The Kansas City Chiefs might look to bring in more edge rushers this off-season, but does Shane Ray still make sense in the new defense?
The Kansas City Chiefs have a busy off-season ahead of them considering the number of players up for a contract and the changes being made on the defensive side of the ball. Both wide receiver Tyreek Hill and defensive end Chris Jones are expected to be signed to lucrative deals this off-season along with the franchise tag being placed on outside linebacker/defensive end, Dee Ford. Would Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray make sense as a free agent signing in 2019?
In order for Kansas City to make any kind of move this off-season they will likely have to part ways with either safety Eric Berry or linebacker Justin Houston who would account for $37.6 million in 2019 if they stayed in Kansas City according to Spotrac. I recently wrote about my thoughts on keeping Houston around to retain the dominant pass rush that tied for the NFL’s lead in team sacks just a season ago. However, it’s unlikely that the Chiefs will elect to keep Houston and Ford both.
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Considering the likely departure of Justin Houston, many fans have been calling for former Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray to come to Kansas City. The familiarity of Ray comes from his time at Missouri, where he earned his first-round selection by the Broncos in 2015. Unfortunately for Ray, he’s suffered numerous injuries and failed to perform at a level that Denver was hoping when they drafted him four seasons ago. This was a significant reason the Broncos elected to draft linebacker Bradley Chubb fifth overall this past offseason.
The Broncos elected not to place the fifth-year option on Ray for the coming year, which will likely send him to the open market. Which brings up the question on whether Ray would be a good signing for Kansas City who will need some pass rushing depth this off-season?
Does he fit the new scheme implemented by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo? In Spagnuolo’s press conference recently, he stated that he wasn’t hung up on a specific scheme when talking about whether he would bring his 4-3 under hybrid scheme to Kansas City.
"“I do. Look. We’re not going to get hung up in scheme right now and the reason I say that is I think what we first should do is find out what we have, how they fit and then decide exactly what that scheme is. I do think today things get a little overblown. I mean, let’s all recognize that in today’s football, they put a lot of wideouts out there on offense, so we’re in a lot of sub defenses and a lot of sub defenses are not classified as 4-3 or 3-4. You just get your best pass rushers out there and you get your best coverage people, so once we get that figured out, we’ll start slotting people into where they should go.”"
While moving to the 4-3 under is not set in stone, most people in Kansas City expect the change given the acquisitions from last season made by general manager Brett Veach including Breeland Speaks, Dorian O’Daniel, Anthony Hitchens, and others. So how does Shane Ray fit into what the Chiefs want to do in Kansas City come 2019 and would they be interested in the signing? During Ray’s four seasons in Denver, he has only started 15 games only completing a full season once in his short career.
His best season came in 2016 when he played a full season and totaled 48 tackles and eight sacks. The following two seasons in Denver he collected a combined two sacks in his limited action. The Mizzou product resembles Chiefs veteran Dee Ford in many attributes. Not only is he a bit undersized sitting at 6’3″ and 245 pounds, but he also has a similar explosive first step. His explosive speed and a mixture of hand fighting techniques had high hopes for the young edge rusher coming into the NFL but has failed to continue at the next level.
Most of the lack of development can be pointed to the injury history not allowing him to get significant time on the field with the Broncos. Much like Ford, Ray struggles against the running game and doesn’t tend to bend naturally around the edge. Ford showed some extra bend in 2018 which helped him become one of the best pass rushers last season. Ray has failed to show the same kind of development in his time in the league. There’s no doubt that Ray would love to return to Kansas City where he grew up cheering for the Chiefs. He’s even got a Chiefs tattoo on his back.
However, it’s uncertain if the Chiefs would be interested in making a deal with the Kansas City native. Jason Fitzgerald, the founder of OverTheCap.com, is estimating that Ray will likely settle for a one-year prove it deal in 2018 worth $6.5-7 million. Given the price for solid edge rushers being around the $16 million range, that might not seem like a bad deal for Kansas City. Unfortunately, the Chiefs are strapped for cash with contracts already affecting the cap, expected contracts for Ford, Jones, and Hill, and the upcoming contract for quarterback Patrick Mahomes next off-season that looks to break the $200 million guaranteed.
I would be interested in bringing in Ray on a prove it type of deal in 2018 but would like to see the number drop some to make such deal happen. He would make a good backup for Dee Ford if he does, in fact, slip into the weak side defensive end role, or the LEO. While his lack of development in the running game is concerning, Ford is not exactly great in that category either despite showing some improvement in 2018.
Having someone that could rotate in from time to time and give Ford a break would be ideal. It’s also someone that could step in if Ford were to sustain an injury given his own frustrating injury history during his time in Kansas City. Before the Chiefs hit free agency and the draft, they don’t have anyone that would successfully fit as a backup in the weakside defensive end role. While I would love to see 2017 second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon get a shot at the position, it doesn’t seem that he has been able to pick up the defense enough to earn consistent playing time over the past two seasons.
That could change moving back to a Leo position that he played in college at Villanova, but it’s not a sure thing he will make the step needed in 2019. Having Ray come in for competition at the backup position would be a smart move as someone trying to prove they can stay healthy and play at the NFL level on a one-year prove it deal. We saw what Dee Ford did under a prove it type situation after failing to stay healthy the previous two seasons so maybe Ray could have a similar situation given the opportunity. If Kansas City can find the room to make a move for Ray, I would be willing to give it a shot.