With the Kansas City Chiefs struggling in several categories defensively, sparking major criticism directed towards them, Chiefs Kingdom and others are scouring the NFL landscape to see what options the defending AFC champions have in order to bolster that unit.
The first big name that came up in that conversation was former All-Pro linebacker Jamie Collins, who was released by the Detroit Lions in Week 4. However, the veteran will re-join the New England Patriots, per ESPN’s Field Yates, putting an end to any hope of him hopping aboard the Kansas City wagon.
But another talented linebacker has hit the free-agent market in Week 5, one younger and with more upside, which has many wondering — including us — if this is the player Chiefs Kingdom has been waiting for.
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LB Jaylon Smith Released by Cowboys
The move will not be official until Wednesday, with an effort by Dallas to try and trade him before the transaction becomes official, per Mike Garafolo of NFL Media, though a trade is unlikely.
Though the decision to release Smith is a bit of a surprise, it’s happening because of two reasons, one of which was simply because other players on the roster were outplaying the 2019 Pro Bowler, per ESPN’s Jane Slater. The Cowboys will also save money in the future, as they will avoid owing Smith $9.2 million in injury guarantees in 2022, as mentioned by Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac on Twitter.
Chiefs Linked to Smith
As you can imagine, outlets immediately began predicting which NFL teams would land the newly-released linebacker. That’s when connections began to be made between Smith and Kansas City. The Chiefs were listed as an ideal destination for Smith by Vincent Frank of SportsNaut. Here’s what Frank had to say about the fit between the two parties:
“To say that Kansas City has struggled on the defensive side of the ball through the first four games of the season would be an understatement,” Frank wrote. “The team is giving up an eye-opening 31.3 points per game. It has also allowed opposing tight ends to record a league-high 348 yards.
“Smith wouldn’t be an immediate fix in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system. But he would help big time. At the very least, he could be an upgrade over rookie second-round pick Nick Bolton, who has been a part of their struggles this season.”
Jaylen Smith’s Fit With Chiefs
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the reason Smith was released in the first place, which can be rounded up by his PFF grades. Here are his PFF grades through four weeks of the regular season:
Run Defense: 37.4
Pass Rush: 51.1
While his overall, run-defense, and pass-rush grades tell you all you need to know about his release, Smith’s coverage grade is intriguing when considering his fit with the Chiefs.
In the month of September, Kansas City’s defense ranked 27th in the league in passing yards allowed (1,167), and 30th in yards per completion (8.8), per ESPN. This is in part because the entire unit ranks 22nd in the league in PFF coverage grade at 53.3. The best coverage linebacker for them is veteran Anthony Hitchens, who has graded out at 60.1 through four weeks of regular-season play. So, adding Smith, even if he was just as passing-down/situational player for the Chiefs, makes sense.
Now let’s talk about the finances. As it stands, the Chiefs have an estimated $2.19 million in available in cap space, according to Spotrac. That is taking into account wide receiver Josh Gordon being promoted to the 53-man roster, putting his salary at $770,000.
Luckily, because of when Smith was released, it will lead to some free money in 2021 for any team that signs him. Thanks to offset language, if Smith is signed by another team, any new compensation he earns in 2021 will be subtracted from the remaining $5.6 million owed to by the Cowboys, according to Michael Ginnitti of Spotrac.
Long story short — a minimum contract for Smith this season, which is highly likely given his current situation and is also the ideal contract for the Chiefs given their cap predicament, would cost $715,000 in Week 6, per Ginnitti.
That makes Smith a very viable target for the defending AFC champions.
Adding Smith, along with the potential return of second-year linebacker Willie Gay, who is eligible to return from injured reserve in Week 5, would give a much-needed boost to a Kansas City defense that has looked helpless through the first month of the 2021 regular season.
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