We continue our Free Agency series with a look at a second area of the field in serious need of reinforcements : the Defensive Line, perhaps more specifically the pass rush. Playing behind an OLine with the consistency of wet tissue paper Joe Burrow was the most sacked Quarter Back in the league last season, in 4 PlayOff games he was brought down 19 times. The Chiefs only accounted for one of those sacks. Just one. They must get better.
Let’s consider the options potentially out there on the open market. Again caveated by the fact it’s February so contracts, franchise tags, etc are all still to be allocated and signed, lots can change over the coming weeks.
Firstly it’s worth looking at player who’s not a Free Agent this summer but one that is very much might be if many Chiefs fans get their way : Frank Clark
Clark is a polarising figure in Chiefs Kingdom, opinion is divided between 2 camps.
“Without Clark we don’t win the Super Bowl”
“Clark is overpaid and underdelivers”
As with much on social media the nuance get lost, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Here are some facts. Frank Clark is one of the highest paid non-QBs in the league, his 2022 cap hit will be in excess of $26m. Yes there have been health issues but 10.5 sacks in the 2 seasons since the Super Bowl win doesn’t reflect great value for money. The Chiefs can save between $12.7 & $19.5m by cutting him this offseason.
On his day Clark is an elite pass rusher, the problem is we haven’t seen this day often enough.
Will he be back with the Chiefs for 2022? It’s inconceivable he returns on the same deal and the Chiefs can do alot with the potential cap savings releasing him would free up. On the flip side he is a high up-side ‘Spags Guy’ and Spags is notoriously loyal to his guys. It’s not out the realms of possibility we see a restructure/extension which significantly lowers his cap number. At this point I think I’d still be leaning towards the former and a release, maybe mostly because I’d struggle to deal with the inevitable Twitter storm if he stays.
Next lets look at some other current Chiefs players whose contracts are up for renewal.
Melvin Ingram : Arrived in KC mid-season for a 6th round pick, probably the best mid-season pickup the Chiefs have made in recent years. He made an instant impact to the DLine, allowing Chris Jones to move back inside where he was most effective and helped raise a massively underperforming unit into one of the strongest in the league down the stretch. He notched a couple of sacks for himself but his presence and impact was probably much greater than his stat line will ever show. Ingram took a long time to decide on his Pittsburgh move last offseason and a player of his experience can easily miss OTAs so don’t be surprised if his name is one of the last to be added to the roster, unless someone throws big big money at him I’d be surprised if Ingram isn’t in red in 2022.
Jarran Reed : Reed was supposed to be the final piece in the DLine jigsaw last year. One that would let Jones kick outside (be honest, we were all excited about that prospect at the time) and providing a stout run blocking defender who still offers something to the pass rush. In the end Reed was a consistent yet underwhelming addition to the DLine and it was actually the aforementioned Ingram who let Jones swing back inside and be the star on the interior. Reed did nothing wrong as such in KC but his salary is north of $5m and that may just be a bit too rich should the Chiefs decide to go after a premium name to add to the line.
Derrick Nnadi : A bit of an under the radar player on the Chiefs DLine. Nnadi very rarely puts a foot wrong when he’s on the field. Unspectacular yet solid, exactly the sort of player successful rosters are built on. His return may well depend on his salary demands and interest elsewhere, he will be due a significant bump from his current rookie deal.
Now onto some of the free agents who could be available to the Chiefs, they need to get better at the top end so we’re focussing on some of the bigger names that would (hopefully) lift the ceiling of what the pass rush is capable of.
Vonn Miller : While it was a surprise to see Miller leaving Denver midseason, it was no surprise at all to see him being a significant contributor to the Ram’s Super Bowl run. An ex Super Bowl MVP Miller is a big man and a big game player who would bring a level of nasty the Chiefs DLine currently lacks. LA are probably favourites to land him again but if not a 3rd tilt at a ring with a 3rd franchise would be a wonderful footnote to a Hall Of Fame career.
Jason Pierre-Paul : JPP played under Spags in New York and we all know how much Spags values a known & proven quantity. Last year wasn’t his best statistically but with 90+ career sacks he would be a reliable 1 year option.
Chandler Jones : Along with Miller probably the premium player on this list. He’s nearly 32 so not a long term option but still tallied 11 sacks in 2021. He started the season like a freight train but tailed off however that is pretty much SOP in Arizona these days. Jones will command a significant salary from whoever signs him, will the Chiefs want to risk that on a veteran after the Frank Clark experience? If I’m Brett Veach and Jones is available, I’m at least making a phone call…..
Jadeveon Clowney : A #1 overall pick yet to find his forever home? This move has Brett Veach written all over it. It’s still unclear just how good Clowney is compared to the best pass rushers in the game, he’s never got enough sacks to convince everyone he’s up there with the elite. He’s better against the run than most edges and still got 9 sacks last season. Clowney has said in the past money talks and he would divide opinion if he were to land in KC but if the price is right it’s not a move I’d be opposed to by any means.
Emmanuel Ogbah : Another known quantity in KC. Ogbah was a valuable rotational piece in the 2019 Super Bowl win and earned himself a decent payday down in Miami. With that franchise seemingly in turmoil he might be well advised to return to KC for another title shot. Another move that would be price dependant but one that also undoubtedly raises the bar in the room.
Justin Houston : With 22 sacks Justin Houston still holds the single season record in KC. While he’s unlikely to hit those heights again he’s remained a solid performer since being one of the first big name cap-casualties as the Chiefs chased that ring. While it would be a surprise to see Houston back in KC he might just come back with a fire in his belly to prove he should never have been allowed to leave.