Kansas City Chiefs need to install a long-term pipeline for cornerbacks

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: James White #28 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Kendall Fuller #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 20: James White #28 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Kendall Fuller #23 of the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half during the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 20, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Even if the Kansas City Chiefs are able to finally stock up on cornerbacks in the present, they’ll still need to keep the pipeline flowing in the future.

Long-term plans are laughable when a short-term solution is needed.

Imagine someone who is hopelessly single putting  a down payment on a church building for a future wedding date. The idea is silly, of course. Yet as the Kansas City Chiefs rebuild their defensive depth charts, especially at cornerback, some long-term planning needs to be kept in mind throughout the entire rebuilding process.

More from Arrowhead Addict

As the Chiefs continue to remake the secondary and import new cornerbacks to round out the roster, the needs feel very immediate. That’s for good reason. Even after signing Bashaud Breeland to a one-year deal, the Chiefs have two reliable vets at the position in Kendall Fuller and Breeland and this year’s “hope he plays like he did down the stretch” candidate in Charvarius Ward. Other than that, the cupboards are bare.

The Short-Term Needs

The losses have been significant at the position over the last two offseasons, and Brett Veach failed to make it a priority in his first draft. The Chiefs have lost two outside corners in Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson in successive seasons, and that doesn’t include the loss of depth in both years as well. Over the last two springs, the Chiefs have also said goodbye to Josh Shaw, Orlando Scandrick, Kenneth Acker, Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, and Darrelle Revis.

Whether or not those players were valuable to the Chiefs, the sheer number of losses indicates a secondary in transition, one dependent on short-term moves. It will be some time until the depth chart feels settled at cornerback.

For now, Veach’s work is still in the “immediate” stage at cornerback. Relying on Ward to succeed when so many other corners have failed under the same “flashed late-season success”  banner feels like a fool’s errand. At the very least, the Chiefs need talent and bodies at the position and that’s just to field a full defense. If any significant injury occurred, this pass defense is shot.

The versatility of Tyrann Mathieu does come into play here in the short-term. He can, after all, slide inside and give the Chiefs some help at a number of positions. That, however, shouldn’t free up the secondary to be perilously thin at certain spots just because a swiss-army knife is on the roster.

In short, the Chiefs should expect to draft one or two options while simultaneously signing another veteran in free agency. That many more players are needed for training camp and beyond.

The Long-Term View

After this season, the cornerbacks committed to play in Kansas City as of the present reads as follows:

  1. Tremon Smith
  2. Charvarius Ward
  3. Step Durham

That same core is signed through 2021, so those names aren’t going anywhere (unless they just cannot handle the competition to remain on the roster). However, unless Smith blooms like a beautiful flower and Ward goes from UDFA to impact starter (or Step, y’know, takes a step), the Chiefs are going to need multiple long-term starters and they’ll need them quickly.

Right now, Fuller and Breeland are likely starting outside in the team’s base defense. Eleven months from now, both could be employed by new teams. That’s worrisome considering that the Chiefs would be walking into a new year with not only depth problems but zero chemistry in the secondary.

What makes this draft so important is not only these short-term needs, as we’ve said, but also the long-term needs of any NFL franchise. Check out these words from Baltimore Ravens beat writer for The Athletic.

"The Ravens subscribe to the belief that it is prudent to take a shot at a cornerback every year, given the importance and volatility of the position."

It’s those last words that ring true: “the importance and volatility of the position.” Zrebiec was informing his readers that the Ravens were likely to draft yet another developmental corner despite a roster that seems overflowing with talent at the position. Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr are obvious boundary corners. Jimmy Smith is a former first round pick and veteran favorite who can still play very well. Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett are also recently drafted favorites who can fill in when called upon.

Why add another? Because the position is important and the talent is volatile.

Consider this: Marcus Cooper was once a hidden gem who became an instant fan favorite in K.C. Then his play fell off only to have the Chiefs dump him. Now he’s still playing and succeeding in a much-longer-than-expected NFL career. The Chiefs fell for Terrance Mitchell during a short run of impressive play but learned they cannot rely on him in a full-time role. Orlando Scandrick faded as the season wore on last year as a one-year rental.

In other words, finding a reliably consistent cornerback who can serve as a long-term starter is hard to do. You can shrug at the loss of Steven Nelson, but there’s a reason the Pittsburgh Steelers were happy to offer him a long-term deal. After drafting Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Cameron Sutton, and Senquez Golson in early rounds in the last three years, the Steelers are starting Nelson across from Joe Haden.

It turns out that a good cornerback is hard to find.

For the Chiefs, it’s important to understand that even some of the names they will select in this year’s draft might showcase the sort of volatility that will keep them from being as reliable as fans would like. It’s not enough to draft a Justin Layne, sign a Rashaan Melvin, and call it good. Those are short-term fixes with long-term hopes (in Layne’s case), but even then, the Chiefs need to be prepared to draft more next year and develop a long-term pipeline.

For now, those ambitions are pipe dreams—pun intended—but it doesn’t mean Veach can avoid thinking about it now. The 2019 draft is an important first step toward establishing something that should have been in place all along.