Previewing the road to free agency

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The coming days will produce news at a rapid pace surrounding players not franchised or transitioned, and whose 2013 contracts expire at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, March 11.

Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; General view of Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; General view of Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday at 12 p.m. ET kicks off the cycle, as teams are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of the league’s pending unrestricted free agents through Tuesday at 3:59 p.m. ET.

However, a contract agreement can’t be executed with the new team until 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

There are plenty of big-name players available this year to the highest bidder; the Chiefs also have a few entering the market likely to command a healthy contract.

But as with any season, sometimes the best nuggets and fits for a team are found later in the process.

In the meantime, here’s a look at how the Chiefs stand entering free agency.

Free agents

The Chiefs didn’t use the franchise designation this year, snapping a three-year run when the team prevented a player from entering the free-agent market.

As it stands now, set to become unrestricted free agents are free safety Husain Abdullah, left tackle Branden Albert, guard Jon Asamoah, free safety Quintin Demps, defensive end Tyson Jackson, inside linebacker Akeem Jordan, free safety Kendrick Lewis, wide receiver Dexter McCluster, guard Geoff Schwartz, wide receiver Kyle Williams and outside linebacker Frank Zombo.

The Chiefs could still re-sign a player and general manager John Dorsey said at the NFL Scouting Combine the communications line remained open with the representatives of each player.

However, some of the players boosted their market value based on 2013 production and may have put themselves out of the Chiefs’ price range.

As examples, McCluster made his first Pro Bowl and was named a second-team All-Pro, Jackson notched a career-high four sacks, and Schwartz supplanted Asamoah in the starting lineup.

There are clearly holes to be filled, especially on the offensive line, if the Chiefs don’t re-sign some of their own.

Albert, who was franchised in 2013, should command a hefty contract as one of the top offensive tackle free agents on the market. But the Chiefs have adequate depth at tackle for now with Donald Stephenson and Eric Fisher.

The greater concern on the offensive line surrounds the guard position if Schwartz and Asamoah sign elsewhere.

Current cap space

The Chiefs are set to enter free agency with an estimated $9.94 million in cap space, according to updated figures at Spotrac.com.

The figure ranks 24th in the league and doesn’t offer a lot of wiggle room on the surface.

Still, the Chiefs can manipulate cap space by getting creative with current contracts, either through extending a player like quarterback Alex Smith or restructuring other deals.

The team could also release players, such as what happened a few weeks ago with veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson, a move that saved an estimated $3 million.

Chiefs’ approach

The decision makers at One Arrowhead Drive in recent weeks have reinforced their philosophy of building a team through the draft in lieu of free agency.

Meanwhile, some free-agent signings are often short-term solutions. And general manager John Dorsey, cut from the Green Bay Packers way of thinking, tends to look down the road when it comes to adding players.

“When you build through the draft, discipline is so critical because you have to take the best player available,” Dorsey said at the Combine. “Not thinking instantaneously but also thinking two years, three years down the road.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at the Combine it’s OK to “plug things here or there” when it came to signing free agents. However, he made his position clear when he told a small group of local media he wasn’t a “big free agency guy.”

There are positions that could be filled with a free-agent wish list. Topping that list is Buffalo Bills free safety Jairus Byrd, arguably the best at his position to enter the market.

But with not much free cap space and one of the deepest draft classes in recent memory, it wouldn’t surprise to see the Chiefs stay the course.

Free to sign

Players released by their parent clubs before the start of the calendar year are allowed to sign with teams.

That applies to former Seattle Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, whom Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and National Football Post reported as a player the Chiefs are interested in.

The speculation game

It’s not uncommon for a team to sign a player the coaching staff has familiarity with.

The Chiefs in 2013 had free agents with previous ties to general manager John Dorsey, coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.

But the days leading to the start of free agency becomes an annual NFL version of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game.

The Philadelphia Eagles released wide receiver Jason Avant, who has obvious ties to virtually the entire Chiefs coaching staff, and that move led NFL.com to ponder:

There’s also Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester, who is scheduled to enter the market. And of course, Hester has ties to Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub:

But Hester also has ties to former Bears coach, current Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith.

While all the speculation makes sense, the thing to remember throughout the free agency process is none of it falls within the scope of a definitive report.

Finding the nuggets

Beat writers and reporters covering the Chiefs will earn their paychecks in the coming weeks. But there are other resources available when it comes to finding news.

• SBNation’s ArrowheadPride.com is hands down a daily must-visit when it comes to aggregated Chiefs-related news. Information seekers will be hard pressed to find a media website – traditional or nontraditional – doing it better than Joel Thorman and his staff.

• For league-wide breaking news, a Twitter list of NFL media and team beat writers by the Pro Football Writers of America is a solid option.

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