Rosterology, version 1.0: Pre-free agency

Just as college basketball’s “bubble watch” is coming to an end, the NFL “bubble watch” is just beginning. The process launches in earnest with the start of free agency, continues through the draft and culminates Labor Day weekend when the final cuts leave fans with their 53-man team for the opening of a new season.

Oct 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid (center) watches a replay against the Houston Texans in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 20, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid (center) watches a replay against the Houston Texans in the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Starting now, “Rosterology” on ChiefsSpin.com will bring roster madness to the Chiefs, providing an opportunity to follow the building of the team throughout the offseason as players win spots on the team, sleepers play their way to starting positions and seeming locks fade down the stretch.

Throughout the offseason with roster additions and subtractions, Rosterology will be updated to reflect the current projected roster.

The rules of Rosterology are  simple — this is a projection of the Chiefs 53-man roster for week one of the 2014 season as of now. There are no projections of draft picks or free agent signings. This is not Fantasy Football. This is to illustrate what holes exist on the team and from which conclusions can be made on who the Chiefs may target in both the draft and open market.

Right now, Rosterology projects 29 players as virtual locks to make the final 53-man roster. This means there is a 90 percent likelihood they make the roster. Another eight players are on the bubble, meaning they will likely make the team unless the Chiefs acquire an upgrade through the draft or free agency. There are 16 slots on the depth chart labeled as “Open,” meaning there is no player currently under contract expected to fill that role.

Four  of those open slots are starting positions, specifically left tackle, right guard, defensive end and inside linebacker. The most open spots are in the defensive backfield, where the Chiefs may be looking for at least four new faces. The secondary is perhaps the most volatile position group on the team, with two starting positions open for competition.

Here’s the depth chart as it stands now. Players marked with an asterisk (*) are considered 90 percent likely or better to make the 53-man roster. Players without an asterisk are on the bubble, meaning they would currently make the team but are not guaranteed a roster spot. Spots marked “OPEN” indicated there is no one currently under contract to likely fill that spot on the depth chart.

OFFENSE

WR Donnie Avery* A.J. Jenkins* Weston Dressler
LT OPEN Donald Stephenson*
LG Jeff Allen* Rishaw Johnson
C Rodney Hudson* Eric Kush*
RG OPEN Rokevious Watkins
RT Eric Fisher* OPEN
TE Anthony Fasano* Travis Kelce* Richard Gordon
WR Dwayne Bowe* OPEN OPEN
QB Alex Smith* Chase Daniel* Tyler Bray
RB Jamaal Charles* Knile Davis*
FB Anthony Sherman

——

Unsigned Free Agents: G Jon Asamoah, G/T Geoff Schwartz, T Branden Albert, WR Dexter McCluster, WR Kyle Williams
Signed for 2014: TE Sean McGrath, RB Cyrus Davis
Signed to Reserve Squad: RB Joe McKnight, T Colin Kelly, C Chandler Burden, T R.J. Dill, WR Frankie Hammond, TE Demetrius Harris, WR Jerrell Jackson, FB Eric Kettani, WR Rashad Ross, WR Fred Williams

The Chiefs do not have a huge number of holes to fill on offense but there are plenty of bubble candidates and upgrade needs. Wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery are virtual locks due to their contracts, and running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith are Pro Bowlers. The offensive line has plenty of question marks, especially at left tackle and right guard.

It seems highly unlikely at this point Branden Albert will be back next season. While Eric Fisher was drafted No. 1 overall last season, his play so far does not suggest he’s ready to move to left tackle yet. The best left tackle candidate on the roster is Donald Stephenson, but it’s too early to declare him the starter yet. The Chiefs will be in the market for a veteran tackle.

Perhaps the most significant unsigned free agent is Geoff Schwartz, a strong run blocking lineman who can play multiple positions. He could fill the right guard position and offer insurance at tackle if Fisher or Stephenson are injured or fail to perform. But after signing two minimum salary contracts in 2012 and 2013, Schwartz may be looking for more money and a longer-term deal than the Chiefs are willing to offer.

Weston Dressler is certainly the most interesting name on the depth chart. Unlike other free agents signed so far this offseason, Dressler was not signed to reserve/future contract, which makes him a part of the official team roster. His cap number is low and he is not guaranteed to make the team, but he has significant upside and could play a role in the punt return game where the Chiefs are losing Dexter McCluster.

Releasing tight end Anthony Fasano,  guard Jeff Allen, quarterback Chase Daniel or wide receiver A.J. Jenkins does not offer the Chiefs much flexibility in salary cap space. Releasing center Rodney Hudson could provide some relief if the Chiefs find an affordable alternative or believe second-year center Eric Kush is ready to take over.

Fullback and backup positions at wide receiver and offensive line along with the third running back and quarterback spots could be targets for upgrades.

DEFENSE

LDE OPEN Allen Bailey Mike Catapano*
NT Dontari Poe* OPEN
RDE Mike DeVito* OPEN
LOLB Justin Houston* OPEN
LILB OPEN Nico Johnson*  OPEN
RILB Derrick Johnson* James-Michael Johnson
ROLB Tamba Hali* OPEN
LCB Brandon Flowers* Marcus Cooper*  OPEN
RCB Sean Smith* OPEN
SS Eric Berry* OPEN
FS Sanders Commings* OPEN

—–

Unsigned Free Agents: DE Tyson Jackson, DE Jerrell Powe (exclusive rights free agent), LB Frank Zombo, LB Akeem Jordan, SS Quintin Demps, FS Kendrick Lewis, FS Husain Abdullah
Signed for 2014: CB Ron Parker, DE Jaye Howard, LB Dexman Moses
Signed to Reserve Squad: DE Dominique Hamilton, DE Brandon Moore, DE Demarcus Van Dyke, DT Chas Alecxih, DT Risean Broussard, LB Jordan Campbell, LB Alonzo Highsmith, LB Josh Martin, LB Ridge Wilson, CB Vernon Kearney, CB Terrance Parks, S Malcom Bronson

The Chiefs have the most holes to fill on defense. Most of the starting lineup looks set, although Sean Smith and Sanders Commings could fill backup roles if upgrades are available through free agency. All indications are the Chiefs want Commings to win the free safety job but it’s not locked down yet.  While Smith had some struggles last season, the dead money on his contract will keep him on the roster in 2014. The only way the Chiefs can financially afford to part ways with Smith is if they release him after June 1 and push part of his dead cap money into 2015.

It is  unlikely the Chiefs will give up on young players such as Mike Catapano, Nico Johnson and Marcus Cooper. James-Michael Johnson is on the bubble but makes the team right now.

Among the unsigned free agents, Jerrell Powe (exclusive rights free agent), Frank Zombo and Akeem Jordan would be affordable backups. If Powe and Zombo agree to terms as expected, they will assume backup roles on the roster but are guaranteed to win jobs in September. Quintin Demps has significant value in the kicking game as well but may be out of the team’s price range. Tyson Jackson and Husain Abdullah might be back at the right price but are less likely at this point. All indications are the Chiefs would like to upgrade above Kendrick Lewis and his demands are likely out of the Chiefs price range.

The name to watch between now and June 1 is Tamba Hali. Hali has the third-highest cap number on the team at almost $11.5 million, but has only about $6 million in dead money. The Chiefs could gain about $5.5 million in cap savings by cutting him. The Chiefs could lower the cap number through renegotiation, but Hali would likely only agree to that by extending his contract past the current end in 2015. Nothing in the history of Dorsey and Reid suggest that are willing to commit big money to players past 30 years old, which is Hali’s current age.

Eric Berry is also a renegotiation possibility. He’s still playing under his rookie contact which ends in 2015, and was signed under the old collective bargaining agreement that inflated contracts for high draft picks. The Chiefs could lock up Berry past 2015 and reduce his cap number at the same time. Linebackers Derrick Johnson and  Justin Houston along with cornerback Brandon Flowers are also renegotiation candidates. There won’t be much if any cap savings with Houston, but it would allow the Chiefs to extend his contract and avoid using the franchise tag next March. Extensions or renegotiations with Johnson and Flowers could offer several million dollars in cap savings in 2014.

 SPECIAL  TEAMS

P Dustin Colquitt*
K Ryan Succup*
LS Thomas Gafford*
PR OPEN Weston Dressler
KR OPEN Knile Davis*

—–

There is little doubt who will handle punting, kicking and long snapping duties for the Chiefs in 2014. Colquitt is among the best in the business, and his contract guarantees him a roster spot barring injury for the next few seasons. Succup has almost $1.8 million in dead money remaining on his contract through 2016, which makes him a certain lock for the roster this season. Gafford is a minimum salary veteran, which means he actually applies less to the cap than his base salary. Continuity is key to the kicking game, and without any issues in that area Gafford’s job is safe.

The biggest openings are in the return game. McCluster and Demps are unsigned free agents, and those two accounted for all but one punt return and 10 kickoff returns for the team in 2013. Knile Davis is locked in as one of the top two kick returners and could very easily be the team’s primary kick returner next season but ball security is his biggest issue. Dressler was an effective punt returner in the CFL, although he only returned nine punts last season and only has two kickoff returns over the last five seasons. It is a virtual certainty the Chiefs will look for backups at running back, wide receiver and defensive back with return capabilities.

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