Heading into 2020, the Kansas City Chiefs were able to retain most of their roster from the previous campaign. This was near record levels in recent NFL history, especially for a defending Super Bowl champion. Meanwhile, the team could very well be on the opposite end of the spectrum going into 2021.
According to Spotrac, the Chiefs have a total of 24 players that are pending free agents this offseason. The NFL recently set the minimum salary cap number for this upcoming season at $180 million. Therefore, Kansas City is currently set to have the fifth fewest amount of cap space, according to Over The Cap ($23+ million over the cap).
General manager Brett Veach will have to be as calculated as he has ever been in his current tenure. But quite frankly, this list of pending free agents may not be that difficult to work through. The timing just feels right to move on from mainstays that have been with the team for a good while. On the other hand, due to the pandemic, salary cap and other roster questions, other free agent decisions could already be determined. And that would largely be a result of factors out of Kansas City’s control. Who returns in 2021? Who departs to a new team? We will give our own predictions for these pending free agents, as the new league year is roughly three weeks away.
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Expected To Return
The No Brainers
The easy decisions for the team to make involves players listed as ERFAs (exclusive rights free agents). What is an exclusive right free agent? This is a veteran player that has accrued less than three NFL seasons (playing in at least six games a year). They are limited to either signing the contract tendered to them by their current team. Or if a team chooses to not tender them a contract, the ERFA then becomes an unrestricted free agent.
There are three players that fall under this category among the Chiefs’ 2021 pending free agents. That would be wide receiver Byron Pringle, tight end Nick Keizer and cornerback Alex Brown. Pringle himself, could assume a larger role on the offense next season. Tyreek Hill vouched for him to receive more playing time entering the Super Bowl. And the team did indeed increase his usage late in the season. As for Keizer and Brown, they will likely be back as depth players. Brown missed all of last season, after suffering a torn ACL last August. All three of these decisions will likely be swift from the Chiefs front office, while bringing all of the trio back.
Highly Likely To Return
Kansas City then has five players under the restricted free agent category. RFAs are players with three accrued seasons who has an expiring contract. The first option teams have with restricted free agents is to not tender them a contract, where they would then become an unrestricted free agent. The other option is for teams to use a one year tender on them, and placing a first, second or original round selection on the player. This means that if teams use an original round tender, it reverts back to that round the player was originally selected in.
Now keep in mind, these players can still negotiate with other teams, despite the one year tender placed on him. The original team has the right to match any offer he receives from another team. If that original team does not elect to match an offer from another team, that franchise will receive a corresponding draft pick (first, second or original round selection) from that other team.
The five restricted free agents from the Chiefs include running back Darrel Williams, linebacker Ben Niemann, cornerback Charvarius Ward, offensive lineman Andrew Wylie and tight end Deon Yelder. Honestly, the decisions and results for these players’ futures in Kansas City could go a number of different directions. Could all five be back on cheap, tendered deals? Yes. Is there a possibility where only a couple of those guys are back? Absolutely.
For the sake of making predictions, we believe only two players have a clear shot of returning. That would be Williams and Niemann. Both are highly regarded depth players by the Chiefs brass. Additionally, those players appear to hold a firm grasp on seeing significant snaps again in 2021.
Up In The Air
Personally, we believe the Chiefs could easily find replicable players to replace the trio of Ward, Wylie and Yelder. Obviously, that makes a ton of sense for Wylie and Yelder. Ward feels like a guy who could be twisting in the wind, however.
A fairly sound 2019 season of positive results was met with inconsistencies in 2020 for Ward. In 2019, he allowed just 47.2% of passes to be completed against him. Add in a 65.2 passer rating allowed when targeted, and more interceptions (two) than touchdown passes allowed (one), and Ward was dependable. Nearly all of his pass coverage numbers declined in 2020. Ward allowed a 57.1% of passes to be completed against him. Quarterbacks had a passer rating of 103.1 against him as well. Ward also did not create any turnovers and allowed four passing touchdowns, the most in his short stint starting for the Chiefs.
What if Ward got traded? There is no such thing as absolutes, in terms of NFL roster building. And, Veach has been just as quick to move off of guys he likes that he previously took a gamble on. If Kansas City feels inclined, the team could possibly look to move him to a team in desperate need of cornerback help. That would give a new squad a young player looking for a rebound.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Very Few Return
The unrestricted free agents do not have the lengths to work through like accrued seasons or current career length. Of course, teams can still use the franchise tag on players under this category. The Chiefs will likely not be using that this offseason. Let’s look at the list of the 16 unrestricted free agents.
- Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins
- Defensive End Alex Okafor
- Safety Daniel Sorensen
- Cornerback Bashaud Breeland
- Linebacker Damien Wilson
- Wide Receiver Demarcus Robinson
- Center Austin Reiter
- Guard Kelechi Osemele
- Offensive Tackle Mike Remmers
- Fullback Anthony Sherman
- Defensive End Tanoh Kpassagnon
- Center/Guard Daniel Kilgore
- Defensive Tackle Mike Pennel
- Cornerback Antonio Hamilton
- Running Back Le’Veon Bell
- Defensive End Taco Charlton
Due to limitations in salary cap space and the options Kansas City could have their at disposal in replacing these guys, I would only guess that about a quarter of these UFAs return. The variances in who could make the list is very large. However, these would be the four guys that I would bring back. That would be Sorensen, Breeland, Osemele and Charlton.
My reasons as to why I chose those individuals are as follows. Given the options in free agency or the draft, and the current needs of the team, these players could all play in a pinch and quietly dominate at their positions. We have seen the recent emergence of both Sorensen and Breeland. Furthermore, it could become trying to find players to fill the roles they currently employ. Of the two, Breeland will likely be the most difficult to work into the puzzle, contract wise. Elsewhere, Osemele and Charlton could see a depressed market for them, following devastating injuries early last season. Yet, both did extremely well in the snaps they saw with the Chiefs in 2021.
There are veterans like Sherman, Watkins, Robinson, Wilson and Okafor who could be difficult to move on from. Kansas City can always find a different fullback and special teams leader. And they will have to opt for a younger guy over Sherman eventually. On the other hand, Watkins has been unable to stay healthy and Robinson could see a vibrant amount of offers on the open market. Wilson saw his snaps decrease significantly at linebacker in 2020. The team is very high on Willie Gay. Finally, Okafor already took a slight pay decrease for his contract this past season. The writing could very well be on the wall, that the veteran pass rusher is playing in somewhere other than Kansas City.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles throughout the week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.