One of the very first moves of the 2022 offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs was releasing veteran linebacker Anthony Hitchens on February 22. The move was an opportunity for the then cap-strapped Chiefs to free up cap space, as Hitchens’ release freed up $8.44 million in cap space, according to Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap.
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Since becoming a free agent, Hitchens’ market has been cold. He hadn’t visited with any NFL team through April 7 since becoming a free agent. But that changed on April 8 when he visited with the Chicago Bears, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
Hitchens played under the now-head coach of the Bears, Matt Eberflus, during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. Time will tell if Hitchens will join Chicago or if his free-agency stint will continue.
Hitchens Didn’t Live Up to Contract in KC
The move to release Hitchens made sense for Kansas City, as Hitchens hadn’t lived up to the five-year, $45 million contract he signed with the Chiefs in 2018.
Though Hitchens was always available — he missed just four games since joining Kansas City — and was a leader, he only recorded over 100 tackles in one season with the Chiefs and didn’t make a Pro Bowl in any of the four seasons. So, saying goodbye to the 29-year-old defender this offseason was warranted, especially given the emergence of 2021 second-round pick Nick Bolton.
General manager Brett Veach was appreciative of what Hitchens gave to the Chiefs over the last four seasons, however, despite the way it ended.
“When I first became general manager, one of the first moves I wanted to make was to bring in Anthony Hitchens from Dallas,” Veach said. “We knew how intelligent, hard-working and consistent he was as a player, and we knew he’d become a selfless leader. He was that and more. He has all the intangibles and was an integral piece in our franchise winning a Super Bowl title. We appreciate everything he’s done for the organization and wish him the best as he continues his career.”
But is Kansas City saying goodbye to Hitchens for good? Not so fast — Veach didn’t rule the possibility of Hitchens returning to the Chiefs.
Veach on Hitchens: ‘Maybe He Ends up Back in KC’
Veach noted that Hitchens is still a “valuable addition” to any NFL locker room while admitting that the possibility does exist for the veteran linebacker to return to Kansas City.
“We talked about this [at the end of last season] — strange things happen, and maybe he ends up back in KC,” Veach said.
Bolton’s Play Made Cutting Hitchens an Easier Decision
While it certainly wasn’t the only reason, the play of Bolton did make the decision to cut ties with Hitchens easier for Kansas City’s front office.
During the 2021 season, Bolton played in 16 regular-season games and started 12 of them, recording 112 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and one fumble recovery for a touchdown, according to Pro Football Reference. The rookie’s play earned him the Chiefs’ Mack Lee Hill Rookie of the Year award, despite fellow second-round pick Creed Humphrey recording the highest PFF grade ever by a rookie offensive lineman in the PFF era.
Bolton’s strong play, along with second-year linebacker Willie Gay’s, is in part thanks to Hitchens, who helped them in the early stages of their NFL careers, according to Veach.
“You know how this league works,” Veach explained. “[Anthony Hitchens will] certainly go out there and I’m sure he’ll have some suitors. He brings a lot to the table, especially a young linebacking corps.
“I mean the work he did with Willie Gay and Nick Bolton last year – I think you can ask both those guys and they’d be the first ones to tell you that they developed into the players they were at the end of the season because of Anthony. I think that’ll be attractive to a lot of teams with some younger linebackers. If that doesn’t work out though, every team needs to fill out depth on their roster and it’s a long season. You never know, these things have a bunch of different ways they could turn out.”
A return to Kansas City for Hitchens would likely only happen if he came back on a minimal contract. The team can better spend its money elsewhere. However, getting Hitchens’ veteran leadership back in the building is clearly welcomed by the organization at the right price.