One look at the 53-man roster unveiled by the K.C. Chiefs on Tuesday revealed a disproportional number on the defensive side when fans saw the team was keeping six linebackers. Given the loss of talent at other positions, it was a tough but necessary call in the light of Willie Gay‘s toe injury.
Instead of selecting between Darius Harris and Dorian O’Daniel to make the active roster, the Chiefs kept both players. That meant setting someone else free on the waiver wire, which means potentially losing a promising preseason performer like defensive end Tim Ward or a new draft pick like wide receiver Cornell Powell.
The Chiefs have well over a week to go until this active roster will play a meaningful game—set for Sunday, September 12 against the Cleveland Browns—but the Chiefs’ decision to keep these linebackers shows that Gay’s injury isn’t just a day-to-day thing. There’s a very real chance it will play into the regular season.
The Chiefs are going to have to be patient in myriad ways due to Willie Gay’s injury.
"“Yeah, listen, I think the next few days here, a week or so, will tell us. We’ll just see where we’re at with it. Those things are sensitive. Like I said, we’ll play it by ear and see how he does.”"
This hurts the Chiefs on a couple levels, although we should admit that “hurt” is a subjective term here. The Chiefs are a world-class team with the capability of beating any team on any field whether or not Gay is a part of the defense.
First, this is a breakout season for Gay and he’s already looked like he’s contributing on another level even against vanilla schemes in limited preseason work. Even among elite athletes at the pro level, Gay is a rare blend of size, strength and sideline-to-sideline speed. He’s got the ability to become the team’s best linebacker by a country mile and that’s including present company of a highly productive Anthony Hitchens and an exciting rookie in Nick Bolton. That’s not a knock on them but the truth about Gay’s ceiling.
The frustration is a bit greater here given that Gay has already missed time in the team’s concussion protocol earlier this preseason and the entirety of the postseason after suffering a knee injury. These things are not the fault of the player at all. It’s just disheartening since his development is so vital to the defense with a potential so great.
Secondly, any ability for the Chiefs to tweak the roster back to the proportions they want to keep long-term will be stymied by Gay’s availability. If Gay remains injured for a couple weeks, the Chiefs aren’t as free to explore potential additions or protect promising players due to having to keep an injured linebacker on the roster.
At the same time, to put Gay on IR would mean losing him for a full three games. The Chiefs want him back as soon as possible to be able to place him alongside Hitchens and Bolton in a new look linebacking corps. There are just no good answers here.
That’s why Andy Reid was preaching patience in his answers to reporters and Chiefs Kingdom is going to have to follow suit. Gay is going to be a stud in the heart of the defense. It’ll just take some time. Hopefully Gay will be back sooner than later and that the team can slip the talent they want to keep through waivers to place them on the practice squad.