As we head into the offseason, the time for changes is coming. This looks to be a very important season at this point for the Kansas City franchise. Today, we will look at the pending Chiefs free agents for this offseason. The simple question is, who do they keep in the red and gold or sweep away and wish them the best. That’s what we will decide here in this piece. According to Spotrac, the Chiefs have twenty-two players who will be pending free agents. Here is the following list of players:
UFAs (unrestricted free agents): Allen Bailey, Demetrius Harris, Dee Ford, Anthony Sherman, Spencer Ware, Orlando Scandrick, Mitch Morse, Jordan Devey, De’Anthony Thomas, Jeff Allen, Frank Zombo, Charcandrick West, Chris Conley, Steven Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin, Ron Parker
Before we decide which players to keep or sweep, let’s breakdown the difference between unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights free agents for those who do not know. Unrestricted free agents can sign with other teams if the player wishes to, with no restrictions. Restricted free agents are able to negotiate with other teams, but the original team can match the offer and get a draft pick if he’s signed away. Exclusive rights free agents are not really free at all. The team can offer the player a low-cost, one year contract if they want to. The player has to accept it and cannot be signed away from other teams if offered a deal.
Free Agents to Keep
In terms of which player is going to be talked about the most and which pending free agent could cost the most is Dee Ford. Ford has been marveled as a franchise tag candidate. It doesn’t seem like Ford and the Chiefs would go down the road of a standoff like the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell for example. Ford was quoted earlier in saying, “if someone offers you $20 million, would you take it? No brainer right there.”
Ford has been getting some flack due to lining up offsides during the AFC Championship Game. And yes, that is something that should be fixed, but that one mistake doesn’t take away the kind of season he had in 2018. Ford led the NFL in quarterback pressures this season according to Pro Football Focus. The biggest question for Ford, is will he be a one year wonder? Due to injuries and minimal production in the past, this was a monumental leap forward that we saw Ford take this season. I also think that how Kansas City’s offense operated this season was a big part of Ford’s game. He is a traditional pass rusher, and at times, he is unaccounted for in the run defense. With the Chiefs mostly holding a lead this season, it allowed for Ford to constantly have chances to tee off on opposing quarterbacks. It’s very difficult to predict the future, but given how hard it is to plug and play a pass rusher in NFL defenses today, I think the Chiefs would gladly bring Ford back in 2019.
Steven Nelson enjoyed his career-best season in 2018. He logged fifteen pass breakups and four interceptions. Overall, Nelson is going to be a guy that new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can rely on. When on the outside, Nelson has stepped up to the plate on being tested in intermediate to deep routes. The progression of Nelson’s game has continued to grow, as he has learned what he can and cannot do against some of the best NFL quarterbacks. He filled the shoes of Marcus Peters well this season, which was a big question heading into the season for the Chiefs defense. Nelson may garner some interest from other teams, but I do not think he is a guy that will garner big money if the Chiefs would like to bring him back in 2019.
Is Mitch Morse worth a decent amount of money? Probably. But, I am shocked by how some experts think that he will be paid an overhaul for a contract. I think Morse is an above average center. But like Nelson, I think the Chiefs and this pending free agent will agree to a fair contract. Morse does everything you need for a center. His lateral quickness, grit, smartness and leadership are all important to the communication and play for the other Chiefs offensive linemen. I think Morse will be back in the red and gold in 2019.
Spencer Ware is a running back the Chiefs should want back in 2019. Ware was eased back into the offense this season. So, he was not back to form overall this season from a knee injury. Ware also missed the final home stretch of the season and into the playoffs. But, the Chiefs know what they can get expect from Ware. He is going to be able to run hard between the tackles for them and be a receiver if need be. We still cannot forget what Ware did in 2015-16 either. Ware is a guy that the Chiefs can use as a ground and pound type back in a backfield committee. He is certainly a benefit to the KC offense.
It took a long time, but in 2018, Demetrius Harris became a consistent pass catcher. For example, in the Chiefs, Monday Night comeback win in Denver, Harris made some bigtime catches late by finding an open space while Patrick Mahomes scrambled to find a play. Due to the fact that the Chiefs stayed the course with him in 2018, despite there being some more tight end competition in training camp, I think Harris will be brought back by the Chiefs for 2019.
Another guy who grew with the reinvigorated Chiefs offense this season was Chris Conley. Conley makes the catches he needs to in short and intermediate routes. Like Demarcus Robinson, he is a perfect style of receiver for Mahomes to have in a situation where out routes and crossers are needed. Conley is also a stout blocker out on the edge.
Fullbacks are not as praised in today’s NFL. But, I think the Chiefs and Sherman will mutually want to coexist in 2019. Sherman is able to run hard with the ball, perform any types of blocks, be a part of any of the special teams units and as we saw against the Raiders in Week 17 this year, he can catch out of the slot in dire straits. Sherman is also a top leader and captain in the locker room.
Lucas became a fan of some Chiefs fans this season. At safety, Lucas plays hard and leaves it all on the field. There is nothing Lucas cannot do, and I’m eager to see how he would perform in Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme. I think Lucas is a safety who can fly around as a free safety and be a top on the backend of the defense. Since he is a restricted free agent, it should be simple to bring Lucas back if the Chiefs would want to.
Butker is a kicker that general manager Brett Veach liked as a possible Day 3 draft prospect back when Butker was coming out of Georgia Tech. Butker can hit from fairly long distances as well. The fact that Butker has been very consistent overall in an era where some veteran kickers have become imperfect makes bringing him back a no brainer.
Hamilton saw a little bit of extra playing time in this year’s regular-season finale, but overall Hamilton has mostly been a rotational depth piece for Kansas City. I don’t think his role will dramatically change, but I could possibly see an increased number of snaps for him in the future. I think the depth along the defensive line going into next season may reflect that, as well as his ability to get off blocks well in run defense.
Kemp, like Butker and Hamilton, is an exclusive rights free agent. So, he will likely get offered a league minimum contract without hesitation and be back in 2019. His biggest strength so far has been on special teams. Special teams coach Dave Toub likes him as a gunner in punt coverage, as well as a blocker in the kick return game.
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Free Agents to Sweep
It may be tough to say goodbye to Bailey, who has spent his entire eight-year career with the Chiefs. His ability to get into the backfield often is a good thing. However, the Chiefs may feel they have received all they can get out of Bailey. Plus, I think the deduction of Bailey is more due to other factors of the roster than Bailey himself. You have players like Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones, who could be receiving big contract extensions soon. Also, the Chiefs will likely be trying to free up some cap space as much as they can too.
Scandrick returning would be a huge surprise. For one, the replacements they could bring in from either the draft or free agency would be just as good, if not better, than Scandrick’s level of play right now. He was a late addition in August, after being released by Washington early in the preseason. Also, Scandrick was benched after making mistakes in the game the Chiefs blew on Thursday Night at home against the Chargers in Week 15. He did not make an impact in the postseason, and the 31-year-old veteran looks to be destined to not returning to the Chiefs in 2019.
When Kareem Hunt was released, the Chiefs had to bring West back. But, he hardly played much. His receiving abilities were ousted by the same abilities of Damien Williams and Darrel Williams. With the emergence of both the Williams in the offense and a hopefully healthy dose of production for Ware, the Chiefs would likely just add another back in the draft late rather than bring back West for any kind of money.
Like West, Zombo was part of the final preseason cuts, but was brought back due to a need at his position during the regular season. Zombo is really only impactful on special teams, and as an outside linebacker there is not much to show there. Zombo is an average tackler who is slower than most other above-average defensive players.
With the injury history and minimal production, Thomas has hardly seen the field in the last two to three seasons. Thomas was mainly the Chiefs punt returner before Tyreek Hill came to town. Since then, Thomas has been a depth piece at receiver. With Demarcus Robinson and others emerging on offense, Thomas just does not match the level of play of those receivers. Also, there was a report that Thomas was arrested in late January for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. That could also be another note to not bring him back in 2019.
Jeff Allen and Jordan Devey
We will look at both of these backup offensive linemen at the same time. They both have done a fair job when needing to be counted on. But, the Chiefs look to have found some younger, more effective depth pieces this season in Austin Reiter and Andrew Wylie. Allen and Devey are simply the odd men out for depth in the offensive line room.
Like Scandrick, the Chiefs picked up Benjamin at a point where it was more to give someone an opportunity than be an impact. Benjamin was added much later in the season though as a waiver wire pickup. His league minimum salary was a low risk for the Chiefs. Benjamin was given some chances late in the regular season, but due to not seeing the field in the playoffs, Kansas City already told us how they feel about Kelvin moving forward. It would be a shock to see him back in 2019.
The Chiefs already released Parker before the AFC Championship Game when they activated Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from Injured Reserve. But since he is still listed on the list from Spotrac, we’ll talk about him real fast. He was asked to take a pay cut after 2017, and did not. Ron was released last spring and spent the preseason with the Falcons. The Falcons hardly used him then, and the Chiefs added him back in the fold right before the regular season since Eric Berry was injured late in training camp. Parker had mini spurts of good play, but overall he was very shaky. His lacks in coverage and reads forced the Chiefs to be tied at safety throughout much of the season.
This is a hard one to judge. Smith is a restricted free agent, so the Chiefs may be able to bring him back for cheap if they would like. Dave Toub also loves his services on special teams. But, the Chiefs can easily find depth at linebacker and a special teams in the draft or free agency. I just think even they brought back Smith for cheap, the Chiefs would not be right in spending any money on him. His tackling is inconsistent, and as a coverage linebacker, there are better options out there.
Ellis actually had a decent preseason in being able to show what he had. But, he hardly saw the field after the preseason. Ellis got injured and was waived by way of an injury designation in early October. After going unclaimed on waivers, Ellis was placed on Injured Reserve. Ellis has the ability to be a number three tight end, but I don’t think it will be with the Chiefs in 2019. Thank you for reading. Be see to stay tuned to Full Press Coverage for all of the NFL offseason news. – Braden Holecek is a Kansas City Chiefs writer for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9 Follow @FPC_Chiefs and Facebook.– Kyle Senra is the editor for the Kansas City Chiefs on Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @nyama_ks Follow @FPC_NFL and Facebook.