POTENTIAL DEFENSIVE CUTS TO WATCH
1. Denzel Perryman, linebacker, Los Angeles Chargers
If the Chiefs pursue a veteran linebacker to replace the now-departed Reggie Ragland, or to simply upgrade over Damien Wilson or Darius Harris, there will be some opportunity to do so. This is the weakest point in an otherwise deep and strong roster, so pursuing a free agent is well within the realm of possibility.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Chargers have a bit of an embarrassment of riches on defense and specifically, at linebacker. The team bolstered its unit in the draft by packaging its’ second and third round pick to trade back in to the first round to select Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray. The team can save $2 million against the cap by cutting the former second round pick.
From ESPN’s Bill Barnwell “The…Miami product was able to tie his career high by playing 14 games in 2019, but the Chargers were using Perryman as only a two-down linebacker. He took just 20 snaps on third down all season, and when they traded up to draft Kenneth Murray in the first round, it likely came at the expense of Perryman’s spot in the lineup.”
Perryman has injury concerns, but the five- year veteran can be a difference-maker when he’s on the field. The Chiefs could benefit from his injury history in that it will likely drive down his price.
2. Terrance Mitchell, cornerback, Cleveland Browns
Kansas City could also look to improve the veteran depth at the cornerback position. This is the youngest position group on the roster with only three established veterans in the room (Bashaud Breeland, Charvarius Ward, and Antonio Hamilton) while the rest are still very young (Rashad Fenton, Alex Brown and five rookies).
Other teams, though, have an abundance of depth at the position, including the Cleveland Browns.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell notes that “it does make sense to move on from Mitchell, who is owed $3 million in 2020 and would likely be the fourth corner behind Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson.”
If that’s the case, the Chiefs should make a run at bringing back the former Chief. A 7th round pick by Dallas in 2014, Mitchell has spent time in Dallas, Chicago, Kansas City and Cleveland in his career. The best season of his career came in 2017 with the Chiefs, when he played in 15 games, started nine and had four interceptions and 18 passes break-ups.
Mitchell is unlikely to unseat a incumbent starter, but he does provide veteran depth which, at least in the short term, can help bring along the rookies and push the young veterans. Maybe he’d make the roster and maybe the rookies would beat him out, but either way, he’d be worth bringing in for Kansas City.
3. Haason Reddick, linebacker, Arizona Cardinals
Brett Veach loves to take swings on former high draft picks who’ve underperformed. Inside linebacker Haason Reddick certainly fits that bill. The 2017 first round pick (13th overall) has failed to be utilized in an effective way in Arizona, and with the team’s drafting of Isaiah Simmons, Reddick could find his way out of the desert.
In fact, the Cardinals have been trying to trade him for months. Despite that, there is no doubt that the former Temple standout has talent and could make an impact for the right team. The Chiefs may not get the opportunity to sign Reddick as a free agent, but with anticipated compensatory picks coming in 2021, could give up, say, their fifth round pick in next year’s draft to make a run with Reddick.
This would not be unlike what the Chiefs did when they traded for Darron Lee in 2019. The difference here is that in New York, Lee was largely ineffective and that carried over to his tenure in K.C. In Arizona, it feels like the Cards have been unsure how to use Reddick from the start.
Bill Barnwell asserted that “Reddick has never seemed to find a foothold in Arizona, where the Cardinals didn’t manage to convert the 2017 No. 13 overall pick’s versatility and athleticism into a meaningful role. They already have made moves to replace Reddick by signing De’Vondre Campbell and now using a top-10 pick on Isaiah Simmons.”
A reunion with college coach Matt Rhule in Carolina makes sense, so Kansas City should strike fast in pursuit of the versatile playmaker.
4. Eric Reid, Safety, Carolina Panthers
Another veteran secondary move that might make some sense for Kansas City would be to pursue a veteran safety. The competition would press former fourth round pick Armani Watts. It would also allow the Chiefs to play veteran defensive leader Tyrann Mathieu at corner more (much like they did in the playoff run).
Signing a veteran would allow the Chiefs to maximize what they get out of Dan Sorensen and would provide an important insurance policy should 2019 rookie standout Juan Thornhill not be fully recovered from his torn ACL that he suffered last season. The Chiefs did not draft a safety, so making a move here somewhere feels almost inevitable.
The Carolina Panthers made the decision to release veteran safety Eric Reid in March, and he is still looking for a new home. The seven year NFL veteran spent only two years in Carolina, after being drafted by San Francisco in 2013. He was a Pro Bowler in 2013 and while his play is unlikely to return to that level, he is a much strong coverage corner than Sorensen.
With the versatile Mathieu able to line up anywhere, signing another safety that could put Mathieu, Thornhill, Sorenson and Reid on the field at the same time, would allow the Chiefs to deploy really strong nickel and dime defensive sets in a suddenly very fast AFC West. Bonus: Reid and Mathieu played together in college at LSU.
5. Olivier Vernon, defensive end, Cleveland Browns
Prior to the 2019 season Brett Veach was able to swing a deal trading cornerback Eric Murray for for veteran pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah was the 32nd overall pick in the 2016 draft, but was on the outs in Cleveland already. Murray was set to be cut by Kansas City and the trade worked out well for the Chiefs (and Cleveland), as Ogbah was a terrific addition to the Chiefs defense in their Super Bowl season. He registered 5.5 sacks in 10 games while rotating in as a second line pass rusher, and started when the team lost Alex Okafor.
Unfortunately Ogbah too finished the season on injured reserve (like Okafor). Now Ogbah is gone and the Chiefs could use another rotational defensive end given that they still do not know what they have in former second round pick Breeland Speaks (who was also on IR in 2019). Despite signing former first round pick Taco Charlton in recent days, there is no sure bet that he’ll be productive enough to make the final 53-man roster.
Fortunately, there is likely to be another former first round pick available. Olivier Vernon has spent only one season in Cleveland and is set to make over $15 million in 2020. The problem is, none of it is guaranteed and the Browns face zero cap penalty for moving on.
Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot recently wrote, “The Browns will probably be looking to replace defensive end Olivier Vernon, who’s due to make $15.25 million next season. They won’t pay him that much, so he’ll either be gone or asked to take a pay cut.”
The Chiefs obviously won’t be in the market to trade for the former Pro Bowler, not with that cap hit, but if released he would make a great deal of sense for the team to bring in. He’s a little smaller than most Spags’ defensive ends, but his talent and ability could still be utilized as a complementary piece to Clark and Okafor.
Vernon would have to take a massive pay cut to come to Kansas City, but the allure of the ring may help to assuage that issue some in his mind.