For a better part of the 2021 NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs struggled to dominate in the trenches on the defensive side of the football. That’s why Kansas City ranked second to last in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.8) and 29th in sacks (31), according to ESPN.
The addition of Melvin Ingram at the trade deadline had a positive impact on the Chiefs’defense. That is evident in Ingram’s 80.9 overall grade from PFF, which ranks 13th among all edge defenders in the league.
Despite Ingram’s production, Kansas City still wasn’t always able to generate a consistently dominant pass rush, and that’s because the team’s other defensive linemen weren’t always performing to expectation.
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The Chiefs’ top paid pass-rushers, Chris Jones and Frank Clark, registered nine and four and a half sacks, respectively, during the 2021 regular season. In three playoff games, neither player recorded a sack or a QB hit, according to Pro Football Reference. Clark’s small sack total doesn’t add up to the $25.8 million cap number he was on the books with for the 2021 season, which is why the Chiefs may look elsewhere to find additional help on the defensive line this offseason.
Free agency and the draft are options in play to resolve Kansas City’s issues along the defensive line. While there are some intriguing names among the current free-agent class, other players could potentially be cut because of salary concerns which would create more options to choose from for the Chiefs in free agency.
One Green Bay Packers pass rusher, in particular, could be released this offseason, and Kansas City is being linked to him as an interested party.
Chiefs Will ‘Go Hard’ After Za’Darius Smith if He’s Cut
Pro Football Network insider Tony Pauline wrote about Packers defensive end Za’Darius Smith, who missed all but one game last season due to a back injury and carries a $27.7 million cap hit into 2022, which is the final year of his contract with Green Bay.
Pauline wrote that if the Packers were to cut Smith, 29, to free up cap space that the Chiefs will attempt to sign the veteran pass-rusher.
“Who are the teams most interested at this point? I’m told a return to Baltimore, which drafted Smith in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, is a possibility,” Pauline wrote on February 26. “Yet right now, sources tell me the smart money is on the Kansas City Chiefs, who will go hard after Smith if he’s cut.”
After spending the first four years of his NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens, Smith joined the Packers in 2019. Over the next two seasons, Smith would accumulate 60 QB hits, 29 tackles for loss, and 26 sacks, according to Pro Football Reference. He also earned Pro Bowl honors during those two seasons.
A Smith/Chiefs Marriage Would be Great for KC
A new page on the OverTheCap website shows the “restructure potential” for each NFL team.
The page shows what each team’s cap space would look like for the 2022 season if they restructured all their current contracts by converting “scheduled payments such as base salary or roster bonuses into signing bonuses that are prorated equally across the length of the contract, over a maximum of five years,” per the website.
For Kansas City, if they were to do “simple restructures,” they would have $59 million in available cap space. If they were to do “maximum restructures,” they would have $90.1 million in available cap space.
Those numbers don’t exemplify how much money the team will actually free up this offseason to spend. However, it tells us the kind of flexibility the Chiefs have with their current player contracts to move around money, bring in/retain players, and continue to compete for championships moving forward.
That’s why signing Smith — if he were to become a free agent — would be a great move for Kansas City. However, this signing would only make sense if the Chiefs cut ties with Clark as well. Otherwise, too much money would be allocated to the defensive line.