The Kansas City Chiefs did not end their 2021 season the way they would have liked. Falling at home in the AFC Championship Game will be a sour taste that the team will have to chew on all offseason long. Nonetheless, the future is still bright and Kansas City is due for a busy offseason.
Honestly, this is a Chiefs team that has largely been the same over the last three seasons, give or take a few starting players at certain positions. We all know some change and retooling to the roster is near. Though, how much roster turnover there is overall remains to be seen. The options are truly endless for general manager Brett Veach and his front office staff.
What are the top positions of need that the Chiefs must address in the 2022 offseason? We will list our personal rankings of each and every one, starting with primary needs and finishing off with secondary and ancillary needs. Let’s kick it off!
What’s On Tap?
Before we begin the rankings, we must address what is on the horizon for this Kansas City roster once the 2022 league year begins in March. The Chiefs will have a total of 27 players due for free agency, according to Spotrac. 23 of those are unrestricted free agents, meaning they are free to do what they wish, with zero ties remaining with Kansas City. There is one restricted free agent (wide receiver Marcus Kemp), meaning he has the opportunity to pursue a contract elsewhere. But, the Chiefs can match any offer for Kemp, if they wish to do so.
Finally, there are three players (tight end Jody Fortson, running back Derrick Gore, cornerback Chris Lammons) that fall under the category of being exclusive rights free agents. These are players with fewer than three accrued seasons and have an expiring contract. Simply, all the team has to do is issue them a qualifying offer, if they want them back. No other team can negotiate with that exclusive rights free agent, once a qualifying offer is issued.
2022 NFL Draft
As of right now, the Kansas City Chiefs are expected to have ten picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. They are as follows, according to Tankathon:
- 1st Round, 30th Overall
- 2nd Round, 62nd Overall
- 3rd Round, 94th Overall
- 3rd Round Compensatory Pick (Due to Ryan Poles leaving Kansas City for the Chicago Bears general manager job)
- 4th Round, 133rd Overall
- 6th Round, 189th Overall (via Baltimore Ravens from Orlando Brown Jr. trade)
- 7th Round, 231st Overall (via Minnesota Vikings from Mike Hughes trade)
- 7th Round, 241st Overall (from Las Vegas Raiders, via New England Patriots from Yasir Durant trade)
- 7th Round, 249th Overall
- 7th Round Compensatory Pick (Due to Damien Wilson leaving Kansas City for the Jacksonville Jaguars)
We will have more upcoming articles surrounding free agency and the draft, where we will address those items more in depth.
Ranking Positions Of Need
Obviously, these are the positions that the Chiefs cannot waste time addressing. Results from the draft, or being able to re-sign certain pending free agents could certainly alter some plans here. These spots do not just need to be addressed for 2022, however. Making sure these spots are set for the next few seasons and beyond will impact Kansas City even further.
Patrick Mahomes is transitioning from playing on his rookie contract, to getting into the early years of his mega contract extension. There is one thing you must always continue to do when building the roster. That is to surround your quarterback with as many top weapons as possible. No matter if they are on a rookie deal, or nearing the finish line of their career, quarterbacks need to have their cupboards stocked and stacked to the brim.
That cupboard is set to be awfully light for Mahomes and the Chiefs entering 2022. Of the names that played significant snaps in 2021, only Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are set to return. Josh Gordon did re-sign with Kansas City earlier this week on a reserve/futures deal. However, the team cannot solely bank on him being a player with high production. Of the other three names on the active roster, two are set to be unrestricted free agents (Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson). And then you have the aforementioned Kemp as a restricted free agent.
Rumors have already been swirling that the Chiefs will likely be major players on the wide receiver market in free agency. Names like Odell Beckham Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson have been linked to Kansas City so far. Other top names like Chris Godwin and Mike Williams are players that Veach could have interest in, given his aggressive swing of the bat. Overall, the team will likely sign multiple wide receivers, while also drafting at least one in April.
This is a position of need that is more difficult to judge than most. Routinely, Veach has failed to invest into the cornerback position with premium assets since becoming general manager. Opportunities have been there. Nevertheless, he and his staff have been more content with drafting under the radar names late in drafts. Or, Kansas City will acquire former top draft picks that did not possibly have success with other teams. We also know the Chiefs covet cornerbacks who possess length, physicality and can thrive in press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
Personally, I would not hesitate in investing into the cornerback position with a premium asset or two. It is frankly long overdue. Spending a first or second round pick at the position in April should not be off limits. Meanwhile, there are a few veteran free agents due to be available that stand out. Bringing in a veteran like Patrick Peterson, Xavier Rhodes, Darious Williams and Casey Hayward, among others would be wise for a younger group.
There is a tremendous player still in place for 2022 (L’Jarius Sneed). Although, two names are set to be unrestricted free agents (Charvarius Ward, Mike Hughes). Both played significant snaps in 2021.
The Chiefs pass rush was one of the worst in 2021. Their 31 sacks were fourth lowest in the league. To boot, only the Detroit Lions (30), Philadelphia Eagles (29) and Atlanta Falcons (18) had fewer. Kansas City has banked more on rotational depth at defensive end in recent years. A do it all difference maker has been missing for a good bit.
Melvin Ingram and Alex Okafor are both unrestricted free agents. While there may be interest in bringing Ingram back, salary cap questions could make it tricky. More importantly, everyone is waiting to see what will happen with Frank Clark. Is a contract restructure possible? Sure. Yet, that could still create more salary cap issues for Kansas City down the line, even if it helps them in 2022. There is a potential out in Clark’s contract this offseason. Furthermore, releasing him would free up $12.7 million in available 2022 salary cap space. That could be a major difference for Kansas City at their current crossroads. Similar to wide receiver and cornerback, I would not be surprised to see the Chiefs sign veterans here, while also selecting one within the first three rounds of April’s draft.
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Tyrann Mathieu is easily the best Chiefs player entering free agency. Could they bring him back? Certainly. It also sounds like he would welcome that and wants to stay in Kansas City. He obviously won’t be cheap to re-sign. But, the Chiefs have options available in order to get it done. Either way, his services will be heavily sought after from around the NFL. You could still sign or draft an impact safety this offseason. However, no one will be able to replace Mathieu’s leadership and instincts for the Chiefs.
Beyond that, Daniel Sorensen and Armani Watts are both unrestricted free agents. The Sorensen investment has already run its course. With Watts, he has mostly been used on special teams. It is difficult to know what to expect from Kansas City at the safety position. Do not be surprised if they drafted one early, though.
You of course still have Chris Jones in place entering 2022. But still, surrounding him with more depth and talent is necessary for the Chiefs defensive line. Both Jarran Reed and Derrick Nnadi are set to be unrestricted free agents. You are moving on from two defenders with prowess in run defense, if neither were to return. Khalen Saunders will still be on his rookie contract. Even he has been inconsistent when on the field.
The list of defensive tackle names available in free agency may be a bit more fruitful than the 2022 draft class at defensive tackle. Even still, I would not consider there to be many big-ticket names worth signing. Kansas City could possibly settle for signing a veteran depth option or two for cheap.
Secondary needs are positions that are somewhat pressing in 2022. Mainly, these spots are more about securing depth, rather than impact starters. Teams know they may have to use multiple names in these spots throughout the course of a lengthy season. These positions could also be seen as being more pressing in the near future following 2022. So, the Chiefs would be wise to get a head start in these areas.
Orlando Brown Jr. is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Unlike other top unrestricted free agents for Kansas City, it feels like there is more of an expectation for Brown Jr. Veach already stated that he is one of their top priorities. He is the prime candidate to receive the franchise tag from the Chiefs. If that happens, signing him to an extension before the 2022 regular season would be smart. When you consider the possibility of his salary cap hit in 2022, having him on an extension and not on the franchise tag would be best for business. The Chiefs likely won’t let him go, considering the trade package they sent to Baltimore to get him. He also finished the season relatively strong in his first full season at left tackle.
Kansas City has four more veteran names scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. This includes Andrew Wylie, Kyle Long (who did not play a single snap in 2021), Mike Remmers and Austin Blythe. Wylie has performed admirably when called upon. As a result, it would not be shocking to see him return on a cheap deal.
Lucas Niang has also struggled with performance and health. If you can lockdown Brown Jr., the Chiefs can focus solely on improving at right tackle. It also helps that the interior trio of Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith dominated as well as they did in 2021.
Like Niang, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has struggled with performance and health. The former first round pick is a fine player. However, his deficiencies are evident. He has never had game breaking speed. Edwards-Helaire has also had many reps where he has failed to read blocks or find the open lanes.
Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon both stepped up heavily when they needed to in 2021. Williams achieved his first career campaign with over 1,000 scrimmage yards. On the other hand, McKinnon was dynamic at the highest of stages during the playoffs. Both are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. As much as the team and fans would want them back, Kansas City should only bring them back at the right price and not break the bank for the running back position. Fullback Michael Burton is also set to be an unrestricted free agent, for what it’s worth. Lastly, Gore is going to be an exclusive rights free agent. He could very well be back, but it is not guaranteed.
These needs are not pressing for 2022 or even in the near future. One quick fix or extra depth piece could be necessary, though. These spots are only needs if you are looking to find specific traits.
The linebacker position has two young studs in place. Nick Bolton was making impact stops all over the place in his 2021 rookie season. More impressively, he produced at a major rate while only playing a limited amount of snaps. Willie Gay also responded quite handsomely to more playing time in 2021. He can cover, make plays in space and has seen his confidence grow when working downhill.
Anthony Hitchens looks as good as gone. His performance has been up and down. But mostly, the Chiefs cannot afford to carry his salary into 2022. Too many other needs make it irresponsible to do so, based on the play of Bolton and Gay, and the lack of results from Hitchens himself. Releasing Hitchens saves Kansas City $8.4 million in 2022, while incurring just $4.2 million in dead cap money.
If I’m Veach, I’m ideally looking for a third linebacker that can cover, make plays in space and is strong fundamentally. You could find this in either free agency or the draft for cheap.
The NFL’s best tight end, Travis Kelce, will be back. So too, will Noah Gray and likely Fortson (exclusive rights free agent). The only player who possibly won’t be returning is Blake Bell. He is an unrestricted free agent. Without him, the Chiefs could add another piece that is known to be a blocker and an above average pass catcher. You do not necessarily have to address this spot yet. However, you never know when you may need insurance or extra bodies available, especially on a team that throws as often as the Chiefs do.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles this weekend. 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.
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