Kansas City Chiefs: Brandon Flowers
@adamteicher: They need to make a move at cornerback now. It was evident in offseason practice without Brandon Flowers that the Chiefs were lacking at the position. The other starter from last season, Sean Smith, is practicing but is subject to discipline from the league once his recent arrest for DUI is resolved in court. Marcus Cooper has been in the starting lineup in Flowers' absence, but it's difficult to see how the Chiefs can count on him after the way his play declined late last season. Some veteran cornerbacks available now include Chris Houston, Aaron Ross, Drayton Florence and Asante Samuel. Or the Chiefs could wait to see who else comes available.
@adamteicher: In their base defense it's Smith and Cooper at cornerback, and Eric Berry and Husain Abdullah at safety. It's not a bold prediction to venture it won't look that way when they begin the regular season on Sept. 7.
@adamteicher: Donnie Avery has been consistent as the No. 2 wide receiver, and it certainly doesn't look like the Chiefs are ready to give up on him. A.J. Jenkins has missed some practice time this spring because of injuries and hasn't mounted any kind of challenge to Avery. The Chiefs seem to like Junior Hemingway more as a slot receiver than a starter on the outside. At this point, Avery looks solid as a starter.
@adamteicher: Most of the work in practice goes to the starter, Alex Smith. Chase Daniel gets the second biggest workload, and sometimes Tyler Bray and Aaron Murray don't get many snaps. The backup quarterback situation is still to be played out, but there's nothing to indicate the Chiefs are ready to move on from Daniel as their main backup. Murray has done some nice things. But for raw ability, it's hard not to be impressed with Bray. He has a lot of talent. It's just a matter of whether he can put things together.
@adamteicher: I don't think Berry's role will change much from last season. He might get more time as the deep safety. He has been doing that some in practice, but he did it some last season, too. Berry is valuable to the Chiefs no matter what they ask him to do..
Flowers was still the best cornerback the Chiefs had. That, too, became obvious during his offseason absence.
But Flowers wasn't a luxury for the Chiefs, given their current state at cornerback. They will pay a price for acquiring that cap room, and the only question is how hefty the bill will be.
At cornerback the Chiefs are left with only veteran Sean Smith as a proven commodity, and though Smith is an adequate starter, he's not a No. 1. Their other starter in the offseason has been Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick last year by the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs grabbed him off waivers at the start of last season and he played well for a time as their third cornerback.
By season's end, his play had deteriorated to the point that the Chiefs felt compelled to move him to the bench.
The other cornerbacks currently contending for playing time are Ron Parker, a journeyman who has been beaten several times in offseason practice, Chris Owens, a 5-9 nickelback and rookie Phillip Gaines, a third-round draft pick who so far has shown little.
That is not a great mix, so despite some of the hard times Flowers had last season, this move doesn't make the Chiefs any better. Flowers to an extent forced the Chiefs to make the move, with his holdout. Next week's mandatory minicamp was looming, and the Chiefs evidently tired of the situation.
That is behind the timing of the move, and the cap savings won't hurt, either. But the Chiefs will still feel some pain. It will come as they try to cover for his loss and as they watch him play well for some other team in 2014 and beyond.
One of the normal starting cornerbacks, Sean Smith, has been dropped to second team after his recent arrest for DUI. Smith will eventually be back in the starting lineup, but an NFL suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy looms with him.
The other starter, Brandon Flowers, hasn't been participating in offseason practice and it's unclear whether he will show for next week's minicamp, the only mandatory event of the offseason, or even for training camp. The usual nickelback, Chris Owens, is out with an injury.
So while the start of training camp is more than a month away, it's not too early to be alarmed with what's going on at cornerback. The Chiefs ask much of their cornerbacks. They play a lot of press coverage and are often left without much help from the safety. It's not ideal for the Chiefs to have backups in their starting lineup at those positions or be forced to back off the way coordinator Bob Sutton wants to play because they do.
Maybe Flowers eventually shows up, Smith gets promoted back into the lineup and Owens returns healthy. Then the Chiefs can relax at cornerback. Until all of that happens, they need to be concerned.
"Everybody has the dates. They know. Everybody knows the rules."
Attendance for most of the Chiefs’ offseason program, including this week’s practices, is voluntary. The only time during the offseason when attendance is mandatory is the minicamp which runs from June 17 through June 19. Houston and Flowers can be fined if they don’t attend then.
Left tackle Eric Fisher participated only in individual drills at practice this week. He had shoulder surgery at the end of last season and Reid indicated Fisher wouldn’t be a part of team drills until training camp begins.
"That’s the thing he can’t do right now," Reid said, referring to jamming an opponent. "(The doctors) don’t want him doing that."
The timetable with tight end Travis Kelce is less clear. Kelce had a knee ailment and surgery last season and is a mere observer at practice.
"We’ve just got to see," Reid said. "We’ll see how it goes as we hit June and then see how he’s feeling."
The practices are voluntary, and technically they can’t be disciplined for being absent. But only three others among the team's 90 players were missing from the practice field. Two were injured and one, draft pick De'Anthony Thomas, isn't allowed to be here under NFL rules because classes at his college, Oregon, are ongoing.
Second, and perhaps more telling, the first two players drafted by the Chiefs this year were an outside linebacker, Auburn’s Dee Ford, and a cornerback, Rice’s Phillip Gaines.
So the Chiefs appear to be preparing for life without Houston and Flowers, one the team's choice and the other not. Flowers has no reason to otherwise avoid the Chiefs at this point. He is slated to make a healthy $5.25 million in base salary this season.
But he’s been a bit of a misfit in the Chiefs’ new world since they hired Reid and general manager John Dorsey last year. Flowers excelled under the previous Chiefs administration and coaching staff, playing well enough to earn a five-year, $48.75 million contract in 2011.
Reid and Dorsey, though, have otherwise been collecting bigger cornerbacks. Last year, they signed 6-foot-3 Sean Smith, the other starter, and claimed off waivers 6-2 Marcus Cooper, who replaced Flowers as a starter in practice on Tuesday. This year, the Chiefs drafted Gaines, who is 6-0 but has long arms. The staff believes he plays bigger than his size.
Flowers is 5-9. Throw in the fact that he had a rotten season last year, perhaps the worst of his six-year NFL career despite making the Pro Bowl. That honor, by the way, was a shock to the Chiefs.
The Chiefs have taken an odd public stance with Flowers this offseason. Their answers to questions about him have been short and slightly awkward. Asked during the draft whether Flowers was a good fit for the Chiefs’ press man-to-man coverage, Dorsey said, "Brandon Flowers is a good football player. He’s a good fit for what we do."
Flowers costs the Chiefs $10.5 million against their salary cap. They would reduce that number to $7 million by cutting or trading him before June 1; after June 1, the cap number would reduce to $3 million.
Houston, meanwhile, is in the final year of the contract he signed as a third-round draft pick in 2011. A two-time Pro Bowler with 26.5 career sacks, including 11 in 11 games last season, Houston has outplayed that contract. He is due a salary of $1.406 million this season.
He could walk through the Chiefs’ door any day and return to practice. The Chiefs obviously don’t think he will.
Both players were in the Pro Bowl last season.
The Chiefs drafted an outside linebacker, Auburn's Dee Ford, in the first round this year.
Though he made the Pro Bowl, Flowers is coming off one of his worst NFL seasons. Pro Football Focus gave him a rating of minus-5.9, by far the lowest for Flowers since his rookie season in 2008.
The Chiefs under general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid have expressed a preference for cornerbacks who are bigger and more physical than the 5-foot-9 Flowers. The other starting cornerback is 6-3 Sean Smith. Marcus Cooper at 6-2 was the third cornerback last season. This year the Chiefs drafted 6-0 Phillip Gaines of Rice in the third round.
Flowers is to make a base salary of $5.25 million and have a salary-cap figure of $10.5 million this season.
We’ll continue here with the cornerbacks.
End of 2013: Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper, Ron Parker, Dunta Robinson.
Serious 2014 roster candidates: Flowers, Smith, Cooper, Parker, Phillip Gaines, Chris Owens.
Analysis: The Chiefs prefer bigger cornerbacks who can match up physically with the NFL’s bigger receivers. At 5-foot-9, Flowers doesn’t qualify. He didn’t play well last season, raising questions about how well-suited he is for the Chiefs and their preferred defensive style. The other starter is Smith, and he, Cooper, Parker and Gaines are 6-foot or taller. Owens is 5-foot-9 but he’s a veteran who will mostly cover slot receivers. Cooper, a rookie last season, started well but was horrible later in the season. Gaines, the third-round pick, is the major addition to this group. But after playing at Rice, he has an adjustment to make in moving to the NFL. He can certainly make it more quickly than this, but it’s wise to expect little from him as a rookie.
Better or worse? A tough call. I’m counting on an improved pass rush to make things better in coverage.
Salary-cap commitments: $6,649,267
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 5.1
NFL average: $12,840,629
Chiefs rank on DE spending: 25th among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefs are spending only about half of the league average on these positions. For purposes of this discussion, Mike DeVito is labelled as an end because he’s basically a run defender who comes out of the game on passing downs. He makes up most of the Chiefs’ cap spending at this spot with a figure of $4.9 million.
Salary-cap commitments: $5,407,274
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 4.2
NFL average: $8,979,256
Chiefs rank on DT spending: 22nd among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefs are again well below the league average here (about 40 percent below) and that’s counting not only Dontari Poe but Vance Walker as tackles. Poe is still playing under his rookie contract and has a cap number of $3,087,274. That’s only 27th highest among NFL defensive tackles.
Salary-cap commitments: $23,066,768
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 17.8
NFL average: $15,526,469
Chiefs rank on LB spending: 5th among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefs spend more than 50 percent beyond the league average at linebacker, but they’re getting their money’s worth. Outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson on the inside are each working on a string of at least two consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Hali alone accounts for about half ($11,464,706)of the Chiefs’ cap commitments at this position. Johnson ($4,550,000) and Houston ($1,598,812) are bargains.
Salary-cap commitments: $19,886,878
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 15.4
NFL average: $12,150,127
Chiefs rank on CB spending: 3rd among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefs spend about 67 percent more for their cornerbacks than the NFL average. One starter, Brandon Flowers, has the third-highest salary-cap number for an NFL cornerback ($10,500,000) while the other, Sean Smith, is 16th ($5,750,000). No other Chiefs cornerback has a cap figure above $1 million.
Salary-cap commitments: $13,319,700
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 10.3
NFL average: $8,333,907
Chiefs rank on safety spending: 6th among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefs spend about 67 percent more than the league average at this position, mainly because of Eric Berry and his cap number of $11,619,700. Berry was drafted fifth overall in 2010, the last year before the NFL overhauled rookie contracts, so he’s benefitting from the huge deal he signed then. Berry has the highest salary-cap number for a safety and the only one over $10.1 million.
Salary-cap commitments: $2,708,750
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 2.1
NFL average: $1,864,515
Chiefs rank on kicker spending: 8th among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefs have about 47 percent more committed to Ryan Succop than the average NFL team does to its kicker.
Salary-cap commitments: $3,800,000
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: 2.9
NFL average: $1,706,906
Chiefs rank on punter spending: 2nd among 32 teams
Analysis: Here’s another sign the Chiefs value their kicking specialists more than some other teams. Re-signing Dustin Colquitt to a new contract was a priority for general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid when they were hired last year. His cap number is more than twice that of the average NFL punter.
Salary-cap commitments: $595,000
Percent of Chiefs’ total cap: .5
NFL average: $838,863
Chiefs rank on LS spending: 23rd among 32 teams
Analysis: The Chiefssigned Thomas Gafford to his second straight one-year contract worth the NFL minimum.
More likely, their next starting free safety is already on their roster. In that case, the legitimate candidates are few. More than one fan has suggested to me they intend to move cornerback Brandon Flowers to free safety. Regardless of the wisdom of that move, the Chiefs would have been more aggressive in finding a new starter at cornerback if that was in their plans.
The Chiefs re-signed veteran Husain Abdullah, who quietly had a nice season for them as a backup last year. Abdullah was a starter for the Minnesota Vikings in 2010 and again for a half-season in 2011. He's a versatile player with some pass-coverage skills, so he can't be dismissed as a possibility.
A more likely scenario has the Chiefs going with Sanders Commings as their free safety. He was a fifth-round draft pick last season and impressed the Chiefs in offseason practice to the point where he was going to challenge for playing time.
Commings then broke his collarbone in the first practice at training camp, effectively ending his rookie season. Make no mistake that the Chiefs like Commings and intend to find some playing time for him, whether that's at safety or elsewhere in their secondary.
"One of the reasons we drafted Sanders Commings is because we thought he fit that positional skill," general manager John Dorsey recently said of how the Chiefs might fill their free safety spot.
Owens joins a group of cornerbacks for the Chiefs that includes starters Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, backup Marcus Cooper and a group of younger, developmental players that includes Ron Parker, who played well in a limited number of snaps last season. That doesn't account for safety Husain Abdullah, who played some at cornerback in 2013.
That's not a drastic change from last season. Owens in effect takes the roster spot of Dunta Robinson, who was released at the end of last season. Robinson played most of his 252 snaps last season early in the year before he was benched for ineffective play.
I have my doubts whether this group is strong enough to compete week in and week out. The drop in Flowers' play last season was troubling and could be a sign he isn't a good fit in coordinator Bob Sutton's defensive schemes, ones that require the cornerbacks to play a lot of press coverage.
The Chiefs have to match up next season with, among others, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders and Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos. Do you feel better about their ability to do that with more success than they did last season?
I didn't think so. So cornerback is on my list of positions to watch for the Chiefs in the first round this year. If, say, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is available when the Chiefs make the 23rd overall pick, it would be a mistake for them to pass on him. While the signing of Owens might make for a good start for the Chiefs in upgrading at cornerback, it shouldn't be the end of their effort.
The Chiefs have veteran Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers as starters at cornerback. Marcus Cooper spent most of his rookie season last year as the third cornerback.
At 5-9 and 180 pounds, Owens doesn't have the size the Chiefs prefer in their cornerbacks. Smith is 6-3 and Cooper 6-2. Both players were acquired since general manager John Dorsey was hired in January 2013.