After spending second-round selections on Missouri’s Nick Bolton and Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr. in the two most recent NFL drafts, the Kansas City Chiefs have dedicated more high-end draft capital to its linebacker corps than any other position since last offseason.
With former two-year starter Damien Wilson gone to Jacksonville and Gay entering Year Two in Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, the defending AFC champions will be counting on at least some payoff from their youngsters in 2021. Still, the unit’s overall inexperience behind long-time starter Anthony Hitchens has some considering whether another veteran presence is needed to protect against injury and buy additional time for Gay and Bolton to develop.
Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon pinpointed one specific player who could fill that void in a June 19 roundup ranking the best available NFL free agents left on the market.
The latest Chiefs news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Chiefs newsletter here!
Chiefs a ‘Logical Landing Spot’ for K.J. Wright?
The only true sideline-to-sideline linebacker highlighted among the seven prominent players on Gagnon’s list, K.J. Wright has quietly been one of the NFL’s most productive defenders over the last decade, recording at least 80 combined tackles in eight of his 10 seasons since 2011.
Having played out the final season of the two-year, $14 million contract extension he signed with the Seattle Seahawks in 2019, Wright has yet to budge off of his presumed market value, which still hovers in the $7 million range annually, per Spotrac. Though Gagnon did not rule out a reunion in Seattle, the B/R national NFL writer named Kansas City among three other “logical” landing spots for the 2014 Super Bowl champ.
Superstar Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner is still holding out hope that his team will bring back veteran free agent K.J. Wright, who was a pillar within that linebacking corps for the last decade.
He’s about to turn 32, but the 2016 Pro Bowler recorded 132 tackles in 2019 and had 86 more along with two sacks and an interception as a 16-game starter in 2020.
He’s not a future Hall of Famer or anything, but he’s durable and consistent. That’s extremely valuable in this league.
Head coach Pete Carroll said in May the door remained open for Wright to return to Seattle, but Wright told CBS Sports earlier in the offseason that he wouldn’t be offering any discounts, and the Seahawks are rather low on salary-cap space.
Logical landing spots: Bengals, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks
Despite public comments from his former teammate in recent weeks, ESPN’s Brady Henderson reported on June 17 that Wright is “not in their plans,” noting that, “It’s mostly because the Seahawks want their top two draft picks from 2020 — [Jordyn] Brooks and Darrell Taylor — to join All-Pro veteran Bobby Wagner as starters in their 4-3 defense.”
Financial Implications Likely Rule Out Chiefs
Like a number of other big-name free agent edge rushers linked to the Chiefs this offseason — Melvin Ingram, Justin Houston and Vic Beasley to name a few — financial limitations are a significant factor for Kansas City (and many others) at this point in the offseason.
While $8.3 million in available salary cap space doesn’t leave the Chiefs’ front office as limited as Seattle ($4.7 million), the wiggle room to bring in a veteran on a deal north of $5 million per year, even if only for one season, is not much. With training camp set to kick off in St. Joseph on July 28, the smart money is on Kansas City riding with its current group, unless one of the aforementioned veterans drops their asking price considerably.
Even in a worst-case scenario, Spagnuolo and the Chiefs can again lean on third-year linebacker and special teamer Ben Niemann (five starts in 2020) or the versatility of Tyrann Mathieu to plug holes as needed.
Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!