KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Nine Kansas City Chiefs players who were on the field for at least a third of offensive or defensive snaps last season are headed for free agency.
This includes two starting offensive linemen, two wide receivers and three defensive linemen along with safety Juan Thornhill and running back Jerick McKinnon.
Kansas City currently sits about $3.5 million over the cap with just 48 players signed for next season, according to Over the Cap, so something’s got to give.
The Chiefs can create space by reworking the contracts of Frank Clark and/or Chris Jones or by moving some of Patrick Mahomes’ money, but that could affect the team’s ability to keep key players.
Here’s a breakdown of the biggest names in defending Super Bowl champions set to hit free agency:
LT Orlando Brown Jr.
Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is the Chiefs’ most popular free agent for the second straight offseason. He and right tackle Andrew Wylie are both free agents.
Kansas City traded for Brown in the days leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft and was a Pro Bowler in both seasons with the club.
The Chiefs used the franchise tag on Brown last March, but long-term contract negotiations stalled as he searched for a new agent and the parties ultimately failed to agree on a multi-year deal.
Though Brown has had his struggles, which has made him something of a polarizing figure among Chiefs fans, he projects as the top free-agent tackle in 2023 and arguably remains Kansas City’s best option to guard the blindside of Mahomes next season.
With Brown likely to be franchise-tagged again, according to The Athletic, if the teams are left in an impasse on a long-term deal, it will cost the Chiefs $20 million — well, $19,994,400 to be exact, based on the 120 % of his 2022 salary after playing the tag last season.
It’s a blockbuster that more than eats up next season’s $16.6 million jump to a record salary cap of $224.8 million.
The franchise-tag window opens on Tuesday and ends at 3:00 pm Central Time on March 7.
Free will begins on March 15th.
RT Andrew Wylie
Wylie was also a free agent last season and returned to Kansas City on a one-year contract.
He was incredibly valuable in five seasons with the Chiefs, starting at right guard, left guard and right tackle for extended periods from season to season.
After stepping in during the 2021 season when Lucas Niang was injured, Wylie stalled starting work in training camp and started 95 percent of the offense’s snaps last season.
Wylie made 59 starts, nearly 12 per season, during his NFL career.
If the price is right, Kansas City would love to have Wylie back, but salary cap constraints could factor into the equation and another team in need of an offensive line could come in and sign him.
“Those guys obviously had good years for us,” Reid said of Brown and Wylie. “All of these contractual things I didn’t agree with (General Manager Brett) Veach at all. I kind of stay out of that world, but I think both guys are very popular here and I’m sure Brett will make a strong attempt to keep them here. We’ll see how he goes.”
S Juan Thornhill
Thornhill is coming off arguably his best season with a career-high 71 tackles, including a career-high four losses, to go with nine passes defended and a career-high three interceptions, which tied the career-high he set as a rookie in 2019.
There are many career bests.
After struggling to regain his form for a few seasons after suffering a torn ACL at the end of his rookie season, Thornhill could be in the same situation as Charvarius Ward last offseason.
He’s been productive and bosses like him, but he’ll probably be able to find a bigger payday – potentially a lot bigger – on the open market.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was as advertised in his first season with the Chiefs.
He complimented tight end Travis Kelce well from the slot and became Mahomes’ favorite target among receivers, finishing with 78 catches for 933 yards and three touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster’s 9.2 yards per target was second-most of his career. He missed time with a concussion in November, but suffered a knee injury in the postseason after having trouble staying healthy in Pittsburgh, especially in his last season with the Steelers.
The Chiefs’ comfort with Smith-Schuster’s durability will dictate any contract offer, but he has proven his worth up front when available.
RB Jerick McKinnon
For a guy who didn’t start a single game, McKinnon made an immense impact, including producing NFL-record touchdowns for a running back in the season-ending passing game.
McKinnon finished with just 291 rushing yards but added 512 receiving and his 803 total yards from scrimmage were the second most of his nine-year career.
He also had 10 touchdowns, including nine receiving, and was Mahomes’ personal protector at pass blocking with some legendary blitz pickups.
McKinnon’s $1.2 million contract from last season should be largely replicable.
DE Carlos Dunlap
If the Chiefs invest in a defensive end again in the draft, veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who signed on late last summer, could be dropped from the roster.
Depending on other moves, a reunion cannot be ruled out, but only if a clear need remains as the field approaches and he has not signed elsewhere. He thinks about Melvin Ingram last offseason.
WR Justin Watson
With 15 catches for 315 yards and two touchdowns, Watson was moderately productive and relatively economical. He could return in a similar role
DT Khalen Saunders
Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders can test the open market for the first time, and his athleticism could entice some NFL teams to offer a multi-year deal.
Saunders was healthy for the first time in his career and returned with 48 tackles, including three for loss, and 3 1/2 sacks as a backup, playing one in three snaps.
This is a solid production, but his injury history could limit the offers Saunders receives and could lead to a reunion between the St. Louis native and Kansas City on a short-term deal.
DT Derrick Nnadi
In his fifth NFL season, defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi started all 17 games, but played just one-third of defensive snaps as a technical run filler inside the Chiefs defensive end.
That’s his job, but he saw his sprinting drop for three straight seasons and his production bottomed out with a season-high 25 tackles last season.
However, re-signing Nnadi, who played on a one-year deal worth $2.75 million last season, won’t break the bank.
Unless the Chiefs invest leveraged capital in young rotational defensive tackles, Nnadi remains a candidate to return on a deal similar to last year.
Other notable free agents
Punter Tommy Townsend, who made his first Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro, is lined up for a big raise but plans to stay in Kansas City.
The most interesting questions revolve around wide receiver Mecole Hardman Jr. and guard Nick Allegretti.
The timing of the first significant injury of Hardman’s career likely hurt his value in the open market. He was still finding his place in a post-Tyreek Hill Chiefs offense, but there were signs he was ready for a career year down the stretch.
Hardman had already tied his career-high with six touchdowns from scrimmage.
Hardman losing his last nine games could soften the market for the speedster, which could increase the chances of him coming back.
But then again, will the Chiefs have to choose between Hardman and Smith-Schuster due to salary cap constraints?
Allegretti started nine games at left guard in 2020 due to injury and started three games last season.
Want a starting job in the NFL? Is the new father comfortable with the backup role and frequently used insurance policy behind center Creed Humphrey and left guard Joe Thuney?
Allegretti is a versatile offensive lineman inside road grader who has earned the right to explore his value outside of Kansas City.
Chiefs 2023 free agents
Off/Def Snap %ST Snap %Contract Value 2022Age (2023 Season)LT Orlando Brown Jr.98.4%19.6%$16,662,00027RT Andrew Wylie95.0%19.1%$2,537,50029FS Juan Thornhill84.8%1, 1%$3,134,13928WR JuJu Smith- Schuster66,6%0,0%$3,760,00027RB Jerick McKinnon46,6%27,8%$1,187,50031DE Carlos Dunlap45,4%0,0%$3,000,00034WR Justin Watson42,4%14, 6%$1,035,00027DT Khalen Saunders34.8%11.7%$1,217DT Derrick Nnadi33.8%14.8%$2,750.00027P Tommy Townsend*28.1%31.1%$897.50027WR Mecole Hardman Jr.26.4%2.2%$4.399.19125LB Darius Harris*25 %38.7%$895.00027OG Nick Allegretti24.7%19.6%$18272TE Jody Fortson**16.0%39.4%$825.00028DL Tershawn Wharton*13.0%3.5%$896.66825S Deon Bush6.2%68, 9%$1,187,50030FB Michael Burton6,2%51,7%$1,272,50031DT Brandon Williams5,7%0,0%$1,390,00034RB Ronald Jones II3.3%0.0%$1.500.00026TE Blake Bell2.8%2.0%$1.272.50032OT Prince Tega Wanogho*0.0%19.6%$825.00026QB Shane Buechele**0.0%0.0%$825.00025
* indicates a restricted free agent, while ** indicates a free agent with exclusive rights.