Kansas City Chiefs fans’ guide to the start of NFL free agency
Hold onto your seats, football fans, the NFL free agency circus is about to kick into full swing. The NFL’s legal tampering window opens on Monday, and with it, the reports of different players signing with different teams are going to be flying left and right.
So what should fans of the Kansas City Chiefs be paying the closest attention to? Here’s a quick rundown to have you ready to follow one of the wildest news weeks on the NFL calendar.
The Tampering Window and Official Start of Free Agency
First off, the legal tampering window officially opens at 11:00 am Arrowhead time. However, we all know the official tampering has already begun. That’s why some deals will be announced right at the opening of the window (no deal is ever negotiated and announced in minutes). However, these deals (regardless of when they were negotiated or announced) can’t become official until 3:00 pm Arrowhead time on Wednesday when free agency officially begins.
So in theory, any team or player could back out of one of these deals before then. That’s rare, but we have seen it happen a few times.
Will The Chiefs Be Major Players in Free Agency?
It probably depends on your definition of “major player”. The Chiefs definitely have to make some moves, but you shouldn’t be anticipating a flood of news about the Chiefs handing out high-priced contracts to the top free agents available. Brett Veach has shown he likes to find value and that often doesn’t come on day one of free agency.
That having been said, Veach has also shown he’ll make a trade to acquire a player at a position of need if he doesn’t like the free agent pool available. So could some kind of big move be coming? Sure, but Chiefs fans shouldn’t panic if the first wave of major signings happens and K.C. doesn’t land any of them.
Time after time, the teams that “win” the early free agency news cycle aren’t the teams winning actual games when it counts.
Are The Chiefs Going To Lose Some Key Players From Last Year?
Yes and that’s okay. I wrote at the beginning of the offseason that K.C. didn’t have any players that were a “must” to re-sign. Are there plenty of players that it would be great to bring back if the money is right? Definitely, but the Chiefs shouldn’t overpay for any of their pending free agents.
Guys like Orlando Brown Jr., Juju Smith-Schuster, Andrew Wylie, Frank Clark, Carlos Dunlap, and Khalen Saunders are all guys that would fill major needs and could make sense to bring back, but none of them are worth overpaying for. If some other team is willing to give them a bigger payday than K.C. can afford, they have to let them walk.
Other guys like Juan Thornhill and Mecole Hardman are good players, but it probably doesn’t make sense for K.C. to pay them at this point.
How Much Money Do The Chiefs Have To Work With?
According to Over The Cap, the Chiefs are sitting at roughly $14.3 million in cap space after cutting Frank Clark, not tagging Orlando Brown, and tendering Tommy Townsend. That’s not much space for them to work with, but that doesn’t mean the Chiefs don’t have options.
Chris Jones’s cap number this season is just north of $28 million, so a new deal for him could actually create quite a bit more space for this year. A lot of teams create more space by converting high-priced veterans’ salaries to bonus money that is prorated against the cap in future years. That sounds good when wanting money to work with at the start of free agency, but can hurt your long-term team building options. Brett Veach has done a nice job of avoiding those long-term entanglements, so I wouldn’t look for him to go crazy there.
The one exception might be converting some of Patrick Mahomes’ $34 million roster bonus into a signing bonus since we know they aren’t going to want to cut Mahomes anytime soon and his current deal is looking like more and more of a bargain with every new quarterback contract. The bottom line here is the Chiefs have a little cap room to work with now and the flexibility to create more if needed.
What Positions Could the Chiefs Target in Free Agency?
There are three key positions that Chiefs fans will want to watch how the market plays out: offensive tackle, defensive end, and wide receiver. Tackle is by far K.C.’s biggest area of need as I write this. Could they bring back Orlando Brown or Andrew Wylie? Will they target someone else in Free Agency? Will they trade for a starting tackle? I don’t know, but the Chiefs currently need two starting tackles and the free agent class is weak.
Defensive end needs help, but will they target true starters (and the big contracts that come with them) or guys that are more rotational?
As far as wide receiver goes, they could try to re-sign Juju, but a weak free agent wide receiver class could make him expensive. There are some rumors about Odell Beckham Jr., but if his asking price is too steep I don’t think K.C. will go there. I personally think a less expensive deal is more likely. Some guys to keep an eye on include Adam Thielen, Allen Lazard, and Darius Slayton.
Defensive tackle, running back, and safety are also positions where the Chiefs will need to make additions but the stakes aren’t as high.
The biggest move of the offseason at defensive tackle could be a Chris Jones extension (which he hinted at on Twitter), but right now the Chiefs don’t have any other defensive tackles to play next to him. I wouldn’t look for them to make any big deals here, they tend to like to bargain hunt around Jones.
There’s some speculation that Clyde Edwards-Helaire could be dealt this offseason and that would leave the roster empty behind Isiah Pacheco. Bringing back Jerick McKinnon could make sense, but some kind of reasonable veteran addition is likely.
I’d be shocked if the Chiefs paid Juan Thornhill enough to come back next season, but they will need a third starting caliber safety. This is another spot where a reasonably priced veteran would make sense.
The best approach to Chiefs free agency
It feels to me like Brett Veach has something up his sleeve. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t think he likes having a hole at left tackle. Maybe the big move is re-signing Orlando Brown once he sees nobody is willing to make him the highest-paid tackle in the NFL. Maybe it’s trading for a starting left tackle from another team. Maybe it’s locking up a strong starting right tackle like Jawaan Taylor so that the right side is reliable if they have to go with a rookie on the left side. That last one would surprise me because Veach doesn’t like to have his hands tied when the draft rolls around. Whatever it is, I feel like there is something coming this week on the tackle front.
That having been said, don’t let your emotions get too high or too low depending on how this week goes. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but the final 53-man roster is what matters and no team will be close to locking that in this week. Remember all the buzz about the rest of the AFC West last year after K.C.’s rivals all went crazy bringing in big names? How did that work out?
So while I think there could be a big move coming at tackle, if I’m wrong and KC stays quiet this week, that’s fine. If a bunch of KC’s free agents get snapped up by other teams, that’s fine. Team building is a multi-season marathon and Brett Veach has proven he keeps his eye on the finish line and couldn’t care less about who sprints out to an early lead at the start of the tampering period. Chiefs fans would do well to take that same approach.