Coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey took another step toward making the Chiefs their own Friday, releasing veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers, one of the final, big-money links to past regimes.
Of the 89 players on the Chiefs’ roster, only 16 were brought in before or during Scott Pioli’s four years as general manager. Of those 16, only receiver Dwayne Bowe ($12 million) and outside linebacker Tamba Hali ($11.4 million) have salary-cap numbers of $10 million or more. Flowers had a 2014 cap number of $10.5 million.
The move clears the way for the Chiefs, who had a limited amount of cap space this offseason, to potentially retain two key players with expiring deals: quarterback Alex Smith and outside linebacker Justin Houston, though it’s unclear how much progress has been made on either front.
“We appreciate Brandon’s contributions to the team over the last six seasons,” Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said in a release announcing the move. “It’s in the best interest of the club and the player to part ways at this time. We wish him nothing but the best as he continues his career.”
Flowers, 28, made the Pro Bowl last season, when he had 68 tackles and an interception. But Dorsey prefers bigger corners, and prior to his release, Flowers, who is 5 feet 9, was one of only three of the 11 cornerbacks on the roster shorter than 6 feet.
He also wasn’t a great fit in new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme, which relies a great deal on press-man coverage, and Flowers struggled both outside and inside. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of minus-5.9, which was his worst since 2008.
But even after a rough 2013 season, his coverage grade of 35.5 ranks the fifth-highest of any cornerback over the last five seasons.
He also played through a knee injury last year and showed improvement toward the end of the season, when he had an interception as a nickel corner in the Chiefs’ playoff loss to Indianapolis. Flowers left that game early because of a concussion.
The selection of cornerback Phillip Gaines in the third round of this year’s draft, in retrospect, appears to have marked the beginning of the end of Flowers’ tenure in Kansas City.
Flowers’ cap number would have been $10.5 million this year, $11.5 million in 2015 and $9.75 million in 2016. According to salary cap analyst Joel Corry, the Chiefs save at least $7.25 million this year — $7.5 million if he didn’t earn his workout bonus — and $7.5 million next year by cutting Flowers, who also had a $2 million bonus for reporting to training camp this year.
According to NFL Players Association records, the Chiefs had about $2.6 million in cap room before the move, which means they now have roughly $10 million to play with if they hope to lock up Smith and/or Houston long term.
Like Houston, Flowers decided to skip the first 10 practices of the Chiefs’ organized team activities. Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper opened OTAs as the starting cornerbacks, but since Smith’s arrest for allgedly driving under the influence on Monday morning, Ron Parker — a backup who displayed a knack for making plays in limited action last year — has earned most of the reps with the first team with Cooper, the team’s reigning rookie of the year, while Smith and Gaines have been working with the second team.
Gaines, who runs a 4.38 40-yard dash and is listed at 6 feet and 193 pounds, said he actually weighed in at 183 pounds when he arrived for offseason workouts following the draft. He’s been beaten deep in coverage a handful of times during OTAs, but secondary coach Emmitt Thomas recently said he’s encouraged by his raw tools.
“He’s got lot of speed and he’s real smart,” Thomas said. “We have to get him a little stronger, but he’ll be all right. We’ll shoot for around 192 (pounds) this year.”
Flowers’ departure also leaves a hole at nickel cornerback. Owens, who is listed at 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, had been getting most of the work there prior to suffering a hamstring injury this week, and since then, safety Malcolm Bronson — who spent last season on the practice squad — has taken most of the snaps.
Flowers figures to have a fairly easy time landing a job. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Atlanta Falcons — who recently hired former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli — had been monitoring Flowers’ situation and preparing for the possibility he could hit free agency. According to players association records, the Falcons have approximately $9.2 million in cap space, which would certainly accommodate a Flowers deal.
The Houston Texans may be another potential suitor. The Texans hired former Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel to be their defensive coordinator in the offseason and also have about $8.7 million in cap space, according to players association records.
The release of Flowers leaves running back Jamaal Charles as the only remaining member of the Chiefs’ 2008 draft class — starting left tackle Branden Albert left in free agency — and Houston as the lone holdout as the Chiefs’ three-day mandatory minicamp starts Tuesday.
“I don’t know that,” Reid said when asked (prior to Flowers’ release) if Houston or Flowers would show up next week. “Really, it’s all their decisions to come or don’t come even though it’s a mandatory camp. We’ll see. The thing that you’re guaranteed of is that we’re going to coach whoever is here. We just don’t really worry about the ones that aren’t. We just go about our business and do our thing.”