At the teams press conference last Monday, DJ stated emphatically stated he’ll be good to go once the team gets back on the practice field.
In the same breath, he also made it clear he doesn’t plan on hanging up his cleats anytime soon. DJ enters the 2015 season in the final year of his contract. With salary, incentive and workout bonuses, he’ll earn $5.25 million this season.
With the NFL Draft just days away, the Chiefs must find a replacement or a compliment to DJ at inside linebacker. The only such college player in this draft, in my eyes that fits either scenario, rests solely on the shoulder pads of UCLA Linebacker, Eric Kendricks (more on him on Wednesday).
If there is a weakness on this roster, it’s at inside linebacker. With contract talks on going with Outside Linebacker, Justin Houston, the organization would like to extend DJ for a few more years. However, they’d be unwise to do so until the coaching staff is convinced he can assume his role as a dominating football player for the Chiefs.
As the roster sits today, DJ doesn’t have much company at the position. Joe Mays departed for the New York Jets so that leaves Josh Mauga and James-Michael Johnson as starting candidates with NFL experience.
Now the Chiefs could shore up the position by signing free agent Linebacker, Takeo Spikes, but he’s waiting to sign with a team until after the draft. Could he be a possibility for Kansas City? He should be especially if the Chiefs don’t get a player like Kendricks. Yet, even if they do, signing Spikes would give KC more than enough insurance if DJ’s comeback attempts hits a snag.
To say for one minute, I’m championing the cause to allow DJ to walk after 2015 would be inaccurate. He’s certainly going to become the teams all time leader in tackles this season and his 10-year tenure in Kansas City has been remarkable.
Still all that does is raise the question even further, will DJ become the player he was before the injury? Further, and this is the biggest item, can he elevate his game to help his defensive mates end the mediocrity that has plagued this franchise the second half of the last two seasons in Kansas City.
I still carry some angst over the teams playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The offense was brilliant but the defense showed zero passion in the second half. Sadly that carried over to last season. I know DJ wasn’t on the field in 2014, but at some point this defense, must play at a high level for 16 regular season games not just eight of them.
That puts the crux of my comments at the feet of DJ. He has to become that leader on the field that hates losing as much as he loves winning. He needs to be that fire in the locker room and that ball jarring tackler on the field that has been his hallmark in Kansas City.
For General Manager, John Dorsey, who has shown a willingness to pay his star players a king’s ransom, understands emphatically the importance of a healthy DJ on the field for Kansas City.
He’s also well aware that players of DJ’s caliber are rare, and the fact he’s a Chief now, yields to the thought that he will be for years to come.
Dorsey has rebuilt the Chiefs franchise by looking at both the now and the future. That leads me to the conclusion he understands DJ won’t play forever, and should contract extension talks go south or his health won’t allow him to be a Pro Bowl player again, there isn’t anyone on the roster that could fill DJ’s immense shoes next season.
Still the best scenario would be a healthy and productive DJ on the field for the Chiefs this season. Because either way this scenario plays out, the Chiefs best chance to field a Top-Five defense will be if DJ is starting come opening day.