The Kansas City Chiefs carried five safeties last year for the sake of Eric Berry but they have the talent to warrant that many again in 2019.
The Kansas City Chiefs have the sort of problem a team loves to have in the secondary—at least at safety.
At the same time, it’s still a problem.
Last season, the Chiefs had a major weakness at safety yet were still forced to carry five of them on the active roster due to Eric Berry’s health. Five spots out of 53 were used to not only house an injured player but a substandard collection of talent. Dan Sorensen was injured most of the year. Ron Parker was brought back after being released. Eric Murray proved he wasn’t ready for a starting role. It was a group that lacked impact yet demanded investment. Five spots when no one was particularly great.
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One year later, the fortunes have changed entirely. The Chiefs have as much overall talent at safety as most teams in the NFL, with only a few starting tandems boasting the sort of on-field impact expected in K.C. It’s a beautiful job by Brett Veach to turn around such a problematic part of the roster so decisively, but it’s clear that it was a primary area of concern. He invested considerable assets in both the draft and free agency to shore up the weakness.
Back to the problem. The good problem is that the Chiefs have so much talent at safety that someone is going to have to go—or will they? The Chiefs proved last year they can cobble together a defense, even a bad one, with five safeties and still make it just short of the Super Bowl. This year, they will have good reason to want to carry so many.
Veach made quick work to boost the secondary this offseason. He released Eric Berry in a move that was tough on emotional fans but good for the salary cap. Now there’s no more guesswork going forward. No more “day to day” jokes. Berry will be celebrated in time at Arrowhead just like Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston, and Dwayne Bowe this year, but until then, the Chiefs weren’t willing to play the “what if?” game that came at such a high cost, both on the books and the roster. Veach also traded away Murray to the Cleveland Browns, back to John Dorsey, the very general manager who drafted him.
In their place, Veach secured another big time free agent target in Tyrann Mathieu, walking away with perhaps the single biggest free agent prize in the secondary (depending on how you viewed Landon Collins or Earl Thomas). Two months later, he drafted Juan Thornhill out of Virginia in the second round, cementing a new tandem that should be in place for the next three years (or longer if Mathieu re-signs).
Not only is Thornhill and Mathieu expected to hold down the starting spots, but Jordan Lucas remains a nice holdover from last year. Armani Watts, last year’s fourth round pick, is returning from injury and should try to compete for starter’s reps at free safety. Dan Sorensen is coming in healthy this offseason, and the Chiefs have kept him around for a reason. Steve Spagnuolo might just like his blitzing ability for the Chiefs new defense.
There are others competing for roster spots as well, including Harold Jones-Quartey and Andrew Soroh, but anyone’s money would likely be on these five to make it—with Sorensen potentially as a roster cut due to the cap space he would give the Chiefs. Then again, he could have been released or traded at any point until now and he’s made it this far. That’s a good sign for his camp, to be sure.
It should be noted that both Thornhill and Mathieu could easily rotate out of a starting spot here for the sake of some reps at corner. Mathieu can slide into a slot role, much like he did last year for the Houston Texans, and Thornhill was a two-year starter at corner for the Cavaliers earlier in his collegiate career. So even if the Chiefs kept five safeties on the surface, positional versatility makes the situation more malleable than it looks.
The Chiefs haven’t kept any more than four safeties on the roster since 2015 when the talent collected by Dorsey demanded that many roster spots. Back in those days, Berry and Parker and Sorensen were joined by Tyvon Branch and Husain Abdullah. Last year, five were kept out of necessity. It will be interesting to see how fierce the competition gets at safety and if it forces any roster moves, Otherwise, the Chiefs might just go for more than four because they have the best kind of problem on their hands.