Of course, the end result was less important than the individual performances of several bubble candidates. The roster cutdown is nearing its completion and Thursday night’s game acted as one last audition for those still vying for a spot.
At linebacker, that included two veterans that appear to be in a head-to-head battle for the fifth and final job.
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Carter’s Roster Slide Continues
With undrafted rookies Jack Cochrane and Mike Rose profiling as practice squad candidates and Elijah Lee swiping away the third starting role in training camp, that left Jermaine Carter Jr. and Darius Harris to duke it out for the remaining depth opportunity.
After his signing this spring, many pegged Carter as a player that could start for KC up until rookie Leo Chenal was ready to take his place. Unfortunately, that theory never materialized for the former Carolina Panther and now the newcomer appears to be in some serious danger of being cut.
“Brought in as a veteran who started all of last season, Carter picked jersey No. 53 — and in retrospect, it fits him well,” Arrowhead Pride analyst Matt Stagner wrote on August 26, with a slight dig at ex-linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
Stagner continued: “He’s not had the strongest preseason, looking a step slower than the other linebackers on the field. Against Green Bay, it was Carter’s whiff that allowed Tyler Goodson to get free into the open field, running right through the middle of the Kansas City defense to score. In the preseason, Carter has been working with the second and third teams, playing late in the games. It’s a pretty clear sign that his stint with the team might be nearing the end — before it really even began.”
Watch No. 53 get run over within this clip from Heavy’s own Devon Clements.
The Chiefs contributor makes some strong points, but the one hurdle in releasing him is his contract. Carter’s $1.035 million base salary was guaranteed and when you combine that with his prorated bonus, Kansas City would have to eat $1.77 million if they decide to cut the vet.
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Primary Contender Excels
To make matters worse for Carter, Harris had a “winning” performance against the Packers according to Stagner.
“Already a coaches’ favorite, Harris exploded off the screen against Green Bay, nearly stopping a Packers drive singlehandedly,” the Arrowhead Pride analyst detailed. “His three stops on that series were among the game’s defensive highlights — and he appeared to be keeping score by counting the plays on his fingers for all to see.”
Fellow A.P. colleague Rocky Magana agreed: “All offseason, I shuddered at the thought of Darius Harris playing meaningful snaps as Kansas City’s MIKE linebacker [in the event of an injury]. But on Thursday night, that changed. Harris was a force of nature, racking up three tackles on a single series. He looked every bit the part of the player the Chiefs need: a decisive enforcer in the middle of the field. Nick Bolton is one of the NFL’s best young linebackers — but if he goes down, Harris looks like a pretty great insurance policy.”
Harris has also been a quality special teamer throughout his career, something you want from your fifth linebacker. Pro Football Focus graded him at 79.7 on special teams this summer. Carter earned a 58.6.
All this led Stagner to form a conclusion: “Harris has the trust of the coaching staff as a backup MIKE linebacker and core special teams player. Go ahead and write Harris’ name on your 53-man roster — in ink.”
If financials are truly the only hold-up, head coach Andy Reid and KC can afford to foot the bill. There’s no room for any dead weight on the roster in 2022.