The NFL’s free-agency period does not start officially until 3 p.m. Wednesday, but the fun — not to mention the rumors and speculation — will begin at 11 a.m. Monday.
That’s the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period, the time when teams can begin negotiating all aspects of a pending free agent’s contract with his representative or agent. That means both sides can discuss numbers and terms of a potential contract but cannot finalize them before the new league year begins Wednesday.
As it stands, the Chiefs have a number of a key players whose agents should be busy, including a pair of longtime team icons — 33-year-old inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and 32-year-old outside linebacker Tamba Hali — and three key starters in defensive tackle Jaye Howard, cornerback Sean Smith and offensive guard Jeff Allen.
That’s not all, as the Chiefs have more contributors set to be free agents as well, including starting safety Husain Abdullah, No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel, No. 3 safety Tyvon Branch and run-stuffing defensive end Mike DeVito.
At the 101 awards on Saturday, coach Andy Reid was asked whether the Chiefs were bracing for a more wild free-agency period than normal.
“Well, there’s a chance. You know you can’t keep everybody,” Reid said. “That’s just the name of the game. It’s constantly changing in the National Football League. Every year is different. So there’s a chance we lose some people.”
The loss of Hali or Johnson — two fan favorites who have each been here for at least 10 years and each made the Pro Bowl this year — could be daunting to fans, most of whom have gotten accustomed to seeing Nos. 91 and 56 patrolling the field in red and gold while serving as veteran mentors.
“Anytime you have guys like that, that can tell you when plays are coming before they actually come, or telling you how they are going to play it so we can adjust off each other, that’s always a big plus,” safety Eric Berry said. “We wouldn’t be what they were last year if it wasn’t for them.”
Quarterback Alex Smith added that replacing the leadership of both players would require a team-wide effort.
“To have two guys of that caliber — guys that have the pelts on the wall like that, that have been in those kind of battles — you don’t find them everywhere,” Smith said. “And then, to have those guys both be career Chiefs, to have their legacies here, how much it means to them … it makes it even more so. I hope they come back.”
Team chairman Clark Hunt, however, said that he was aware of how much each player means to the franchise, though he does allow his football men — like Reid and general manager John Dorsey — to do their jobs.
“We have a number of talented football players who are free agents, guys who have made big contributions this year,” Hunt said, when asked directly about the future of Hali. “The emotional side of me wants to have them all back ... I recognize that may not be realistic.
“Certainly somebody like Tamba, who has a long history with the franchise, I’d love to see him finish his career here, and I’m hopeful that’s the way it plays out.”
Hunt confirmed afterward that he feels the same way about Johnson — “It sure does (apply to him), absolutely,” he said — but Hali’s future with the club, in particular, seemed to become a bit hazy when the team allowed his contract to void on Friday, adding an additional $4 million to the salary cap for 2016.
The Chiefs should still have a little under $19 million to work with this offseason, according to salary cap expert Joel Corry, but an extension with Hali before the contract voided on before Friday would have kept some of that $4 million from hitting the cap this year.
So yes, while it’s true the Chiefs could still bring Hali back, they probably could have saved some money on the cap this year — and prevented him from being an unrestricted free agent — by getting something done.
As it stands, Reid noted that the Chiefs have a good young nucleus of players under contract for 2016, and he feels good about that — plus whatever additions they can potentially make in free agency and the draft.
But he certainly didn’t rule out a return for any of their pending free agents, either. The truth is that many things are simply up in the air right now, as they are for most teams.
“We’ve communicated with most of our free agents, so I think that’s been healthy,” Reid said. “Any time there’s communication, that’s a good thing. And we’ll just see. Now we’ve got to sit back and wait.”