AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs

De'Anthony Thomas didn’t accomplish much offensively as a rookie. But he’s someone the Kansas City Chiefs shouldn’t overlook as they try to squeeze more from their passing game in general and their wide receivers in particular.

Thomas spent much of the two-plus months since the end of the season at the beach in Southern California, running pass routes in the sand to get ready for what lies ahead this spring in Kansas City.

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“That’s what I’ve been working on this offseason," Thomas said during a visit to Kansas City last week to accept his trophy as the Chiefs’ rookie of the year. “I’m running all those routes in the sand. Once the time comes to come on the grass, I feel it’s going to be a lot easier because I’ve prepared myself for it.

“I still feel like there’s a lot more work to be done."

There is, offensively at least. Thomas’ impact as a rookie was mostly as a kick returner. His numbers on offense were uninspiring, not even up to those of his Chiefs predecessor as little-guy, supposed matchup problem as a slot receiver, Dexter McCluster. Playing in 12 games, Thomas caught 23 passes for 156 yards and, of course, no touchdowns. He rushed 14 times for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Perhaps it’s unfair to expect more from a rookie, particularly one who didn’t participate in most of the offseason practices because it was prohibited by NFL rules. His classes were still in session at Oregon, so Thomas had to sit out.

Thomas then missed the first four games of the regular season because of a hamstring injury.

But he will participate in offseason practices this year.

“I feel like I’ll be a lot better," Thomas said. “I know what to expect now. I didn’t really get to experience [offseason practice] and stuff like that. This year I’ll have my opportunity to experience it and just take advantage of it."

Thomas is fast -- world-class fast -- and showed that when returning kicks last season. The Chiefs need to find better ways to put it to use offensively. His longest catch last season gained 30 yards, his longest run 26 yards.

“He’s unique," said Bruce Arians, who last season coached the Arizona Cardinals against Thomas and the Chiefs. He was also in Kansas City recently to be honored as NFC coach of the year at the annual 101 Banquet.

“Every time he touches the damn ball, you hold your breath. Andy [Reid] did a great job of creating ways to get him the ball. Each week it was different, so you’re trying to get ready for things you haven’t seen."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The 2014 NFL draft included 33 wide receivers. And, the class set enough records in their rookie season to warrant documentary talk from at least one GM.

"Last year's class was probably really, really good," St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead said. "They'll probably do a 30-for-30 on those guys."

The good news for teams like the Kansas City Chiefs who are looking for receiving help is that it might take all of a year for a group as good or better to come along.

[+] EnlargeOdell Beckham Jr
AP Photo/Julio CortezReceivers drafted in 2014, including Odell Beckham Jr. of the Giants, combined last season for 814 catches, 10,547 yards, and 82 receiving TDs.
"You’re probably going to have 35 to 40 (wide receivers) drafted this year," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. "It’s a strong group. There are some really underrated guys, under-the-radar guys.

"This is a really good group of wide receivers. There’s a lot of depth into the late rounds."

Drafted wide receivers combined last season for 814 catches, 10,547 yards and 82 receiving touchdowns. Those totals are all higher than for any rookie wide receiver class in the common draft era, which began in 1968.

It certainly doesn’t look like a coincidence that another strong group of receivers is coming in on its heels.

"I think the college game has really helped," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "It’s helped because they’re throwing the football more, and these guys are having more opportunity to run the routes that we run and go against these different coverages that are little bit more sophisticated at the college level, and have to make adjustments on those coverages. I think from a quarterback’s standpoint, tight ends and wide receivers, it’s a beautiful thing."

Wideouts in college were once primarily blockers in the running game. Even when teams did throw, the passing games and routes were often primitive compared to what the NFL offered, and that set back the development of receivers.

Now, some college offensive systems are as sophisticated as anything the NFL has to offer. College teams are spreading the field and throwing plenty.

"Bryce Petty threw (831) passes the last two years at Baylor," Kiper Jr. said. "Two years, (831) attempts. These guys are throwing the ball all over the lot."

Somebody has to run the routes and make the catches. They’re moving on in big numbers to become productive NFL players.

Last season, Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants finished in the top 10 in catches, yards, and receiving touchdowns despite missing four games with injuries. Miami’s Jarvis Landry, Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews, Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins, New Orleans’ Brandin Cooks, and Jacksonville’s Allen Hurns were rookies who caught at least 50 passes.

This year’s names to know include West Virginia’s Kevin White, Alabama’s Amari Cooper and Louisville’s Devante Parker. The Chiefs, picking 18th, won’t have a shot at any of those receivers unless they trade up.

"If he slides into that seven, eight, nine spot, I’d move up to get him," Kiper Jr. said of Cooper. "Or if you want to move to get Devante Parker, be active. I remember when the 49ers got Jerry Rice. Jerry Rice at that particular point had slid down, and they got him at 15 but they moved up to get him."

But by waiting even into a later round, odds are the Chiefs could get someone with plenty of potential.

"Colleges are producing a lot of receivers right now, which is good for our league," San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. "Each year is different. To me, what last year’s receiving class did has nothing to do with this year’s class. But I would agree with you. This is a very good class of receivers.

"It may be that so many (college) teams run spread offenses and throw the ball so much (but) we’re seeing more receivers at this level much more polished. Most of these kids through high school, they have seven-on-seven camps in the summer time. In college these receivers have been running routes, and a lot of routes, for a long time. It’s a repetition game.

"Maybe we’re starting to see some of that at this level. It would be back-to-back years that there has really been a deep receiver group. I’m not just talking first round, but really all the way through the draft."

Expect more deep receiver classes as long as the passing game is so prevalent in the college game.

"The way high school football is going, college football's going, there's a lot more passing of the football," Snead said. "So I think the development of wide receivers, I think coaches put some of their best athletes, at a young age, running routes and catching balls. So that's probably the evolution that you're seeing."
Some fans seemed to be comforted by the words of general manager John Dorsey Monday as the Kansas City Chiefs announced they had made linebacker Justin Houston their franchise player.

“Justin is a talented player and a key contributor to our defense,’’ Dorsey said. “Today was the deadline to designate a franchise player, and it was in the best interest of the club to place the tag on Justin. We will continue to discuss long-term options with him and his agent. Our goal is to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We want to keep Justin in a Chiefs uniform for years to come.”

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Houston
I heard from more than a few fans that they took this as a commitment on the part of the Chiefs to keep Houston around from the long term.

That might be. Houston might have a long, prosperous career entirely in Kansas City and at this point I don’t doubt the Chiefs’ sincerity in making that happen

Just don’t bank on it based on Dorsey’s words. Let this be a friendly reminder not to necessarily take seriously what’s being said publicly about contract negotiations.

As an example, I give you Dorsey’s words on March 4, 2013, when the Chiefs made tackle Branden Albert their franchise player.

“Today was the league’s deadline to designate a franchise player and we felt it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs to place the tag on Branden,’’ he said. “We will continue to negotiate with Branden and his agent to reach a deal that is mutually beneficial. We are looking forward to working with Branden in the near future.”

Albert played that season for the Chiefs but left shortly afterward as a free agent for the Miami Dolphins, who were happy to give Albert the long-term deal the Chiefs never would.

Albert was replaced at left tackle by Eric Fisher, the Chiefs’ 2013 first-round left tackle.

By the way, if Houston winds up leaving the Chiefs this year or even next, his likely replacement would be Dee Ford, the Chiefs’ 2014 first-round draft pick.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The more I think about it, one thing continues to bother me about the franchise tag the Kansas City Chiefs placed on linebacker Justin Houston. One of the NFL’s other 31 teams is going to steal him away.

The NFL’s reigning sack leader just turned 26. The odds are he’ll turn in several more seasons like the one he just had for the Chiefs.

Isn’t that kind of production worth a monster contract to a team and a couple of No. 1 draft picks? Some NFL team flush with salary-cap space, and there are a few of them, might think so.

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Houston
This has to have occurred to the Chiefs. They had to think of it and either they think no team will sign Houston to an offer sheet or they’re OK with it if he does.

Let’s review the franchise tag rules. There are two designations for a franchise player, exclusive and non-exclusive.

Houston is the latter, meaning he is free starting March 10 to sign an offer sheet with another team. If he does, the Chiefs can match and retain Houston’s services. If they decline to match, the Chiefs acquire a couple of first-round draft picks from Houston’s new team.

For additional money in their mandatory one-year contract offer to Houston, the Chiefs could have made him their exclusive franchise player. This would have kept Houston off limits to any other team.

But as things stand, Houston can negotiate with other teams. A team with plenty of salary-cap space would be able to craft a contract in such a way that the Chiefs, who will probably be snug against the cap on March 10, would have trouble matching.

If the Chiefs decline to match, they could play Tamba Hali and Dee Ford at outside linebacker next season, clear some significant money off their book to work with in free agency along with picking up a couple of extra No. 1 draft picks in the process.

It’s not a strategy I would endorse. Knowing general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid, it's one I would be surprised if the Chiefs endorsed.

But Justin Houston is good enough where it might happen. By their actions, the Chiefs don’t seem to be bothered by the possibility.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The moment the Kansas City Chiefs and Justin Houston anticipated came on Monday when the team placed the franchise tag on its star linebacker.

The news is nothing the sides haven’t expected for months. They have been building to this as on-again, off-again negotiations for a long-term contract brought little in the way of progress.

In making him their franchise player, the Chiefs are obligated to offer Houston a one-year contract worth about $13 million. But he’s not obligated to sign it now, anytime soon or ever.

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Houston
The franchise tag effectively keeps Houston off the free-agent market. Assuming he has been designated as a non-exclusive franchise player, Houston could negotiate a long-term contract with another club and sign an offer sheet.

The Chiefs would then have the right to match the contract and retain Houston’s services. They would receive two first-round draft picks from the other team if they decline to match.

So while this move goes a long way toward ensuring Houston plays in 2015 for no other team besides the Chiefs, it doesn’t guarantee he will play for the Chiefs. His leverage toward getting a long-term contract, and more guaranteed money than the one-year, $13 million contract would provide, is not to sign the Chiefs’ offer and stay away from the offseason conditioning program and practice sessions that begin in the spring.

It’s worth noting that his absence from last year’s conditioning and practice sessions (he was protesting a lack of progress toward a long-term contract) didn’t hold him back once the season started. He set a Chiefs record and fell a half-sack short of the NFL record with 22 sacks.

In that sense, the Chiefs placing the franchise tag on Houston and Houston possibly deciding not to sign it is a part of the business. These things tend to sort themselves out. The Chiefs and Houston have until July 15 to agree on a long-term contract. If they don’t have a deal in place by then, they can’t agree on one until after the Chiefs have finished their 2015 regular season.

But these things don’t always sort themselves out. In this case, the lack of progress toward a long-term contract and Houston’s willingness to hold out of last spring’s activities make you wonder whether this one will.

Things haven’t always worked themselves out for the Chiefs and their franchise players over the years. Jared Allen was so mad at being named the franchise player in 2008, they had little choice but to trade him to the Minnesota Vikings.

Branden Albert, the Chiefs’ most recent franchise player in 2013, played for Kansas City that season. But he departed shortly afterward for the Miami Dolphins and the long-term contract the Chiefs were never willing to give him.

Those were different situations and their lessons might not apply to Houston. His situation still bears watching.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Linebacker Justin Houston was named 2014 Most Valuable Player and De'Anthony Thomas rookie of the year by the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.

Cornerback Gary Green, who played for the Chiefs from 1977 through 1983, is this year’s entrant to the Chiefs Hall of Fame.

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Houston
Houston, 26, had the greatest season of any pass rusher in Chiefs history. He led the NFL with 22 sacks, finishing a half-sack from the NFL record set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001.

But Houston was more than just an outstanding pass-rusher. He also excelled at playing the run and in pass coverage. He was far and away the top-rated 3-4 outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus in 2014 as an overall player and pass rusher. Houston rated fourth as a run defender and tied for fourth in coverage.

Thomas, the Chiefs’ fourth-round draft pick from Oregon, won the award mainly for his special-teams contributions. On offense, he caught 23 passes for 156 yards and rushed 14 times for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Thomas was one of the NFL’s most dangerous kick returners. He was third in the league in punt-return average at 11.9 yards and had an 81-yard touchdown in December against the Oakland Raiders. His 30.6-yard average on kickoff returns would have tied him for second in the league, but he didn’t have enough attempts to qualify.

Green intercepted 24 passes in his seven seasons for the Chiefs. Green was traded to the Los Angeles Rams after the 1983 season. He played two seasons for the Rams.

“This is the biggest award I’ve ever received," said Green, now a high school coach and teacher in his native San Antonio. “Growing up playing football, we always want to be the best. ... This is the culmination of everything."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Here is the scouting combine edition of the Kansas City Chiefs weekly mailbag. To ask a question for a future edition, send it to me via Twitter (@adamteicher) and tag it #ChiefsMail.

@adamteicher: The allegations of crimes for Dorial Green-Beckham and Jameis Winston are horrible on their own and don't deserve to be compared. I think teams have the obligation to know the facts and understand what kind of person they're dealing with before making them a part of their respective communities. Green-Beckham and Winston aren't necessarily being punished for this scrutiny and for dropping in the draft (if that's indeed what happens to them). It's a question of whether teams want to use a first-round draft pick on what may be a huge risk.

@adamteicher: The combine workout itself won't determine whether the Chiefs would draft Green-Beckham. It's a part of the picture but not the decisive factor. I would think an athlete of his caliber would test very well at the combine. In that sense, a bad workout would probably hurt him more than a good workout would help him.

@adamteicher: The Chiefs need a No. 1 wide receiver. Dwayne Bowe hasn't played like one for a while and he will be 31 in September. So it's a mistake for the Chiefs to pass in the first round on Green-Beckham or any other player they think will become a good No. 1 receiver for them. If the Chiefs don't think that of DGB or just believe he's too much of a risk, they should pass. I think Lockett from Kansas State will be a good NFL player. I also wonder because the Chiefs have De'Anthony Thomas whether he's a redundant player for them. Lockett measured 5-foot-10 and weighed 182 pounds at the combine. That's slightly bigger than Thomas but still in that mold. One of Lockett's strengths is as a punt returner. That's not a need for the Chiefs. They have Thomas.

@adamteicher: I don't believe the Chiefs want to do that, though their hand may be forced on the matter because of his $14 million salary-cap figure. Cutting Bowe would leave the Chiefs with just Thomas and Albert Wilson as wide receivers who are under contract and who caught at least one pass for them last season. Both were rookies last year. Unless the Chiefs have a plan to replace Bowe with a veteran free agent, Bowe is still an important player for them.

@adamteicher: Not very good.

@adamteicher: It's hard for the Chiefs to trust Commings anymore. He missed almost all of his first two NFL seasons with various injuries. So anything they get from him beyond this point has to be looked at as an unexpected bonus. At safety the Chiefs have Husain Abdullah and Eric Berry under contract for next season but there's still much uncertainty over Berry's situation. Ron Parker and Kurt Coleman are prospective free agents, so if the Chiefs don't retain at least one of them, they well might need to draft a safety.

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INDIANAPOLIS -- I'm going to suspend my NFL scouting combine coverage temporarily to weigh in on this no good, horrible, very bad news that the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers might be moving to Los Angeles.

One of the joys of following the Kansas City Chiefs is watching them play against their division rivals, teams they've battled against twice annually for every one of their 55 AFL and NFL seasons except the strike-interrupted year of 1982.

So much of Chiefs history is tied up in the games against the Raiders, Chargers and Denver Broncos. Those Chiefs-Raiders games from the late 1960s and early 1970s hooked this little kid on pro football and I lived nowhere near Kansas City or Oakland at the time.

Both teams have at various times called Los Angeles home, the Chargers for their inaugural AFL season in 1960 and the Raiders for 13 years in the 1980s and 1990s. But San Diego and Oakland have been their respective homes for so long that those cities are where the respective franchises have their identities. Saying either team belongs to L.A. because of their brief histories there is like saying Dallas has a claim to the Chiefs, who were born in the Texas city.

The possibility of the Chiefs no longer playing their annual games in San Diego (always a favorite trip for Kansas City-area fans) and Oakland is bad enough. Now comes Pro Football Talk with a report that either the Chargers or Raiders would move not only out of the AFC West but to the NFC if both teams move to Los Angeles.

So, in that case, also kiss goodbye to the annual game at Arrowhead Stadium against one team or the other.

Part of the Chiefs dies if that happens. The Chiefs, Broncos and the remaining AFC West team will get a replacement for rival, and Pro Football talk speculates it would be either the Rams or Cardinals.

But things wouldn't be the same. Neither of those opponents stir any passion in Chiefs fans and while it might change to an extent if one moves into the AFC West, it's a stretch to think that the new rival would provide memories to the Chiefs and their fans that the Chargers and Raiders have.
INDIANAPOLIS – Dorial Green-Beckham wasn’t the only wide receiver who could be available to the Kansas City Chiefs with the 18th pick of this year’s draft who answered media questions at the combine. Ohio State’s Devin Smith and Michigan’s Devin Funchess are among the others.

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Each player, predictably, spent some time talking himself up. Smith is fast and a deep threat, something the Chiefs certainly need.

“That’s what teams need,’’ said Smith, who measured 6-foot and weighed 196 at the combine. “They need guys who can go and get it. I think I have that ability. I’ve shown it plenty of times in college so I’m just going to translate that to the next level.’’

Funchess is a different type of player. Some teams view him as more of a tight end than a wide receiver. He came in at 6-4 and 232 pounds at the combine.

“I talked to tons of teams,’’ Funchess said. “They get a feel for me and take their own analysis on me and see what they want to do."

As for his strengths as a receiver, Funchess said, “My size, my speed. I’ve got sneaky speed. I get up under defenders real quick. It doesn’t look like I’m moving fast, but I cover ground. And then just my athletic ability.’’
INDIANAPOLIS -- I had the chance to pull Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey aside at the NFL combine and ask him about linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Regarding Houston, I asked whether the Chiefs would make him the franchise player if the sides cannot reach agreement on a long-term contract beforehand. Dorsey didn’t answer directly but his response should calm some fans who are anxious about the Chiefs losing the NFL’s reigning sack leader.

“I don’t foresee Justin going anywhere,’’ Dorsey said.

The questions regarding Bowe, the Chiefs’ only veteran wide receiver still under contract, and Hali dealt with the Chiefs’ ability and willingness to retain both at their current salary-cap figures. Bowe is to cost the Chiefs $14 million against the cap this year, Hali about $12 million.

“We’ve done a pretty good job in terms of laying out our plan moving forward here,’’ Dorsey said. “Let’s just wait and see what pans out. I’ve got so much time left. I’ve got all kinds of different scenarios.’’

Specifically regarding Bowe, Dorsey simply said, “I love the kid.’’

On Hali, Dorsey said, “We have a plan and we’re trying to address it. I love Tamba. I love everything he stands for as a player. But what I want to do is I want to be able to sit and talk things out with some more people. I want to be able to evaluate what we’ve got going on here in the [draft] class of 2015 and then I can get some clarity to the overall plan.’’
INDIANAPOLIS – Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is a name that many Kansas City Chiefs fans have already forgotten. No reason to recall it last year, really. Duvernay-Tardif, an offensive lineman and a sixth-round draft pick last year, didn’t get into a single game for the Chiefs as a rookie.

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Just don’t forget about Duvernay-Tardif as the Chiefs proceed through their offseason and get to training camp. The Chiefs haven’t. The medical school student who played at McGill University in Canada looks to be very much in the Chiefs’ plans this year, most likely at guard.

“Think of where he was," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at the NFL combine, referring to what amounted to a redshirt year for Duvernay-Tardif. “We’re talking maybe a junior-college level of play and now jumping into the National Football League. So the improvement that he made, I just thought it was dramatic. Smart, strong, good athlete. He just needs to play more. I think he has a nice upside."

The redshirt year was part of the plan for Duvernay-Tardif, given the jump in level of competition, as Reid pointed out. But the Chiefs might not be able to wait any longer for him. On the offensive line, the Chiefs have under contract for 2015 tackles Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson, guards Jeff Allen and Zach Fulton and a handful of developmental prospects, Duvernay-Tardif being the most promising.

Center Rodney Hudson is unsigned and the Chiefs could lose him in free agency.

Duvernay-Tardif had some interesting things to say last month in an interview with CBC in Canada. He revealed that he took some first-team snaps in practice last season because of injuries to other players. Despite that, the Chiefs were never tempted to utilize him in a game.

“[Chiefs coaches] basically told me they wish I would have been able to compete and play during the season, but they weren’t confident enough that I was not going to make a little mental error," he said. "But they told me I was strong enough, fast enough, athletic enough. That’s a big plus for me. Now I know I can play against those guys. It’s just up here [pointing to his temple]. This part, it got better during the season and it’s still going to get better during the course of the year. I’ve only been practicing [offensive line] for three years now. I’m going to get a lot better and I’m already a lot better than I was a year ago.

“Of course [not playing] is going to get a bit frustrating. You think you’re ready, you think you’re better than the guy in front of you but you don’t get to start."
INDIANAPOLIS -- You be the judge whether this should be taken as good news or bad for the Kansas City Chiefs. Given the way Peyton Manning looked when last season finished, which was injured and old, it may be up for some debate.

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In any event, Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said today at the NFL combine that the process of determining whether Manning would return at quarterback next season was ongoing.

"I don't think there's been any assurances or anything," Kubiak said when asked whether Manning would be Denver's QB next season. "It's been about a process that he and [Broncos vice president John Elway] have been working through over the course of the last month.

"No doubt I want him to be. All indications are that from everything that he's said and through his conversations with John that he feels good. He's had this self-assessment or however you want to label that and he feels good about moving forward. So we'll just continue with this process."

So Kubiak left that door cracked that someone else will quarterback the Broncos next season.

If Manning wants to play, it makes no sense the Broncos would turn him away for money purposes. Manning, even as he looked late last season, is better than any alternative the Broncos could reasonably come up with.

Even assuming he plays, I still think the AFC West championship can be a reasonable goal for the Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers for the first time since Manning joined the Broncos in 2012 -- if the Chiefs and Chargers make the right moves in the coming weeks. Kubiak and his coaching staff are just getting started in Denver and, Manning or not, those transitions are rarely seamless.

So anything less than the Manning of old as the quarterback in Denver opens up the division race to competent contenders.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The releases of wide receivers Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins by the Kansas City Chiefs were not surprising. Neither player was productive for the Chiefs in his two seasons in Kansas City, and the team saves more than $4.7 million against the salary cap by making these moves.

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 Beyond that, though, there’s a lot to like about these moves. They show that the Chiefs are serious about fixing a weakness.

They’re clearing out the debris. Avery never developed into the deep threat the Chiefs hoped he would be when they signed him two years ago. It was time for him to go. Likewise for Jenkins, who produced little when the Chiefs turned to him for desperately-needed help at his position last year.

The Chiefs are left with three wide receivers who caught a pass for them last season and are under contract for 2015. This includes Dwayne Bowe, who should join Avery and Jenkins if he doesn’t agree to have his scheduled $10.75 million salary reduced, and De’Anthony Thomas, who lines up in a variety of spots, including as a running back.

The Chiefs are making room for the new. Their coaches and scouts are in Indianapolis for the scouting combine, looking at receivers the Chiefs will draft, catch passes and -- that’s right, I’m going to dare say it -- score touchdowns for them next season.

The Chiefs may already have a couple of such players in Albert Wilson, who finished his rookie season well, and Da’Rick Rogers, a talented player who signed last month.

The Chiefs need to turn that position over. Wilson, Thomas and a less-expensive Bowe are keepers. They should start fresh at receiver otherwise.

General manager John Dorsey -- shortly after the end of last season -- offered encouragement that the Chiefs were aware of their receiving needs when he said, “I think that the stats speak for themselves, and we’re going to have to do some work there.”

Those were just words. By releasing Avery and Jenkins, the Chiefs supported those words with actions. They are an even better indication the Chiefs are determined to fix the problem.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time the Kansas City Chiefs entered a draft with more than 10 picks, they came away with five eventual starters who would go on to play in a total of six Pro Bowls.

The Chiefs won’t have two first-round picks or three selections in the third round in this year’s draft, as they did in 2008. But they are expecting at least 11 picks. The Chiefs have their own choice in each of the seven rounds for the first time since 2012. (They traded their second-round pick in each of the last two drafts to the San Francisco 49ers for quarterback Alex Smith.)

The Chiefs are also planning on having four or more compensatory picks as a result of losses in free agency last year.

“[The Chiefs] have 11-plus picks to work with to bring in people,’’ coach Andy Reid said in late December at his end-of-the-season news conference. “We actually have a second-round pick this year. We are sitting 18th in the draft. Not that you want to be there, but we are there. I think that’s a positive. I think all those things add up to a [bright] future.’’

This expected bounty of picks comes at an opportune time for the Chiefs. Their salary-cap situation is tight, they have two must-retain free agents in linebacker Justin Houston and center Rodney Hudson who are still unsigned. They also might have to release veterans such as wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and linebacker Tamba Hali, who have been pillars for the Chiefs for many years, for cap reasons.

So it’s a good time for the Chiefs to load up like they did in 2008. Among the players they drafted that year: tackle Branden Albert, cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr and running back Jamaal Charles. All except for Carr, who left for a lucrative contract as a free agent to the Dallas Cowboys in 2012, reached at least one Pro Bowl while playing for the Chiefs.

Those Chiefs were deep in the middle of a rebuilding plan and needed players to upgrade their roster at almost every position.

“We needed some positions and we knew we were going to draft guys to start,’’ said ESPN analyst Herm Edwards, who was the Chiefs’ head coach at the time. “We weren’t drafting guys to sit on the bench and develop. We were going to draft them and they were going to play. A lot of those kids ended up playing for us and they ended up being pretty good players. Some of them are no longer there, but they’re in the league and they’re starting at other places.’’

The Chiefs are in a different place now. They won nine games last season, as opposed to four with an aging roster in 2007, and their depth chart doesn’t need a complete renovation.

But the Chiefs still have some work to do this offseason. Their wide receivers were last in the NFL last season in catches (129) and yards (1,588) and, most embarrassing, failed to score a single touchdown. They patched together an offensive line and it failed, for the most part, to adequately protect Smith, allowing 49 sacks and 167 pressures. They are aging in spots, most notably inside linebacker, where projected starters Derrick Johnson and Joe Mays will be 32 and 30, respectively, when next season begins.

The Chiefs won’t have as many picks in the top three rounds as they did in 2008. The website overthecap.com projected the Chiefs to receive picks near the end of Rounds 3 and 7 and two near the end of the fifth.

Even though those comp picks can’t be traded by NFL rules, the Chiefs can deal their own picks. They should be able, if they work this draft right, to cover a lot of ground.

“When you have that many picks, it’s a little more pressure,’’ Edwards said. “But you’ll take that any time. You have a lot of options that way. You can move around in the draft. You can move up, you can move back. You can trade some picks for players or for picks next year. Or you can use those picks this year. If you do that, you can get a lot done if you pick the right guys.’’
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Monday begins the two-week period when NFL teams can designate a franchise player for purposes of keeping that prospective free agent off the market.

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Houston
The Kansas City Chiefs would certainly make linebacker Justin Houston their franchise player sometime between now and March 2, assuming their negotiations for a long-term deal aren't successful.

By making Houston the franchise player, the Chiefs would be obligated to offer him a one-year contract worth the average of the five highest-paid outside linebackers. That should be about $13 million in Houston's case.

So there's plenty of incentive for the Chiefs to reach an agreement with Houston on a multi-year contract. Not only would Houston's salary cap figure for 2015 be substantially less than $13 million, but the Chiefs would have the security of having their best young (he turned 26 last month) player under contract for the foreseeable future.

That, of course, doesn't mean a deal gets done. Negotiations last year went nowhere and Houston skipped the offseason workouts as a sign of his frustration.

But he reported to training camp on time and had a breakout season. Houston led the NFL in sacks with 22, finishing half a sack from the NFL record set by Michael Strahan of the New York Giants in 2001.

For his part, Houston has said he would prefer to remain with the Chiefs. But the dollars have to be there in any Chiefs contract offer, and so far they haven't been there, at least not to his liking.

That's where the franchise tag would come in. Sometime in the next two weeks, one way or another, Houston's destiny for the 2015 season will get determined.

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