Will Chiefs lean on Alex Okafor for another season?

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

Will the Kansas City Chiefs end up leaning on Alex Okafor for yet another season given the lack of veteran moves at defensive end?

Coming into the 2022 offseason, there was no single position on the Kansas City Chiefs with more transactions expected than the defensive front. To date, after nearly all of free agency and another first-year player draft, the defensive line has instead received substantially less attention than anyone could have predicted.

Heading into the offseason, the Chiefs themselves weren’t afraid to publicly state that the defensive line needed to be rebuilt. The pass rush was anemic and the team was laughably thin on young talent both outside and inside. Few teams were paying so much for so little, and the Chiefs faced big decisions with multiple players. None of them were easy calls.

In the end, the Chiefs did make a few moves, including a couple of big decisions, and those should not be overlooked. They brought back Frank Clark when nearly everyone believed the Chiefs would release him due to the enormity of his looming cap hit. Instead, they were able to restructure a deal to keep him around. Then on the other side, the team drafted Purdue pass rusher George Karlaftis in the first round, giving them a new anchor up front.

That said, there’s precious little here in terms of reliability or depth. Melvin Ingram decided to sign with the Miami Dolphins instead of re-up with the Chiefs. The team cleared up cap space with the Tyreek Hill trade, but that came after every notable pass rusher available on the open market or via trade had found a new home this spring. After the dust settled, the Chiefs have Mike Danna and Josh Kaindoh as the first rotational players on the edge.

The conditions aren’t that much better inside, although the depth is appreciated. Derrick Nnadi re-signed for a single season. The Chiefs also brought in Taylor Stallworth for a single year to compete with Turk Wharton and Khalen Saunders. Chris Jones is the obvious anchor here, but the ceiling is lower than anyone would have liked this far into the offseason.

Given the lack of obvious moves the Chiefs can make at this point to enhance their fortunes, one potential move that’s still sitting there waiting to be made is the re-signing of Alex Okafor.

Some fans will roll their eyes at the idea of bringing back Okafor in ’22, since his return in ’21 was already nothing to write home about. However, there’s something to be said for a player who knows the defensive system very well, and Okafor was also reliable enough to play in all 17 regular-season games for the Chiefs last season. As much as fans might wish to see someone with a higher ceiling take those reps, the truth is that the Chiefs failed to import such a player.

The most starry-eyed fans at this point will point to Kaindoh or even Malik Herring and believe tall tales. While everyone in Chiefs Kingdom would love for one of those stories to come true, it’s also irresponsible to head into a season coasting on such wishes. The NFL season is grueling and even strengths can be reduced to weaknesses. For a team to begin with major question marks is a fool’s errand, and the Chiefs need to have some reliable depth in hand.

Okafor is no longer a starting end, but the Chiefs don’t need him at that rate. Last season, he played in 41 percent of all defensive snaps and for the ’22 season, that number would likely decrease to less than a third. If Okafor can serve as a helpful veteran voice for younger players and a reliable rotational presence on the field, it could be a win-win for his return for another season.

It might not be the splashy signing that everyone was hoping for, but those chances are long gone already. At this point, it’s simply about stocking up on needs instead of focusing on wants.

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