It’s early March, which means it’s that time of year when Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt communicates with general manager John Dorsey on a daily basis.
Beginning Saturday, NFL teams will be allowed to communicate with the representatives of free agents, and Hunt wants to be abreast of whatever plan his football men chart.
“There are obviously a lot of things that will happen here in the next week,” Hunt said before the 101 Awards banquet on Saturday. “Then we get into free agency when the new league year (begins) on March 10, so he and I get to talk a lot right now.”
Speaking of free agency, the Chiefs are currently about $6.5 million under a projected cap of $142 million, according to cap analyst Joel Corry. All of that money — and more — will be swallowed up if the Chiefs choose to franchise star outside linebacker Justin Houston by today’s 3 p.m. deadline.
Hunt declined to specifically answer any questions about the team’s plans regarding Houston or outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who has publicly offered to restructure his deal to remain a Chief, preferring to defer those questions to Dorsey and coach Andy Reid.
“Certainly, as a fan of the team, I have my feelings, just like any fan does,” Hunt said. “The one difference between me and the typical fan is I get to talk to Andy and John a lot. I try to be careful and make sure that my thoughts don’t influence their decisions because I really want the product on the field to be theirs. So I do leave it to them, but I do enjoy getting the opportunity to visit with them about it.”
But when asked if he sees the Chiefs being a major player in free agency this March, Hunt was willing to explain the team’s general philosophy.
“Well, we always want to be a smart player in free agency,” Hunt said. “We want to sign guys that can be here and make a contribution, not necessarily (sign) somebody just because he makes a splash.
“We also pay a lot of attention to the salary cap because you … can spend whatever you want and circumvent the cap, but every one of those dollars eventually comes back and hits you on the cap,” Hunt said. “So when we look at the salary cap, I’m not just looking at 2015, I’m thinking about 2016, 2017. So those decisions are made in that context.”
But while Hunt made it clear that although the plan is to be smart about their spending on free agents — a preference that Dorsey and Reid have repeated when quizzed about their team-building philosophy — he added that he is always in “win-now” mode.
“Well, mentally I feel like we’ve got to win now every year,” Hunt said. “And probably in the life cycle of any football team, there are times you’re a little more aggressive, I think because of where your players are (in their development) vs. (where they’re) not. That’s really what you’re hitting at.
“I’m always one to think about the long term, but certainly John and the coaching staff do things about those issues.”
In 2013, when Dorsey and Reid were brought in to restore pride in a team that went 2-14 the year before, the Chiefs traded for quarterback Alex Smith and committed approximately $61 million in guaranteed money to re-sign receiver Dwayne Bowe and add several free agents, including cornerback Sean Smith, defensive end Mike DeVito, receiver Donnie Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano, quarterback Chase Daniel and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
Of that group, Avery, Fasano and Robinson are no longer with the team, and Bowe will likely need to restructure his deal to stay.
“Certainly we were really disappointed coming off that 2012 season,” Hunt said. “I felt like we had a much better roster than the record reflected, which was evident by the number of Pro Bowlers that we had in 2012.
“With Andy coming in and Alex coming in, I think John and Andy felt like we don’t have to wait, we can go ahead and compete now and they proved that they could.”
That year, the Chiefs went 11-5, one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in NFL history. They weren’t free-agent spenders last March, and lost five starters to other teams. That preceded a 9-7 season in which the Chiefs became the fifth team in NFL history to beat both Super Bowl teams and still miss the playoffs.
But Hunt remains optimistic about his team’s immediate future. When asked if he has watched the ongoing shakeup in Denver, which won the AFC West for the last four years but fired coach John Fox and could lose a number of key contributors to free agency, Hunt nodded and said he has.
“Well, with the 24-7 media coverage that you provide now, it’s impossible not to pay attention to what’s happening in Denver and the rest of the AFC West,” Hunt said. “We felt like we could compete for the division this year and it didn’t work out that way, but going into 2015, we feel we have a realistic chance.”
With free agency looming for center Rodney Hudson, backup Eric Kush is one person who should keep a sharp eye on Hudson’s negotiations. | B5