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Chiefs head into free agency short on experience at offensive tackle

Posted Mar 12, 2012

Branden Albert is the team's only offensive tackle with starting experience

The Peyton Manning derby may have brought NFL free agency to the forefront a week early, but the full show begins Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 PM (CST). By all accounts, this year’s opening bell should be an active one for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs have the cap space to be a lively participant in this year’s free agent chase and have repeatedly voiced intent to create competition throughout the roster.

Kansas City is currently $32.5 million under the salary cap according to numbers released by the NFL over the weekend. That number takes into account the $9.515 million franchise tag Kansas City slapped on WR Dwayne Bowe last week and a reported three-year, $19.6 million contract free agent CB Stanford Routt signed with the team last month.

Reckless spending, however, has never been the mode of operation for the Chiefs under GM Scott Pioli. Expect the franchise to be active, yet selective in this year’s approach.

“You try not to change or force anything,” Pioli recently told KCChiefs.com. “What you want to do is try to get good players who match your system or match your coaching staff. We’ll go into the draft and free agency filling those needs internally with our own free agents or with external players from other teams.

“I just like that we’re back to the normal way of doing things where we have free agency, then the draft.”

The NFL Lockout threw a wrench in last year’s off-season with the draft occurring prior to the start of free agency. Pioli’s preference for a traditional format is shared among most personnel executives.

Of the Chiefs’ biggest needs heading into free agency, none is more obvious than offensive tackle. Branden Albert is currently the only tackle under contract capable of being an Opening Day starter.

Barry Richardson, who started all 16 games at right tackle last season, is set to become an unrestricted free agent and the prospect of his return is hazy. Ryan O’Callaghan, who once started ahead of Richardson, is also scheduled for unrestricted free agency and has considered retirement since suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last August.

Steve Maneri will move to tight end, leaving Albert and David Mims as the only tackles under contract for 2012.

While the Chiefs were pleased with Mims’ progress as an undrafted rookie, his development is an ongoing process. A small-school find, Mims was promoted to the Chiefs active roster in December but has yet to make his NFL debut.

However, the Chiefs’ shortage at offensive tackle may not lead to a marquee free agent signing at the position. This year’s class of free agent tackles is among the thinnest of any position group.

Jared Gaither, who the Chiefs released late last season in favor of Mims’ promotion, is widely-regarded as one of this year’s top free agent tackles. It’s a ranking that shows how thin this year’s tackle class really is.

Though he shined on San Diego’s depleted offensive line for the final month of the 2011 season, Gaither was unable to elevate himself from the reserve ranks in Kansas City. The Chiefs were the second team in nine months to give up on Gaither. His history of back issues has limited the once promising prospect to just five starts since 2009.

The pool of tackles could grow as teams continue to clear cap space, but many see April’s rookie draft as the best way to address long-term needs at the position.

2012 NFL Free Agency: Offensive Tackle Rankings (cbssports.com)

  1. Jared Gaither, San Diego (Age: 25, Career Starts: 33)
  2. Demetrius Bell, Buffalo (Age: 27, Career Starts: 30)
  3. Geoff Swartz, Carolina (Age: 25, Career Starts: 19)
  4. Jeff Backus, Detroit (Age: 34, Career Starts: 176)
  5. Anthony Collins, Cincinnati (Age: 26, Career Starts: 18)

Another top need for the Chiefs is nose tackle. While the free agent market is deeper than offensive tackle, Kansas City’s roster is almost just as thin.

Jerrell Powe, a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, headlines the Chiefs list of returnees but played in just seven defensive snaps as a rookie. He’s currently backed up by Anthony Toribio, who spent all of last season on the practice squad. Toribio appeared in 65 defensive snaps for the Chiefs a year prior.

Veteran Amon Gordon played well as a reserve last season and could be a candidate to re-sign with the team through free agency (Update: Gordon signed a two-year contract extension Monday afternoon). Kelly Gregg, who played the majority of base snaps, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and reportedly considering retirement.

Many mock drafts have already tabbed Memphis prospect Dontari Poe as the Chiefs first-round draft choice in April. That projection is premature and should largely be dependent on how the team addresses nose tackle through free agency.

 2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive Tackle Rankings (cbssports.com)

  1. Paul Soliai, Miami (Age: 28, Career Starts: 31)
  2. Sione Pouha, New York Jets (*re-signed with Jets 3/12/12*)
  3. Antonio Garay, San Diego(Age: 32, Career Starts: 28)
  4.  Brodrick Bunkley, Denver (Age: 28, Career Starts: 65)
  5. Aubrayo Franklin, New Orleans (Age: 31, Career Starts: 70)

 Note: Tennessee DT Jason Jones, who was rated #3 by CBS, not included because he projects as a 3-4 defensive end

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