Nick Jacobs' Chiefs free agency decisions

Brett Veach
Posted at 10:47 AM, Feb 22, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KSHB) — Chiefs general manager Brett Veach will begin the challenge of putting together the puzzle pieces of the 2023 Chiefs roster.

Veach has arguably been able to fit pieces together better than most in the AFC. Otherwise, the Chiefs wouldn’t have been to five AFC championship games, win three Lamar Hunt trophies and win two Lombardi trophies.

Veach enters his sixth season as the Chiefs general manager since taking over in July of 2017. He has put the roster in a position to where they were the third youngest roster in the divisional round at 26 years and one month.

The Chiefs are currently $3,507,834 over the salary cap according to Spotrac has the Chiefs at $526,422 under the salary cap. Veach can create salary cap very quickly with a handful of moves. The challenge is looking at what cap space they are willing to withdraw from in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

The trio of Veach, vice president of football operations Brandt Tilis and vice president of football operations/team counsel Chris Shea have put the Chiefs salary cap future in a very comfortable position long-term. The team will have at least $80 million or more in cap space headed into 2024 and beyond.

There are tiers to free agency. Teams can place the franchise tag on one veteran player holding their rights for that season. A team can place the tag on for a second season as well, but the cost goes up 120% from the previous tag.

The second tier is unrestricted free agents. That is when a player has accrued four or more seasons in the NFL. A restricted free agent is a player who has less than four seasons but an expiring contract. Lastly, is an exclusive rights free agent who has less than three seasons when their contract expires.

The rankings below are based on my opinion priority wise.

Franchise Tag 

LT Orlando Brown 

Brown will likely end up making a little under $20 million with the franchise tag placed on him for a second season. The five-year veteran would arguably be one of the top 10 free agents if he were to hit the market. The quality of offensive linemen on the market is going to be a struggle for offensive tackle needy teams. The tag buys the Chiefs time but also allows teams to offer Brown a significant contract or work out a trade with Kansas City. The Chiefs can place the franchise tag on Brown from Feb. 21 until March 7.

Attempt to Retain 

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster 

Smith-Schuster had a knee injury flare up a couple of times during his first season in Kansas City. That will likely be something teams will want to check and monitor. The six-year veteran provided the Chiefs a good possession threat. He appeared to have great chemistry with quarterback Patrick Mahomes that rivaled Travis Kelce. He also reduces some of the wear and tear for Kelce over the middle.

RB Jerick McKinnon

McKinnon turns 31 in May, but his influence in the running backs room is worth the financial investment. The nine-year veterans pass blocking staff has rubbed off on rookie Isiah Pacheco. If the Chiefs invest in McKinnon they are also investing in his mentorship of Pacheco.

DE Carlos Dunlap 

Dunlap will turn 34 on Feb. 28. He shows he still has enough left in the tank as a veteran rotational defensive end. The 13-year veteran showcased his wingspan to pat down some key passes this season and still showed good strength in his pass rushing moves. This would likely need to be a one-year deal but there is still enough there worth investing.

OT Andrew Wylie 

Wylie will hit the free agent market for his second consecutive season. The offensive line market is weaker across the board this year which should help Wylie if he hits the open market. He gives everything he has on the football field, and you never have to question his level of passion. He is also extremely versatile as a guard and tackle. He will likely get to test the market, but it is worth seeing if they can retain him at a comfortable rate.

FB Michael Burton 

Burton may only see a handful of snaps on offense, but his primary purpose is to be one of their big contributors on special teams and in short yardage situations. His price won’t break the bank and he is still very reliable on special teams.

Let them test the market 

WR Mecole Hardman 

Hardman’s rookie contract officially expires this year. This will be the second draft class of Veach’s to potentially hit the open market. Hardman was given plenty of opportunities in the offense to showcase his value in their scheme. His showed that he was incredibly fast with good open field vision. He just never seemed to find a consistent role in the offense. This was the year for him to take over Tyreek Hill’s role in the offense. The pelvis injury cost him half of his season and the questions still linger. He has earned the opportunity to test the market.

S Juan Thornhill

Thornhill had a promising rookie season during the Chiefs Super Bowl run. It unfortunately ended in him tearing his ACL. Thornhill worked his way back, attempting to recapture his previous closing speed. He has been able to do so three years removed from the injury. Thornhill also struggles with some tackles in the open field at times. His best value is in split safety coverages versus single high.

DT Khalen Saunders 

He did the best he could when asked to play as the inside one tech and take on double teams. But it isn’t the best fit for his athletic ability or body type. Saunders could be an athletic rotational three tech with Jones. He has earned the right to test the market though and see if he can get a long term pay day.

LG Nick Allegretti 

Allegretti is a starting caliber guard in the NFL. His run blocking ability is as good or better as others starting in the league. He has some hiccups in his pass protection and occasionally getting beat on his inside shoulder. The time is now for him to get as much money as possible on the open market. He would be great depth though if he couldn’t find a good opportunity.

DT Derrick Nnadi

Nnadi’s play on tape has slowly declined over the past couple of years. It isn’t a knock on him. Defensive tackles that play the one tech position start feeling the effects on their body in the year four and five range. Nnadi is now through five years of wear and tear at position that routinely requires double teams. He can still play in the league, but his body needs more of a rotational role versus a full-time starter. The Chiefs started steadily rotating him as the season moved along.

WR Justin Watson 

Watson was able to have a couple of moments on the roster this season. He saw near 43% of the snaps on offense this season. He has good speed but didn’t provide a big impact on special teams and would likely need to take a contract near veteran minimum.

S Deon Bush 

Bush was put on this roster for his special team ability. He saw about 6% of his snaps on defense this season. Nearly 70% of his snaps came on special teams. If the team elected to bring him back in 2023 it would be to one of their core special teams starters at veteran minimum.

RB Ronald Jones II

Jones was essentially brought in as an insurance policy for the Chiefs three rotational running backs in Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Jones only saw 38 snaps on offense this season and none of special teams. He will likely explore new opportunities with a power rushing attack that could use his services.

TE Blake Bell 

Bell’s hip injury along with the emergence of Noah Gray limited his impact or necessity on the offense this season. Bell only saw 32 snaps on offense this season. He will turn 32 this season. Bell is also primarily a run blocker while the Chiefs have versatile tight ends in Travis Kelce, Gray and Jody Fortson and a developmental tight end in Matt Bushman and Kendall Blanton.

DT Brandon Williams 

Williams provided the Chiefs with a reliable run stuffing one tech at defensive tackle. He is a player defensive line coach Joe Cullen knew and could bring the best out of. Williams was able to get his championship ring in his home before his 34th birthday. He only saw 82 snaps this season but was a help as rotational one tech on early run downs.

TE Jordan Franks

Franks will have a tough time with a crowded tight end room. He will likely get the chance to test the market and see if he can find a spot that has more favorable numbers to stick on the 53-man roster.

Restricted Free Agent Offers 

LB Darius Harris 

Harris provides the Chiefs reliable depth at multiple linebacker positions behind Nick Bolton and Willie Gay incase of an injury. He split his time between linebacker and special teams. Harris is worth of a investment as linebacker depth and a potential special teams starter.

P Tommy Townsend 

Townsend is coming off a season where he earned a Pro Bowl honor. There isn’t really much discussion on this one, he has one of the stronger and more accurate punts in the league.

DT Tershawn Wharton 

Wharton will be coming off a knee injury that will likely take some time to heal up. He is worth being retained but he may need sometime time before he gets back to his previous playing form before the injury.

OT Prince Tega Wanogho 

Tega Wanogho is worth holding onto his services as a backup offensive tackle. The team has invested significant time in him. He knows the system and was able to provide some quality snaps on offense when to see the field.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

TE Jody Fortson 

Fortson has a ton of potential if he can stay healthy. He provides a good mismatch in the redzone for the Chiefs offense and out of their three tight end set looks. The key for him will be staying healthy enough to be on the field.

QB Shane Buechele 

Buechele was able to stay on the active roster the entire season even though he never played a snap. He is a player the Chiefs will likely see if he has made a jump in year three of his development. Buechele can prove he deserves to be Mahomes backup.

The legal tampering period for unrestricted free agents begins on March 13 at 11:00 a.m. CT through March 15th at 2:59 p.m. CT. Free agency formally begins at March 15 at 3 p.m. CT.