Chiefs 52-Game Starter, 2-Time SB Champ Expected to Walk in Free Agency

Juan Thornhill

Getty Kansas City Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill celebrates his second Super Bowl title.

After winning their second Super Bowl under head coach Andy Reid, the Kansas City Chiefs won’t be able to retain everyone.

That’s just the way of the NFL, given that it’s a salary cap league. One player that’s expected to cash-in on the 2022 campaign and walk in free agency is starting safety Juan Thornhill.

ESPN NFL insider Jeremy Fowler reported that “safety Juan Thornhill should also do very well” on the open market. He explained: “Some teams are looking at him as the No. 2 [available] safety, a viable option for those who can’t afford [Cincinnati Bengals star] Jessie Bates III.”

With 2022 draft pick Bryan Cook ready to take over for Thornhill, the Chiefs are expected to part ways with the 27-year-old who has started 52 games over the past four seasons.

Chiefs’ Juan Thornhill Ready to Collect After ‘Treasure Year’ Comes to Fruition

During May of 2022, Thornhill referred to the upcoming campaign as his “treasure year,” meaning the season he plays for a new contract and cashes in. To his credit, he made good on that prediction, starting 16 out of 17 games with three interceptions and nine passes defended. The former second-round pick also registered a career-high 71 total tackles (four for a loss), with two QB hits and his first career sack according to Pro Football Reference.

After the job was done and Thornhill secured his second Super Bowl ring, he made sure to point out that “now that I think about it I might’ve led the league in [interceptions] called back” on Twitter too, boosting his free agency stock.

On March 5, he added that the “next two weeks is gonna be real exciting.”

Although Thornhill was a solid contributor for the Chiefs when healthy — with eight interceptions, one forced fumble and 20 passes defended over 65 appearances — this feels like as mutual of a breakup as there is. General manager Brett Veach drafted Cook with this moment in mind last April, and while Thornhill went out with a bang — logging one of his best seasons overall — he didn’t do enough for KC to justify paying him big money.

Someone else will be in the market for a safety that appears to still be in his prime, as Fowler reported, and Veach will feel secure knowing that Cook displayed starting-caliber ability in playoff games down the stretch.

How Could the Chiefs Replace Juan Thornhill?

We know that Cook would move into the starting role alongside Justin Reid, but how might KC replace Thornhill beyond that?

Special teams ace Deon Bush is also set to hit free agency, meaning Kansas City is left with just defensive back Nazeeh Johnson behind their potential starting pair. Whether Bush re-signs or the Chiefs decide to bring in another veteran that can contribute on special teams, one of the two backup roles will likely be filled with a much more affordable free agent than Thornhill.

Some cheaper options that might fit the mold include Dean Marlowe, Clayton Fejedelem, Andrew Wingard, Mike Edwards, Jeremy Reaves, Matthias Farley, Michael Thomas and Erik Harris among others. Of course, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could always suggest a reunion with Daniel Sorenson or Armani Watts as well, being that both are unrestricted free agents in 2023.

Beyond that, it’s conceivable that Veach spends another mid-to-late round draft pick on a safety flyer that can compete with Johnson and this young core of Chiefs DBs. That would leave them five on the back-end — not including any undrafted free agents that enter the conversation later on — to match a cornerback unit of Trent McDuffie, L’Jarius Sneed, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams and Dicaprio Bootle.

Considering the state of the Chiefs’ cap space and the fact that there are still more important holes to fill, Thornhill’s departure could be what’s best for all parties involved.

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