The Kansas City Chiefs head into the offseason with fewer glaring needs than the past three seasons.
Still, the Chiefs will have 14 unrestricted free agents, ten coming on the defensive side of the ball, scheduled to hit the market on March 9.
The group of players are safety Eric Berry, linebacker Derrick Johnson, cornerback Sean Smith, guard Jeff Allen, defensive end Jaye Howard, quarterback Chase Daniel, offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, wide receiver Jason Avant, safety Husain Abdullah, safety Tyvon Branch, defensive end Mike DeVito, linebacker Frank Zombo, cornerback Jamell Fleming and linebacker Dezman Moses.
With potential holes to fill, here are key areas the Chiefs may need to focus on either in free agency or the draft to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy.
1. Second wide receiver
The Chiefs were able to add a crucial piece to their offense in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who was able to stretch the field, understand all the nuances of the offense and develop a very good chemistry with quarterback Alex Smith. Kansas City will need to add an additional piece opposite of Maclin, and the key will be finding a veteran with good size, speed, can run crisp routes and can read the coverage the way Smith does. The Chiefs don’t have time to wait for Albert Wilson and Chris Conley to develop if in win-now mode. Both were given the opportunity to show why they shouldn’t add a veteran during the playoff run and neither calmed the need.
2. Offensive tackle
The potential loss of Donald Stephenson will need to be addressed very quickly with a veteran presence. Jah Reid showcased a promising ability at the right guard position during the playoff run, bringing a power-run blocker to the position. The Chiefs would benefit from adding an athletic tackle on the right side.
3. Blocking tight end
Kansas City lacked a blocking tight end on offense, as Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris, Brian Parker and James O’Shaughnessy all struggled at sealing the edge at different points during the season. Kelce provides more for the offense as a receiving tight end and should be allowed to do so. A blocking tight end would allow the Chiefs to take the edge on their power run game and potentially split Kelce out as an oversized mismatch at the slot receiver position.
The team will need to continue to make cheap additions through the draft at this position when considering Sean Smith will likely leave for a well-compensated contract in free agency. Phillip Gaines is coming off a torn ACL and the position showed its lack of depth while Smith was suspended the first three games of the season. Kansas City has struggled to find a consistent nickel corner since seeing a rotation of Brandon Flowers, Dunta Robinson, Chris Owens and Ron Parker over the past three seasons. Youthful corners are the best route to go with other needs on the roster.
5. Outside linebacker depth
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston both sustained injuries during the regular season in their playoff seasons. In 2013, Hali sustained an ankle injury and Houston sustained an elbow injury in late November against the Chargers. Fast forward to 2015, Hali battled through knee inflammation all season and an injured thumb, while Houston dealt with a hyperextended knee. For the Chiefs to be able to make a playoff push, they will need to have a fresh rotation at outside linebacker. The Broncos showcased a fresh pass rush with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett. Dee Ford, Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses did not bring the necessary pass rush to sustain the effectiveness of Bob Sutton’s scheme.
6. Returner speed
The loss of De’Anthony Thomas showed a lack of consistent explosiveness at the position. Knile Davis was the only effective option but did not see a full workload at the position.