Chiefs could seek low-level free agent investment at safety

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FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 08: Juan Thornhill #22 of the Kansas City Chiefs attempts to tackle Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots during the first half in the game at Gillette Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Kansas City’s safety play in 2019 was good enough that the only objective for the offseason should be to get healthy and do it all over again.

The Kansas City Chiefs enjoyed mostly exceptional play from the safety position throughout the 2019 season. There were occasionally big plays given up, especially early in the year as veteran Dan Sorensen looked too slow to keep up in coverage and rookie Juan Thornhill took some time to adjust to the pro game.

But by the end of the season, the safety unit was, without a doubt, a strength of the team. Led by All-Pro emotional and physical leader Tyrann Mathieu, the unit came up with big play after big play down the stretch, even after the team lost Thornhill for the season to injury.

The most remarkable revelations about this unit were that: first, Mathieu became the unquestioned, unequivocal leader of the defense within weeks of arriving in Kansas City. This process was made easier by replacing eight starts from the 2018 tire fire; but the speed at which he took over the locker room is mind boggling. Second, after looking inadequate the first six weeks of the season, Sorensen was one of the most outstanding players for the defense down the stretch and in the playoffs. Credit this to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheming to his talent. It worked beautifully.

So how great is the need at the position moving forward? Very little. Career backup Jordan Lucas is a free agent one would not expect to see return, so likely the Chiefs will sign a low-cost free agent or a undrafted rookie free agent at the position to play the fifth safety role that Lucas occupied. It would be surprising if the team used any of its precious draft capital at the position (with only five picks and needs at OL, LB, and CB glaring at them).

The only other consideration for the team at safety is how they address the cornerback concern(s). In 2019, Spagnuolo chose to line up Mathieu at the corner spot for a significant number of defensive plays. If the team decides to do that even more regularly in 2020, to cover deficiencies at the position discussed here, perhaps the Chiefs could look to bring another starting caliber safety in to the fold.

Ultimately, the team’s needs are too great elsewhere, and pending contracts for superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes and wrecking ball Chris Jones likely make that sort of investment impossible.

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