KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Millions of people can sympathize with the plight of the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency this year.
They have a long shopping list and are light in the pocket book.
When the annual NFL meat market begins Wednesday, the Chiefs could see a bunch of players instrumental to last year’s playoff run sign elsewhere. Meanwhile, they’ll only have about $19 million available under the salary cap — putting them in the bottom third of the league — to sign their replacements.
“You know, we take the same approach year-in and year-out,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said at the scouting combine. “I foresee this year not being any different from all the years I’ve been doing this.”
So what exactly does that mean?
Dorsey’s track record since taking over the Chiefs prior to the 2013 season has shown a willingness to retain franchise icons, allow offensive linemen to walk and be cautious with pricey free agents.
Start with the icons: Two of the franchise’s longest-tenured players, linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson, were headed to free agency before Hali signed a new three-year deal on Tuesday.
That leaves Johnson, who recently told a Texas radio station he wants to be back. Dorsey acknowledged at the scouting combine speaking to his representatives, though it’s unclear how far apart the sides remains.
Losing him would not only mean the end of an era, and the loss of solid production, but also mean rob the locker room of one of its veteran leaders.
“We’re going to move this thing forward,” Dorsey said of the negotiations. “Any time you become the all-time leading tackler for the Chiefs, we’re not going to let good football players go in this thing.”
The Chiefs have already franchised safety Eric Berry, so he will be back next season. But there is a good chance the sides work out a long-term deal, and that could create additional cap space.
Moving to the offensive line, the Chiefs have the versatile Jeff Allen and backup offensive tackle Donald Stephenson hitting free agency. Allen in particular will command a princely sum on the open market, and Dorsey has already allowed a number of solid offensive linemen — Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Rodney Hudson among them — to depart in free agency during his tenure.
Then there’s Jaye Howard and Sean Smith, two players whose value skyrocketed during their time in Kansas City. Howard evolved into one of the best defensive tackles in the league while Smith, at 6-foot-3, has the kind of frame that teams are increasingly coveting at cornerback.
In other words, both of them are expecting big paydays wherever they sign.
There are other positions of need, too.
The Chiefs would like to find a younger complement to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin than Jason Avant, who became the de facto No. 1 target when Maclin was hurt during the playoffs. They need to re-sign Chase Daniel or find another backup quarterback, unless they believe Aaron Murray or Tyler Bray can handle it. They need help along the offensive and defensive lines and, if possible, in the defensive backfield.
All with a rather modest amount of salary cap space.
“As we move forward here, we have decisions to make. We all know that,” Dorsey said. “What I want to do is I want to do what’s best for this organization in terms of long-term approach.”
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