1. OLB Justin Houston: The Chiefs’ inability to sign Houston to an extension could cost them this offseason, as Houston can angle for elite money after emerging as one of the game’s best players after a 22-sack season. “Anytime a guy is in a contract year, goes out and successfully navigates the risk of injury and poor performance … it’s a totally different ballgame,” cap expert and former agent Joel Corry said. “If I represented Justin Houston, I’m telling the Chiefs ‘You need to make me highest paid non-quarterback in the game.’ ” Corry doubts Houston will get that, but if a deal does get done, he expects it to be north of the $41 million in guarantees St. Louis star Robert Quinn just received. And while the Chiefs could just franchise Houston for roughly $13 million, Corry says they should be motivated to do an extension because Houston’s first-year cap number with an extension shouldn’t be more than $6 million — remember bonuses are pro-rated over the length of a deal — which could mean a cap savings of up to $7 million in 2015.
2. C Rodney Hudson: The fourth-year pro had his best season in a contract year, but he still has room to improve. Hudson isn’t dominant at the point of attack, and he, quarterback Alex Smith and offensive-line coach Andy Heck all have to accept some responsibility for the unit’s struggles with picking up stunts and blitzes. Still, Hudson was among the Chiefs’ best linemen in space, and losing him could further hurt the continuity of a group that already struggled this year. Corry expects Hudson to command a deal worth at least $5 million per season on the open market — just below top tier centers such as Max Unger and Jason Kelce — but his first-year cap number should hover around $3 million, if not lower.
3. S Ron Parker: The fourth-year pro finally found a home in Kansas City, and he took advantage of the opportunity the coaching staff gave him to emerge as a solid NFL contributor. Parker had his share of highs and lows as he switched between corner and safety, but most of his lows came at corner, and his range and speed at safety were apparent. General manager John Dorsey recently said Parker was “better inside that outside” this year. Parker, who led the team in total tackles with 84 this year despite his inconsistency in that area, is 27 years old, which means this might be his opportunity to score a legitimate NFL contract.
4. WR Jason Avant: The Chiefs’ coaching staff raved about Avant’s professionalism after he joined the team toward the end of the season, an indication it might want him back to mentor young receivers such as Albert Wilson. He also earned quarterback Smith’s trust quickly and proved he still has something left in the tank.
5. S Kurt Coleman: No one expected much from Coleman when he was signed during training camp, but he turned into a very nice addition for a secondary that fared well against the pass. He also showed a willingness to step up and hit people. He could thrive in the same role next year but he believes he’s a starter in this league, and should pursue opportunities to that end this offseason.
Others: LS Thomas Gafford, TE Richard Gordon, WR Frankie Hammond (ERFA), TE Demetrius Harris (ERFA), RT Ryan Harris, WR Junior Hemingway (RFA), LG Jeff Linkenbach, LB Josh Martin (ERFA), LB Josh Mauga, S Kelcie McCray (RFA), LG Mike McGlynn, RB Joe McKnight, OLB Dezman Moses (RFA), CB Chris Owens, DE Kevin Vickerson,
RFA: Restricted free agents — The Chiefs can match any offer or allow the player to leave and receive compensation
ERFA: Exclusive rights free agent — The Chiefs can retain the player for a one-year deal at the league minimum