Happy New Year!
The NFL’s version of the NYE Ball dropped at 280 Park Ave. early this morning. But instead of confetti and friends, the NFL celebrates with contracts and agents.
Kansas City celebrated football’s new calendar year by inking veteran LB Mike Vrabel before the UFA deadline. Vrabel’s contract extension is reason to cheer, as his signing adds focus and clear direction for a position group filled with young and emerging/developing players.
The move says a lot about both the player and the franchise. Vrabel, having played for Super Bowl champions in New England, has decided to re-join a team coming off a 4-12 season in what could potentially be the final contract of his career. Mutual fit was important here as Vrabel obviously wanted to see through the process he helped start in Kansas City. The Chiefs, on the other hand, want him to be a vital part of this franchise’s future course.
News of Vrabel’s extension sent a few aftershocks throughout the northeast as many Patriots fans hold a special place for Vrabel in their football hearts. How can you not like a guy who only catches touchdown passes? Pat Patriot may have even shed a few tears as some New Englanders were hoping that “Vrabes” would conclude his NFL career in Foxboro.
Inking Vrabel is a good start, but this is no time to celebrate. There is still a lot of work to be done. For fans in Kansas City, that work seems to begin with the pursuit of unrestricted free agent Chris Chambers who developed into a fan-favorite in his short time with the Chiefs.
There’s no news of any deal just yet, but reports have surfaced over the past few weeks that the Chiefs are in pursuit. Reports have also surfaced that others could be in the bidding process as well. Take it all for what it’s worth this time of year, it’s sometimes difficult to know what’s true and what’ false.
To step back and take off our Chiefs blinders for a moment, The Sporting News ranks Chambers as the 24th best available free agent (5th at his position).
That list was developed before a number of players were released throughout the day yesterday.
Over at NFL.com, however, Pat Kirwin doesn’t even rank Chambers among his top-50 available free agents.
Exactly where Chambers ranks among the rest of the league’s available players doesn’t really matter. Chiefs fans seem to like him a lot, as he provided a vital spark to Kansas City’s vertical passing attack at mid-season last year. Over 90% of the Chiefs completions of 30 or more yards took place after Chambers joined the team on November 3rd. In seven games without Chambers on the roster, Kansas City managed just three completions of 30+ yards.
But that was 2009 and this is 2010. The Chiefs must make their own projections of how Chambers measures up with this year’s crop of available players; a list, which grew a bit yesterday.
Some notable players around the league who were cut yesterday include:
· NT Jamal Williams, San Diego
· S Antrel Rolle, Arizona
· CB Lito Sheppard, N.Y. Jets
· DE Charles Grant, New Orleans (to be released today)
· WR Laveranues Coles, Cincinnati
· QB Jake Delhomme, Carolina
The list of late additions to free agency could play a significant role in the early stages of what most believe to be the thinnest free agent pool in years. Most expect to see a sprint out of the gates, but with much shortened track.
Over 200 players found themselves as restricted free agents instead of unrestricted free agents this year due to the ramifications of an uncapped year. The results have made most of the 2010 free agent class either old, inexperienced or both.
According to John Clayton of ESPN, only 60 players entered free agency this morning aged in their 20s, and only 69 of all available players logged eight or more starts in 2009.
Because of the thin free agent market, the league could see a heightened amount of trade activity. In Kansas City, we all know that Scott Pioli isn’t afraid to wheel and deal. Last season, Pioli traded for a starting quarterback, dealt one away and pulled the trigger on other swaps as well (Ikechuku Ndukwe, Andy Alleman, Tank Tyler, Mike Vrabel were all involved in trades).
We could also see a more aggressive approach from teams when it comes to pursuing tendered restricted free agents. If a team feels that they are only one player away, and that player is not in the UFA pool, then who knows?
The reality of this free agency season is that the Chiefs expect to be active participants, regardless of the league climate. The process doesn’t begin and end with Vrabel and it won’t be over if Chambers re-signs with the Chiefs, or with another club for that matter.
Coming off a four-win season, the Chiefs have no choice but to place some wagers this offseason.
“We were active last year and, what happens sometimes, is you try to be active and you don’t always get deals done,” general manager Scott Pioli said at the NFL Combine. “We’re going to try to improve our team and supplement the team with free agents this year, as we did last year. So we will be involved in free agency, absolutely.”
Free agency is officially open.