the year…yeah, well that was all of two games into the career of Marcus Peters. It would have been wildly irresponsible and borderline ridiculous to gameplan around the prospect of a rookie dominating. But now that the Chiefs know they have a real stud in Peters, and he’s had time to learn from some very big mistakes, it will get easier for Sutton to trust him more. And that means there is less reason to have to retain a player like Sean Smith.
The next player to come to mind is Phillip Gaines. Though set back by injuries in each of his first two seasons, Gaines has been impressive when on the field. He has shown the ability to play both on the outside and inside, which makes him a versatile option to be used wherever the Chiefs need him. That includes on the outside in a full time role if John Dorsey isn’t able to find a suitable starter in the offseason. While Gaines is ideally used as the third corner, he will serve as the worst-case option for replacing Sean Smith, and that’s not a terrible place to be sitting for the Chiefs.
The other name to be considered is Steven Nelson. Not that Nelson is a replacement for Smith, he certainly isn’t. However, the third round pick is coming into his second season and Chiefs fans should expect to see him in an expanded role on the defense. I know a lot of fans are down on him, but to be honest, that was just because some unrealistic expectations were set. Nelson played a depth role on defense and worked on Special Teams…that’s about exactly what one should expect from a third round pick in their rookie season. Nelson is the likely projection as the Chiefs full time slot cornerback. That is not the same as being the third corner. Nelson’s job will almost solely be interior coverage in zone packages, whereas Gaines will be more utilized in man coverage situations.
Those three players form the base of the Chiefs cornerback group, and it’s not a bad base to have at all. And they show that John Dorsey has been looking to future of this team at cornerback before this offseason. He has put the Chiefs in a situation where they are not desperate to retain or replace Sean Smith on the field.
Next: Who could be brought in?