While the Chiefs are apparently in wait-and-see mode before NFL free agency begins Tuesday, it appears a few of their players who keyed last season’s playoff run won’t be back in 2014.
Wide receiver Dexter McCluster is one of the Chiefs’ free agents who appears primed to bolt. A person with knowledge of the situation told The Star on Monday that McCluster has four or five interested teams and likely will sign elsewhere Tuesday night, when players can officially join other teams.
Multiple media outlets, including the Miami Herald, reported that Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert will agree to a multiyear deal with the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday. Both of last year’s starters at right guard, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, are free agents with multiple suitors and are expected to sign elsewhere.
It’s fairly obvious the cash-strapped Chiefs — who will have about $9.62 million in salary cap space — will probably shop for bargains during the first phase of free agency, when the big money gets thrown around and the big names come off the board.
That makes sense to ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt, who served as the Green Bay Packers’ vice president from 1999 to 2008 and has worked with Chiefs coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey in the past.
“Generally, John comes from our school in Green Bay, which is to draft and develop and be very selective and very wary of free agency because you’re bringing in people from other situations and it’s not a seamless transition,” Brandt said. “Always, the best strategy is to go with what you know in terms of drafted, homegrown players.”
Albert, McCluster and Asamoah are all homegrown guys, but the bill has come due for their services, as all three are stand to be paid well above what they made last season. Albert made $9.8 million in 2013, while Asamoah made $1.5 million and McCluster made $1.4 million. Schwartz, who signed as a free agent last season for $700,000, will also command a significant raise from another team.
Prior to Monday’s developments, Brandt said that while the $9.62 million the Chiefs were expected to have is theoretically enough space to sign some big-money players, he wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
“If all you care about is this year, you can do anything,” Brandt said. “But if you’re worried about playing for the present and the future, then that’s problematic.”
Any large deals could prove to be a future hindrance for the Chiefs, who will soon have to take care of outside linebacker Justin Houston and quarterback Alex Smith, both of whom will become free agents after the 2014 season. Don’t forget star running back Jamaal Charles, who is coming off a career year and is woefully underpaid with a cap number of $4.8 million in 2014. He won’t be a free agent for two more seasons but, at 27 years old, might be eager for a renegotiation.
These reasons, among others, could provide Dorsey all the incentive he needs to go back to his roots and use the draft to find young, cost-effective talent while carefully supplementing his roster in free agency.
Dorsey seemed to get away from this a bit last offseason, when the Chiefs signed receiver Donnie Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano, defensive end Mike DeVito and cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, but Brandt said it was likely an anomaly, just a “necessary step” in the team-building process that led to a nine-game turnaround and an 11-5 record.
Brandt, however, is interested to see just how the Chiefs play the free-agent game in coming weeks, especially since the salary cap has been raised from $123 million in 2013 to $133 million in 2014.
“The free-agent market is always the same way,” Brandt said. “The first couple days, you have what people call ‘the stupid money’ is spent, and you have the golden ticket winners. Then we see what happens next, whether it’s a more judicious market and then we get down to the musical chairs phase where everyone’s just looking for a seat.
“What’s going to be interesting this year, with $10 million more in cap room for each team, is whether there’s going to be a longer first wave, and whether the move to the second wave is more delayed.”
No matter what course Dorsey decides to chart going forward — and based on early Monday’s happenings, conservative might be a good way to put it — he will be doing it with the blessing of Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, who is confident Dorsey is putting the best possible roster together, whether or not that leads to a series of splashy moves.
“I certainly understand and am kept abreast of the direction that we’re heading, particularly on the significant contracts,” Hunt said. “That’s something John and I talk about, but it’s ultimately his job, with Andy’s input, to figure out who to sign and how much to sign them for.
“We have a number of our own guys who are free agents, as well as guys who are out there that we’d like to be in discussions with … I do know that John is going to be busy, like he is every year.”