C.J. Spiller release surprise among Chiefs roster deadline moves

KANSAS CITY, Mo. –The Kansas City Chiefs pared down their roster to 53 players before Saturday afternoon’s deadline, with veteran running back C.J. Spiller and linebacker Justin March-Lillard among the surprise departures from the team.

Spiller’s release leaves the Chiefs with just rookie Kareem Hut and veteran Charcandrick West i the backfield. General manager Brett Veach, however, think he may add a third back before Thursday’s season opener at New England.

“All the names are starting to trickle through right now and we’ll look through them and we’ll evaluate the situation,” Veach said. “But there’s a very good chance there will be three running backs on our roster.”

Saturday’s cuts do not mark the end of the wheeling and dealing for general manager Brett Veach, however. All NFL teams have until 11 a.m. to submit a claim for players on waivers. Teams can negotiate immediately with players who have four or more years experience and receiver their outright release.

Teams can also begin assembling a 10-player practice squad beginning at Sunday at noon central time.

Here’s a run down of where the team’s roster appears now:

QUARTERBACK (3)

On the roster: Alex Smith, Patrick Mahomes and Tyler Bray
Cut: Joel Stave

The backup quarterback question received a quick answer once Mahomes ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart and the group looked set since then. Stave definitely ranks as a practice squad candidate but the challenge remains keeping four quarterbacks around while giving Mahomes the development reps he needs.

Veach made crystal clear no quarterback controversy exists in Kansas City.

“Alex is our quarterback,” Veach said. “Alex is so far advanced in the mental side of things in regards to his ability to read coverages, to shift us out of plays and really play the chess game. He’s so far ahead of where Pat is I don’t think it’s even close right now.”

But Veach said the team remains excited with the progress of Mahomes so far.

“The development he has made and the strides he has taken in those departments has exceeded our expectations to this point,” Veach said. “We’re excited where we are, and again the longer that Alex and Pat are together the better we’ll be.”

RUNNING BACK (3)

On the roster: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West and Anthony Sherman
Cut: C.J. Spiller and Devine Redding
Injured reserve: RB Spencer Ware

The running back depth chart looked competitive until Ware’s injury. Spiller’s departure is a bit of a stunner. The Chiefs lack a power short-yardage back, however, and with only two running backs on the roster, Veach clearly has his eyes on some waiver wire targets. Redding remains a practice squad candidate.

Veach also didn’t close the door on Spiller returning to the club, saying he spoke to the veteran on Saturday.

“We’ve had that conversation, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation around the league and what’s out there and what’s available,” Veach said. “There’s a likely scenario where C.J. Is on our team.”

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marcus Kemp celebrates a touchdown catch with teammate Jehu Chesson during a preseason game game against the San Francisco 49ers on Aug. 11, 2017. (Photo by Justin Olson, ChiefsDigest.com)

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

On the roster: Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, De’Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson and Demarcus Robinson
Cut: Marcus Kemp, Gehrig Dieter, Seantavius Jones, Tevin Jones, Tony Stevens and Robert Wheelwright

The team’s first four receivers looked locked in stone most of the preseason, the fight came down to four players for the final two spots. Chesson and Robinson showed the most during the preseason games but Kemp and Jones turned in strong performances as well. Kemp almost certainly returns to the practice squad unless another team snatches him away.

Veach single out the squad’s versatility and contributions on special teams, especially Thomas.

“You’ve seen what De’Anthony can do, and I think as we go on here I think De’Anthony will have a bigger role in the offense,” Veach said.

TIGHT END (3)

On the roster: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris and Ross Travis
Cut: Gavin Escobar and Orson Charles

The Chiefs seemed likely to keep four tight ends and still might. The team lacks a powerful run-blocking tight end and that looks like a priority among potential waiver claims. Charles offers a lot of flexibility as an H-back and depth at fullback as well, so he might not be forever out of the picture.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

On the roster: Eric Fisher, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mitchell Schwartz, Zach Fulton, Bryan Witzmann, Parker Ehinger, Jordan Devey and Cameron Erving
Cut: Mike Person, Donald Hawkins, Andrew Tiller, Josh James, Damien Mama and Joseph Cheek
Traded: Isaiah Battle to Seattle for 2018 conditional draft pick

The trade for Erving and release of Jah Reid earlier this week cleared up the offensive line picture completely. Ehinger did not play in the preseason and may not be ready for a few more weeks. Witzmann can hold down left guard until he returns. That leaves Fulton as the super sub anywhere on the line and Erving the swing tackle. Devey also adds additional depth for now. The Chiefs pick up another conditional draft pick for 2018 in exchange for Battle.

Erving, acquired from Cleveland for a fifth -round pick in 2018, struggled during his first two seasons with the Browns. But Veach believes Erving was miscast as a guard his rookie season and showed improvement last season as center.

“He’s certainly a tremendous athlete and we feel that we’ll have the ability to correct some technical stuff in his game and he will be able to contribute as well,” Veach said.

DEFENSIVE LINE (6)

On the roster: Allen Bailey, Bennie Logan, Chris Jones, Roy Miller, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Jarvis Jenkins
Cut: Cam Thomas, Rick Ali’fua, Maurice Swain
Traded: David King

The defensive line picture solidified late in camp once Miller took the field. Bailey, Logan and Jones present a strong front. Miller provides experience depth as a true tackle. Nunez-Roches can fill in anywhere on the line in rotation. The club picked up a conditional seventh-round draft pick for King, who showed flashes in limited opportunities with the Chiefs.

LINEBACKER (10)

On the roster: Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Frank Zombo, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Derrick Johnson, Ramik Wilson, Reggie Ragland, Ukeme Eligwe, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Terrance Smith
Cut: Earl Okine, Marcus Rush and Justin March-Lillard
Reserve/PUP List:
Tamba Hali and Dadi Nicolas

Starting Tamba Hali on the physically unable to perform list is not surprise. The 12-year veteran didn’t practice at all during camp and the preseason. The team’s plan appears to stash Hali away for the first half of the season and have him fresh for the stretch fun and playoffs.

“It’s one of those situations where we’re always kind of monitoring it and see where we are,” Veach said

The team has a logjam at inside linebacker but everyone should find a way to contribute, particularly on special teams. Veach said it may take some time for Ragland to get up to speed but suggested he’s in their plans for the second half of the season.

“One of the things we learned in Alabama, this kid is all ball,” Veach said. “I mean he loves football, he loves to train, he loves to compete, loves the process. So you’re banking on the kid and you’re banking on his work ethic and his passion and his desire to get back.”

The roster moves also suggest Kpassagnon is definitely an edge linebacker now. March-Lillard remains a strong special teams player but lost out in a numbers game against strong recent acquisitions including Ragland and Pierre-Louis.

CORNERBACK (6)

On the roster: Marcus Peters, Steven Nelson, Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, D.J. White  and Kenneth Acker
Cut: De’Vante Bausby, Trevon Hartfield, Larry Scott and Jacoby Glenn
Injured reserve: Ashton Lampkin

The Chiefs held the company line, returning all of the returning cornerbacks from a year ago and passing on any newcomers. Bausby’s cut serves as a bit of a surprise. He consistently played on the left side of the second-team defense and appeared to pass White and Acker based on preseason snaps. In the end, the Chiefs stick with the corners they know and trust.

“All of our guys have progressed and made improvements,” Veach said. “I think you saw that in Phillip Gaines this offseason. I think we were all excited about his rookie year and then he had the knee and then him coming back this year and really putting out some good tape.”

SAFETY (4)

On the roster: Eric Berry, Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray
Cut: Leon McQuay and Steven Terrell

The Chiefs cut ties with sixth-round selection McQuay but he remains a strong practice squad candidate. Terrell played solid in his opportunities. Both players found it difficult to break into a loaded safety position that may be the deepest group on the team.

SPECIALISTS (3)

On the roster: K Cairo Santos, P Dustin Colquitt and LS James Winchester
Cut: Sam Ficken

The only question surrounds whether Santos stands healthy enough to handle kickoff duties in addition to extra points and field goals. Ficken filled in admirably but this job belongs to Santos. Ficken proved enough to stay on Veach’s speed dial if Santos goes down again.

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.

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