1. DE Darren Howard (Saints) - The Chiefs appear to have some interest in acquiring New Orleans disgruntled defensive end. He signed a one-year tender in March so he would need to negotiate a new long term contract with the team that acquires him because his salary hit for one year is slightly over $8 million. The Saints were close to a deal with Dallas for Howard. The Cowboys were set to trade their second round pick which is all New Orleans is asking for Howard, but those talks cooled when Howard's contract demands were more than the Cowboys were willing to pony up. This could be the reason the Chiefs have not pulled the trigger on the Surtain deal because they might use their second round pick to acquire Howard from New Orleans. I'd say talks are not as serious as they were when Dallas was in the picture but they could heat up.
The knock on Howard has been his inconsistency. Some compare him to Vonnie Holliday who plays great for a stretch and then disappears. But the difference is Howard averages double digit sacks each season. He went to Kansas State and you know head coach Bill Snyder has talked to Vermeil about Howard. From what we've heard, he is interested in coming to Kansas City but it would still have to be considered a long shot. Still if this defense is going to elevate itself to middle of the pack status in the AFC next year, they'll need to put more pressure on the quarterback. The thought of Howard and Allen at ends is something that has to excite Gunther Cunningham.
2. CB Patrick Surtain (Dolphins) - The Chiefs have not backed off their standing offer of a fourth Rounder for Surtain and that appears to be the only snag in getting this deal done. I don't think the Chiefs are unwilling to sign him to the long term contract he wants so clearly the issue is compensation to the Dolphins. One thing that is being reported on the NFL Network is the fact that teams can trade their Compensatory Draft Picks. That is NOT true. The league does not allow those picks to be traded. Surtain has the Dolphins in the hot seat. They are sticking to their guns about a first day draft choice but its not likely to happen and everyone knows that but Head Coach Nick Saban. The Chargers interest in Surtain is mild and outside of the Chiefs; they have very few options outside of Kansas City. Plus I don't think the Chargers are going to do much until they settle the quarterback situation. They've offered quarterback Philip Rivers to the 49ers and they want to unload that contract if they can before adding another high priced veteran.
Surtain and his agents would like to get this deal wrapped up in the next couple of days because they don't want talks to drag on. With the NFL Draft less than four weeks away; the Poston Brothers know their clients value will decrease as teams start to clear cap space to sign draft picks. The rookie pool could be near $4 million this year and with the Chiefs, who have 11 draft picks, their hit could be higher. I don't think the Chiefs will have that problem. I can't see a scenario where they won't either trade some of this picks for players or to move up in certain rounds in next months draft. They don't want to sign eleven draft picks plus add at least two more veteran free agents.
3. DE Carlos Hall (Titans) - The Chiefs continue to talk to Tennessee about a trading for Hall but nothing so far. Hall is an interesting candidate. As we reported yesterday, the Titans are not thrilled with his progress. After blowing up as a rookie three years ago, he's been average at best and part of that can be contributed to injuries by some of his defensive mates. Hall is not a game breaking difference maker. He works within a scheme and has the talent to get five-nine sacks per season in the right system. That could be in Kansas City where all they need from Hall is to make plays when he's on the field. The Chiefs say they are happy with Eric Hicks but this team must develop sacks from someone else besides Jared Allen.
The Chiefs are exploring trading one of their sixth round picks or one of their fifth round picks for Hall provided they can work out a contract but if the rumors are true about their interest in Howard, then those talks are likely to be put on hold. Now the Chiefs could sign Hall but the Titans could match the contract and I don't think the Chiefs want to take that chance. Being a restricted free agent the Titans by refusing to match the offer would only net a seventh round draft pick.
4. DE Jay Williams (Dolphins) - Visits the St. Louis Rams today but my sources at Arrowhead said they did not nor expect to offer him a contract at this time. That could change if talks cool with Howard and Hall. He'd be a last resort to add depth to the defensive end position. Just because he has a history with Vermeil does not mean he'll sign with Kansas City.
I'm not thrilled with the idea of adding Williams because I think Hall has more upside. As much as I want the Chiefs to get better defensively in 2005, they have to start adding youth to the roster and Hall would have more upside and be as productive as Williams down the road.
5. LB Jamie Sharper (Texans) - I've received no response from anyone at Arrowhead in regards to the Chiefs interest in the current Texan. If rumors are true about the injury to Bell's Shoulder, then I expect the Chiefs to make a stab at Sharper before the draft. As for those rumors on Bell, I think its sour grapes from the NY Giants who let him leave town without getting a deal done. He was their top linebacker target and if you think Peterson is tough, then none of you know about Ernie Accorsi with the Giants. Let's all be thankful we have Peterson.
I think Sharper would be a great fit for the organization. Shawn Barber will not be ready to practice until the first month of the regular season. Mike Maslowski who underwent experimental knee surgery; has made progress but nobody knows if that can equate to getting back on the field and being a productive linebacker. Thus Sharper or drafting a rookie are the only two options left for the Chiefs.
6. WR Kevin Johnson (Ravens) - He's expected to make a trip to Kansas City in the next week. The Chiefs will likely release Johnnie Morton in June and they'd like to sign another veteran receiver before the draft. Johnson was nearly acquired three years ago from the Cleveland Browns but the Chiefs, rightly so, were unwilling to send them a first round draft pick. Johnson is a solid receiver who would be an upgrade to Morton and it would allow another year for both Marc Boerigter and Samie Parker to develop.
There is little doubt the Chiefs need to add another wide receiver this off-season. But if I had my say, it would USC's Mike Williams. If he's still on the draft board at #15, then I'll run into the Chiefs War Room and demand they draft him. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders will escort me in and then I'll be asked to leave the complex. Saunders will get to stay of course. Seriously, there is no way an offensive talent like that can be passed up by the Chiefs. He'll end up being twice the player that Randy Moss will ever be in the NFL and though his forty-times were a bit low; he's a difference maker on offense. He is the real deal and sitting out a year has not hurt his stock with certain teams. Right now the Bears, Vikings and Titans have expressed an interest in him in the Top 10. After that, he could fall to the Chargers or Chiefs in the next group of five picks.
7. OT/G John Welbourn (Chiefs) – The veteran acquired a year ago has officially moved to back to the guard position. Vermeil was quoted as saying that Will Shields has not told him that he's 100% certain he'll play in 2005. Shields hinted that possibility after the season but I think he'll play one more year before hanging up his cleats. That means the Chiefs have lost faith in Welbourn and his ability to play tackle for them in the future. In retrospect the draft day decision a year ago to acquire him from Philadelphia is officially a mistake. Now that could change if Shields retires, then he's become the starter. But that's the only scenario that makes that trade a good one especially if losing that third round pick this year is the difference in Kansas City's ability to acquire Surtain before the draft.
That means that either second year tackle Kevin Sampson or Jordan Black will be the teams new starting right tackle. My money is on Black who showed great poise last season filling in for the injured Welbourn. Sampson I believe is being groomed to take over for Willie Roaf when he steps down after next season or in 2006. The former seventh round draft pick from Syracuse was very impressive during training camp a year ago and the Chiefs are very high on him. Don't rule out the Chiefs drafting a tackle with their third round pick this year to add even more depth.
As we get set for April and the draft, it occurs to me that the Chiefs are hoping they can shore up some or all of their deficiencies in free agency. They would be wise to do so because that will give them numerous options in the draft. Like I said, I can't see the Chiefs using up all eleven picks on rookies. They have to address age on the offensive line, wide receiver and they must eventually look for a successor for quarterback Trent Green. With an abundance of quarterback talent in this draft, they could address that need and add a solid wide receiver where they have some age as well.
On defense if the majority of their needs can be had in free agency or via trade, then they can look to add depth at linebacker, cornerback and defensive line. By doing both this off-season, the Chiefs would have assembled their most complete roster since Vermeil took over in 2001 and quite likely the best he's had since his Super Bowl teams in Philadelphia and St. Louis.