Over the last four years or so, the Chiefs have settled into some cut-day tendencies under coach Andy Reid.
They’ve always kept at least three running backs, for instance, and always kept a surplus of tight ends for Reid’s offense.
This year, however, the Chiefs broke both trends under new general manager Brett Veach, as they cut a pair of veterans — running back C.J. Spiller and tight end Gavin Escobar — as part of the Chiefs’ roster cut down from 90 to 53 men by the league-mandated deadline of 3 p.m. Saturday.
The decision to cut Spiller was particularly surprising, considering it left the club with only two true tailbacks on the roster in rookie Kareem Hunt and veteran Charcandrick West.
But Veach hinted that Spiller — a 30-year-old speedster who dazzled at times this preseason after two injury-marred seasons — could rejoin the team sooner rather than later.
“I can’t tell you exactly what we’re going to do, but the odds are likely we’ll have three running backs,” Veach said. “There’s a very good chance there will be three running backs on our roster.”
If Spiller doesn’t rejoin the fold, the Chiefs could also opt to add a running back via the waiver wire from the crop of nearly 1,200 players who were released this week.
Once a club waives a player, the other 31 teams can either file a claim to obtain him or waive their chance to do so. Clubs are assigned players on a priority basis.
The Chiefs, who went 12-4 last year, rank 27th out of 32 teams in terms of waiver priority. But they still have to sift through all those players just in case, a task that would seem daunting if the Chiefs and Veach had not been preparing for it since training camp began in July.
Since then, Veach said they’ve been stacking and ranking a big board at the Chiefs’ facility with the names of players they believed to be on each team’s roster bubble, and many of those players were indeed released Saturday.
“This whole time, we’ve had kind of a running list of what we thought would be out there,” Veach said. “There’s going to be more names we have to work through tonight.”
Veach, who is entering his first year as the Chiefs’ general manager but has worked in the organization since Reid’s arrival in 2013, said the Chiefs will be more picky during the waiver process this year than they have been in the past, since the roster is deeper.
“When we first got here, we had a bunch of roster spots and we said let’s just go for the talent because we’re young and we’re turning this thing over,” Veach said. “Now, we’ve been able to get really good players in here and they know what they’re doing, so it’s a little more difficult. Your standards change the deeper you team is.”
The Chiefs could also be looking to add a tight end, since only three remain on the roster following the release of Escobar and Orson Charles, the latter being a good practice-squad candidate.
Teams have until noon Sunday — an hour after the waiver claim period ends — to set their 10-man practice squads, which are often comprised of rookies and younger veterans.
Veach addressed a handful of positions Saturday, including the quarterback situation, where he echoed Reid’s recent thoughts that Alex Smith is the clear-cut starter in 2017 despite rookie Patrick Mahomes’ knack for the spectacular, which Mahomes showed off all preseason.
“There’s no gray area — Alex is our quarterback,” Veach said. “Alex is so far advanced from the mental side of things in regards to read coverages and shifts out of plays and really play the chess game. He’s so far ahead of where Pat is, I don’t think it’s even close right now.”
Veach, however, noted that while Mahomes still has plenty to learn from Smith — “The longer Alex and Pat are together, the better we’ll be,” he said — he added that Mahomes’ development has exceeded the team’s expectations.
“He’s progressing,” Veach said. “Coach Reid demands a ton from that position. I’d say he’s ahead of where we thought he would be but there’s still obviously a lot to learn.”
▪ At receiver, Veach hinted that the special-teams ability of Demarcus Robinson and Jehu Chesson helped them beat out Seantavius Jones, Marcus Kemp and Tevin Jones for the fifth and sixth spots (Seantavius Jones, Kemp and Tevin Jones were all cut on Saturday).
“With the way Chesson and Demarcus have played on (special) teams, I think all these guys have shown the ability to make plays and help us on special teams, which is a big deal here for us,” Veach said.
▪ The Chiefs are keeping six cornerbacks — Marcus Peters, Steven Nelson, Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, Kenneth Acker and D.J. White — but when asked if the Chiefs were done looking for upgrades there, Veach said they were not.
Both Nelson (groin) and Mitchell (hamstring) have dealt with injuries throughout the preseason, by the way.
“It’s hard to find a team in the league that isn’t looking for more corners,” Veach said. “But we’re happy with the group we have, especially being led by one of the best in the game in Marcus Peters.”
Veach said all their corners have progressed this offseason, including Phillip Gaines, who is looking to get his career back on track following two injury-marred seasons.
“I think we were all excited about his rookie year — then he had the knee (injury),” Veach said. “Him coming back this year and really putting out some good tape, we’re excited about that.”
▪ ▪ The Chiefs placed outside linebacker Tamba Hali on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which means he’ll miss the first six weeks of the season before being eligible to play in October.
“We have a plan for him,” Veach said. “We’re always monitoring it to see where we are.”
Veach said trainer Rick Burkholder will address Hali’s situation more on Sunday.
▪ Here’s the list of other players who were released by the Chiefs on Saturday: defensive lineman Ricky Ali’ifua, cornerback De’Vante Bausby, offensive lineman Joseph Cheek, receiver Gehrig Dieter, tight end Gavin Escobar, kicker Sam Ficker, cornerback Jacoby Glenn, cornerback Trevon Hartfield, tackle Donald Hawkins, tackle Josh James, guard Damien Mama, linebacker Justin March-Lillard, safety Leon McQuay, outside linebacker Earl Okine, guard Mike Person, running back Devine Redding, outside linebacker Marcus Rush, cornerback Larry Scott, quarterback Joel Stave, receiver Tony Stevens, defensive tackle Maurice Swain, safety Steven Terrell, defensive tackle Cam Thomas, guard Andrew Tiller, receiver Robert Wheelwright.
The Chiefs also traded offensive tackle Isaiah Battle to Seattle for a conditional draft pick, placed outside linebacker Dadi Nicolas on the PUP list and placed cornerback Ashton Lampkin (ACL) and running back Spencer Ware (knee) on injured reserve.