Five Free Agents Worth Watching

With their team having tons of available cap room and plenty of holes to fill, Chiefs fans have spent the last several months looking forward to the upcoming free agency period. Today the wait is officially over.

But unfortunately for those who had visions of Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs dancing in their heads, the amount of impact players who will be available in free agency has dried up considerably over the last few weeks. Other than the likes of Albert Haynesworth, Ray Lewis, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh – none of whom figure to draw much interest from the Chiefs – you'd be hard pressed to come up with any big name players who will be hitting the open market.

As a result, many of the top spots on free agency wish-lists have begun to feature some of the league's lesser-known players instead of the game-changers most people wanted to sign. But even some of those second-tier players have now been eliminated from the discussion. Channing Crowder, for example, was a name gaining some steam among Chiefs fans until he was re-signed Wednesday night by the Miami Dolphins.

Those who hoped for the Chiefs to make a "big splash" must come to terms with the fact that this year's free agency pool just isn't all that deep. But even though plenty of options may have been removed from the table, it doesn't mean there aren't any players out there who could help the Chiefs. In no particular order, here's a look at my top five choices.


Jason Brown – C (Baltimore)

Brown is the only player on my list that the Chiefs may need to act quickly on if they hope to sign him. A two year starter with the Ravens, he appears to be a casualty of the fact that Baltimore had so many of their defensive stars – Lewis, Suggs, and Bart Scott – up for free agency this year.

Having played both center and guard, Brown would be a considerable upgrade to the interior of the Chiefs' offensive line, and he's still just 25 years old. Many teams are expected to be in the mix for his services, but if the Chiefs are interested in him, they certainly have the available cap room to put themselves into the mix.


Igor Olshansky - DE (San Diego)

You may recall that Olshansky was drafted out of the University of Oregon in the second round of the 2004 draft. The fact isn't particularly noteworthy in and of itself, but one pick after San Diego took Olshansky, the Chiefs drafted his linemate, Junior Siavii. The latter was ultimately a huge bust, of course, while Olshansky went on to become a solid player in the Chargers' 3-4 defense.

The obvious question, then, is why are the Chargers letting him go? It's fair to say that Olshansky never became a game-changer, but he still appeared to be an important cog in their defense.

Prior to the 2008 season, San Diego re-signed defensive end Luis Castillo to a lengthy and lucrative contract extension. But to compare their stats over the last few years, it's difficult to find anywhere where Castillo stands out over Olshansky to any great degree. Castillo does have a 14.5 to 11.0 advantage in career sacks despite playing one fewer season. But after posting a career high of seven sacks in 2006, Castillo hasn't reached the three-sack mark in either of his two seasons since.

During 2008, Castillo had 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks compared to Olshansky's 29 tackles and two sacks, and Olshansky saw his playing time drastically reduced down the stretch. He also posted better numbers than Castillo in the Chargers' two postseason games.

Perhaps the contract given to Castillo hasn't made it cost-effective for San Diego to keep Olshansky on board. But their choice may ultimately be to someone else's advantage. Even if the Chiefs don't switch to a 3-4 defense immediately, it's conceivable that Olshansky could play at defensive tackle in a 4-3 until the change is made.


Michael Boley - LB (Atlanta)

Much has been written about the Chiefs' need for linebackers, but there seems to be little discussion of Boley. Twelve short months ago he was considered a rising star in the league, a talented player on the verge of breaking out as a Pro Bowler. During the 2007 season he registered 109 tackles (93 solo), three sacks, and three interceptions as the Falcons' strongside linebacker.

Then a new regime came to Atlanta, changed the defensive scheme, and Boley's production dropped to the point that he was replaced as a starter over the final three games of the season. Under new head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons adapted a less-aggressive, more read-and-react scheme that Boley clearly wasn't suited for.

Without knowing what kind of defense the Chiefs plan to run, it's obviously somewhat difficult to discuss how Boley might fit into their system. But as long as they don't plan to use a scheme that mirrors what Altanta ran this year – and I'd be extremely surprised if they did – Boley is a highly talented player who may be available at a bargain because of his disappointing season.


Antonio Smith - DE (Arizona)

Considered by The Sporting News' "RealScouts" as the league's best under-the-radar free agent, Smith is a perfect example of the type of player the Chiefs should try to stock up on this offseason. He's still young (27), has some potential, and isn't likely to demand a big contract.

Plus, with both coordinators from Arizona's Super Bowl team now in Kansas City, you have to assume they'll have an eye on the players they're familiar with. Since the Cardinals played a hybrid defense under Clancy Pendergast, Smith should also be able to fit into either a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme. Coincidentally, it's been reported that Smith is drawing interest from the Chargers as a replacement for Igor Olshansky.

Smith's 3.5 sacks a year ago won't excite anyone, but it's worth noting that he accomplished that total while only starting 10 games. He won't single-handedly bring improvement to the Chiefs' abysmal pass rush, but his production was higher than Tamba Hali's three sacks, and Hali started 15 games.

Even with their copious amounts of cap space, a roster as depleted as the Chiefs' won't be rebuilt in a single offseason. But if that money yields a crop of solid but unspectacular players like Smith, that task will slowly start to get easier.


Kurt Warner – QB (Arizona)

There are several reasons why this signing is highly unlikely, but the mere possibility is fun to speculate about -- if only for the panic it creates among the legions of Tyler Thigpen supporters. (I'm only kidding.)

The chance of Warner wanting to finish his career with a team that's only won six games over the last two seasons is, to say the least, pretty remote. But if his relationship with Todd Haley combined with the Chiefs' enormous cap room could overcome that obstacle, Warner would make a lot of sense for a team sitting with the #3 pick in the draft.

Imagine a scenario where the Chiefs signed Warner, drafted a quarterback like Mark Sanchez – who was only a starter for one season in college – and allowed their quarterback of the future to sit under the learning tree for a season or two. Warner has become known for mentoring his younger teammates, most notably Eli Manning in New York and Matt Leinart in Arizona.

Of course, the fact that Warner has already gone through a similar situation with the Giants raises yet another obstacle to something like this happening. He'll probably want to finish his career as the unquestioned starter of a team, not as a stopgap who's keeping the seat warm for someone else.

And this scenario also has it's drawbacks for the Chiefs – namely the fact that it may tip their hand to their draft plans come April. If they were to sign Warner, it would be clear to everyone that he wouldn't be a long-term answer, perhaps giving away that the Chiefs planned to use their first pick on a quarterback.

Judging by the newfound secrecy surrounding the team, we can safely assume that Scott Pioli doesn't want anyone to think they know what the Chiefs will do with the third overall pick.

But, hey, it's fun to speculate.

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