KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Having in recent years lost a premier pass rusher, the Chiefs were determined not to let it happen again, this time with outside linebacker Tamba Hali.
They effectively prevented Hali, who led the AFC last season with 14 1/2 sacks, from becoming a free agent in 2011 by designating him as their franchise player.
"You need a guy to go and get the quarterback,'' former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards said. "You've got to knock the quarterback down and that's what Tamba brings to the table.''
Edwards coached the Chiefs in 2008 when they traded the NFL's leading pass rusher, Jared Allen, to Minnesota. That deal netted the draft picks that brought three players, one of them Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles.
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Without Allen, though, the Chiefs watched their pass rush sink to league-record lows. Only last season did their rush become competitive again and Hali was a big reason for that.
Nine teams had more sacks than Kansas City's 39.
The NFL's collective bargaining agreement is set to expire next month and a new deal appears far off. Rather than sign Hali to a long-term contract during the midst of labor chaos, the Chiefs took the route used by many other teams this year with their top prospective free agents.
The Chiefs had no comment other than to release a statement from general manager Scott Pioli. He said the Chiefs remained interested in signing Hali to a long-term contract.
The Chiefs angered Allen in 2008 by similarly designating him as their franchise. He took that as a sign the Chiefs would renege on their promise to sign him to a lucrative, long-term contract and he eventually forced the trade.
Hali's agent, Brian Mackler, said Hali harbored no such ill feelings toward the Chiefs and also preferred to sign for the long term.
"Tamba would like to retire with the Chiefs,'' Mackler said.
"This is a procedural maneuver by the Chiefs to retain his rights. It has nothing to do with us getting a long-term deal done, which is the goal of both us and the Chiefs.''
The Chiefs designated Hali as a non-exclusive franchise player, meaning they must offer him a one-year contract for an amount equal to the average salary of the five highest-paid outside linebackers in 2010.
That should be above $10 million. It was $9.68 million last season.
Once the players and owners agree to a new collective bargaining agreement, Hali would be free to negotiate a contract with other teams. The Chiefs would have the right to match any offer sheet Hali signs.
If they decline to match, the Chiefs would receive two first-round draft picks from Hali's new team.
Hali made $1.46 million in base salary in 2010 in the final season of the five-year contract he signed with the Chiefs as their first-round draft pick in 2006. While the Chiefs one-year offer of more than $10 million would be a substantial raise, it's still less than other top pass rushers have received in recent seasons.
DeMarcus Ware of Dallas received an average of $13 million per season with $40 million in guaranteed money. Denver's Elvis Dumervil received $12 million per year. Baltimore's Terrell Suggs got an average of about $10.5 million but $38 million in guarantees.
On the open market, Hali could no doubt join them in that financial class. He may have to settle for something less in a long-term contract from the Chiefs.
Hali, 27, was productive if not spectacular for the Chiefs during his first four NFL seasons. He had 27 sacks over those seasons, including a previous career high of 8 1/2 in 2009.
"He was a first-round pick for a reason,'' Edwards said. "The thing about Tamba is that he didn't have a lot of experience playing football. You were drafting an athlete and not a football player at that time. You knew it would take time for him to develop.
"You knew he had potential because he lacked football experience and instinct. You don't get that without playing. He wasn't exposed to football at a young age.''
Nine of the Chiefs defensive starters last season were 27 or younger. Other than Hali, many of the key components are signed for the long term: Cornerback Brandon Flowers through 2011, linemen Glenn Dorsey through 2012 and Tyson Jackson through 2013 and linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry through 2014 or beyond.
"They're building a top-10, top-5 defense,'' Edwards said. "They'll add some more linebackers, probably another big guy up front. What they're going to have is a powerful defense. They've got a lot of skilled players who are still young but have a lot of experience now. They've got a lot of guys going into the prime of their careers, a lot of guys that are 27 and 28 years old. That's right where you want them to be.''