With linebacker Derrick Johnson now signed for the long term, all the Chiefs best young defensive players but one are under contract through at least 2011.
The exception is linebacker Tamba Hali, who is in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie in 2006. Unlike with Johnson, the Chiefs have made no apparent progress in signing Hali to a contract extension.
"Tamba has stated to me on numerous occasions that he's like to retire a Kansas City Chief,'' said Brian Mackler, Hali's agent. "I had discussions with the Chiefs at the beginning of the season and we both agreed we'd wait to see how the season progressed for the Chiefs and for Tamba. The ball is in their court.''
A failure to re-sign Hali would threaten a good thing the Chiefs appear to be building on defense. Nine of their 11 defensive starters are 27 or younger and the key players in that group are signed beyond this season.
Cornerback Brandon Flowers is signed through 2011, end Glenn Dorsey through 2012, end Tyson Jackson through 2013 and Johnson and safety Eric Berry through at least 2014.
"You can see it building,'' said Soloman Wilcots, who as a game analyst for CBS worked last week's game against Oakland and will help call Sunday's meeting against the Broncos in Denver.
"They've got to stay together, work together and get catalog of experience game in, game out and year in, year out and then you'll start to see not just a bunch of talented players but one defense that's so tight that it can't be splintered or fractured or broken. That comes with time.''
The job of building a great defense would increase in difficulty without Hali, their best pass rusher. Hali is second in the AFC and third in the NFL with eight sacks. His next sack will put him past his career best of 8 1/2 sacks set last season.
While there's been some debate whether a defense can be a truly great one without a premier pass rusher, Wilcots said it's almost impossible.
"When you're playing against Peyton Manning, he's going to pick you apart,'' he said. "When you're playing against Michael Vick and you can't get him on the ground, you're going to be in for a long day. You've got to have that element because if you get to the quarterback, your day becomes a whole lot easier.''
The Chiefs still haven't talked publicly about signing Johnson to his contract extension. But NFL Players Assocaitions records show Johnson will draw salaries of $3 million in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and 2.25 million in 2013.
General manager Scott Pioli said team policy is to not discuss contract negotiations publicly. Coach Todd Haley talked only generically about the strategy of signing key players to contract extensions.
"Without getting into the specifics of any individual person,'' Haley said. "I think you'll see that occur as we continue through this process of trying to become a good team and then a really good team year in and year out.
" (Hali is) a high-effort, hard-working guy that cares and those are guys that I'll take on the team any day of the week and he's got some ability to go with it.''
His value to the Chiefs can be reflected in what's happened to the Broncos, who in the preseason lost their premier pass rusher, Elvis Dumervil, to a season-ending injury. Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks last season but this year the Broncos have just nine sacks, third lowest in the league.
"There is no way to replace a player like that,'' Denver coach Jose McDaniels said. "It certainly made it more difficult for us in terms of getting to the quarterback.''
Hali, meanwhile, has eight of Kansas City's 18 sacks.
"Tamba's a relentless worker,'' linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "No one is going to play harder than Tamba.''
That, rather than pure pass rushing talent, has always been Hali's calling card. It's why some observers have hesitated before putting him in the class of premier pass rusher.
"I want to wait,'' Wilcots said. "I remember early in his career when he had some droughts. He's done a great job moving to that outside linebacking position. There were times in Oakland when (the Raiders') rookie offensive tackle really played pretty good against him. But Tamba still got to the quarterback.
"When teams start to chip at you, start to slide the line toward you, start to double-team you and you're still getting sacks under those conditions, now you've stepped into that upper echelon of guys that teams can't deal with. That's what teams are going to start throwing at him. Now let's see if the sacks keep coming.''
Still, Hali's season may have increased his market value. While an average of $10 million per season might have been enough to sign Hali long term before the start of the season, now he could command as much or more than Dumervil did when he signed for about $12 million per year last summer, before his injury.