Why the Kansas City Chiefs should keep the pass rushing trio together

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 12: Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates a sack against the Indianapolis Colts with teammate Chris Jones #95 during the third quarter of the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 12, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 12: Justin Houston #50 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates a sack against the Indianapolis Colts with teammate Chris Jones #95 during the third quarter of the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 12, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

It’s hard for the Kansas City Chiefs to keep both Justin Houston and Dee Ford in 2019, but it would be beneficial for the team.

The Kansas City Chiefs have plenty of tough decisions to make this offseason with veteran stars, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry are the biggest question marks following general manager Brett Veach stating that they are going to keep linebacker Dee Ford around in 2019.

There have yet to report about either player sticking around in the 2019 season. Another huge question mark remains on whether Berry will have surgery and, if so, when. Kansas City cannot afford to wait around on Berry to feel good enough to play without having surgery. The Chiefs spent the entire 2018 season expecting him to play at some point only for him to play a few games the entire year.

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Given that there have been no reports of Berry having the surgery and we are marching toward the end of February, it’s unlikely that Berry will be ready to go to start the 2019 season. Playing the game of when he will be available is just not in the cards if the Chiefs are going to make a strong Super Bowl push in likely the last season of quarterback Patrick Mahomes being under a rookie contract.

There has yet to be any comments made on what the team plans for Houston either. Many fans are troubled with the amount of money going to Houston in 2019 sitting at $21 million. Given that the number is hard to swallow and the production might not match the money, I still believe Kansas City should keep him around in 2019—that it’s worth keeping the band together for one more season.

I can understand that the contract for Houston limits what the Chiefs can do in free agency this off-season. I can also understand the argument of Houston being paid like a top edge rusher for not only the Chiefs but the NFL and being arguably the third pass rusher on the team. The problem with that argument with cutting Houston is that you’re only getting $14 million in savings to spend in free agency. With that money, are you going to find someone better? Likely not because you will be overspending for a player like what most people have picked is Anthony Barr out of Minnesota.

I don’t like Barr coming to Kansas City. He’s been played as an off-ball linebacker in a 4-3 scheme during his time in Minnesota and I’m not looking to spend that kind of money on a linebacker when the Chiefs won’t be in the base package enough to utilize him there. That would mean kicking Dorian O’Daniel off the field for Barr and Anthony Hitchens since you’ve invested so much in those players.

Are you going to move Barr to defensive end? I think that’s another mistake because you will be paying elite money to a good player, not even a very good player, who isn’t even close to as good of a pass rusher as Houston is at this point in his career. Not to mention, you would be stuck with Barr under contract for multiple seasons following 2019 most likely and if he doesn’t work out, you are stuck with him. With Houston, you can cut next offseason for minimal loss if you can’t restructure this season.

Other options I’ve heard tossed around include Vinny Curry out of Tampa Bay, but he has spent most of his time with Philadelphia and some other older interior linemen. None that would fit really in the defensive end position but more the defensive tackle positions where the Chiefs are sitting fairly strong with Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi. So you bring someone like Curry or the other guys in for what? A one year deal? That barely gives them time to get into sync with the other players and get the full potential out of them and that’s not securing your future either. Houston has been with this team for many years and has chemistry with the rest of the defense and is one of the leaders of this defense still.

There’s also still the concern of Dee Ford moving to the Leo, or weakside, defensive end position as well. Ford, while looking much better than years past, still doesn’t look comfortable on that side of the line. His best production by far has come from the strong side. Houston can play either side of the line and be successful.

Both players are versatile on how you can play them, but Ford has a noticeable difference in his play when playing on the other side. Both Ford and Houston can also play in coverage, but Houston is still the better player in that category and against the run. I would really like to see the Chiefs work with Ford this coming season playing more off the ball linebacker style of roles.

Now we have the nickel and dime sets in which the Chiefs will spend at least 75 percent of their snaps in. Keeping both Ford and Houston means you still have your very good outside edge rushers like you had in 2018. Both feed off one another getting extra attention and with the Chiefs blitzing one of the least in the league last year but managing to tie the most sacks last season would be coming back for 2019 with likely a better scheme, better coaching, and personnel on the back end of the defense giving them more opportunities with more blitz packages as well.

There’s also an issue with injuries. Prior to the 2018 season, Kansas City has lacked much of a pass rush primarily at the hands of injuries. This was the first season we saw both Ford and Houston on the field together for any length of time since very early in Ford’s career. The last time the Chiefs had two solid edge rushers healthy at the same time was Justin Houston and Tamba Hali when Houston had his breakout season under the franchise tag.

If Kansas City lets Houston go this off-season, that would mean they are trusting Breeland Speaks as your best option. What if Ford goes down with an injury even for a couple of times? Are we comfortable with Speaks being our best pass rusher on the edge?

Tanoh Kpassagnon has yet to get much playing time even while looking much stronger on the edge than Speaks in his limited snaps. There have been rumors of his inability to grasp the defense, but he’s looked good when he does see the field from the little I’ve seen and I was high on him following the preseason. It’s a question mark whether he will even make the roster this coming year being a Dorsey pick and all.

That leaves free agency and the draft. Free agency you will end up overspending by a mile once again on an edge rusher who would be a downgrade from Houston and take up almost that entire savings from cutting him. The draft has some solid guys coming out with a strong class but are they going to be able to start week one?

That also means Kansas City would have to draft one in the first round when that pick should be going for one of the top cornerbacks in this class. Cornerback is easily the biggest need with Steven Nelson likely to not return and teams finally have tape on Charvarius Ward to pick him apart. Not saying that will happen, but we all remember Terrence Mitchell looking like a stud until teams had tape on him.

The best option, in my opinion, is to hold onto Houston for one more season and let your pass rushers under rookie deals rotate in for the experience. Let them develop under two very good edge rushers and learn from the best before throwing them to the wolves. Kansas City is in a must-win mode in 2019 and the edge rusher position is the most important position on the defensive side of the football. Keep the great veterans you have and move on next season when it’s cheaper.

Solidify the back end of your defense first, and then find your future at the edge position in the second round with someone to develop. Find those corners who can hang with their assignment for a few seconds and make a play on the ball when it comes their way instead of instantly getting beat and not allowing the pass rushers to have an opportunity to get to the quarterback. It’s the best move for the short and long-term success of the team.