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NFL free-agency primer: 17 free-agent fits for the Chiefs

Jeremy Maclin caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago.
Jeremy Maclin caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago. The Associated Press

The NFL’s free-agency period doesn’t officially begin until the new league year starts Tuesday. But starting Saturday, teams can communicate with the agents for players and discuss potential contracts.

With that in mind — not to mention the fact the Chiefs still need to create approximately $1.1 million in cap room to get under the cap by the deadline of Tuesday — here are some players, both expensive and cheap, that I believe would be nice fits for the Chiefs this season.

WIDE RECEIVER

Randall Cobb, 5 feet 10, 192 pounds, Green Bay

Cobb, 24, served as a team captain in 2014 and caught 91 passes for 1,287 yards. He is a dynamic big-play threat who can line up in the slot, in the backfield or outside and cause problems for defenses. He is a threat to take it all the way with some juice after the catch and would be a home run for the Chiefs. He even has history on his side, as general manager John Dorsey was in Green Bay when the Packers selected Cobb in 2010. The problem: Cobb could command $12 million to $13 million per season, and the Chiefs will need to make some significant cuts to create enough room to sign him.

Jeremy Maclin, 6-0, 198, Philadelphia

Maclin, 26, is the kind of deep threat the Chiefs’ offense has lacked over the past two years. He caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns after missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL in his right knee, but it appears he will be allowed to test the market: Coach Chip Kelly seems willing to put his faith in his offensive scheme. He likely will cost less than Cobb, due to his injury history, and it helps that Chiefs coach Andy Reid selected Maclin in Philadelphia in 2009.

Eddie Royal, 5-10, 185, San Diego

Royal, 28, isn’t very big, but he caught 62 passes for 778 yards and seven touchdowns. He is a slippery slot receiver with good speed and polish as a route runner who could give the Chiefs some of the same things Cobb would — to a lesser degree but also for a fraction of the price. Royal also has experience returning punts. However, signing Royal could hamper the development of De’Anthony Thomas’ skills as a slot receiver, though Royal is easily the superior wideout.

Michael Crabtree, 6-1, 214, San Francisco

Crabtree, 27, returned from a 2013 Achilles’ injury to catch 68 passes for 698 yards and touchdowns, but Crabtree didn’t flash the same explosiveness he did before the injury. However, Crabtree has a history with Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith — they spent several years together in San Francisco — and with his hands and route-running, he would immediately step in and be the Chiefs’ best receiver.

Jarrett Boykin, 6-2, 218, Green Bay

After a strong 2013 season in which he caught from 49 passes for 681 yards, Boykin, 25, was largely inconsistent this year as he saw his production fall to three catches for 23 yards and ended up losing his starting job to second-round rookie Davante Adams. Still, Dorsey was with the Packers when the organization signed Boykin as an underrated free agent, and he certainly has an affinity for ex-Packers — as the Chiefs’ decision to sign the likes of safety Jerrod McMillian and tackle Derek Sherrod in recent years has showed. Boykin is a restricted free agent, but if the Packers don’t tender him, Boykin offers low-risk, low-cost upside as a potential “X” or “Z” receiver for a sagging corps.

Brian Hartline, 6-2, 200, Miami

Hartline, 28, is a possession receiver who is coming off a down year, catching 39 passes for 472 yards and two touchdowns, numbers that were half of what he put up in 2013. Still, he’d immediately be the Chiefs’ most accomplished receiver if they decide to move on from Bowe. Hartline’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said on a radio station Friday that the Chiefs are one of the teams courting Hartline.

Andre Johnson, 6-3, 230, Houston

Johnson’s best days are behind him, but there’s no doubt the 34-year-old still has enough left to help the Chiefs. He’s an accomplished receiver, someone Alex Smith could immediately trust in, and he can run all the short routes Dwayne Bowe does plus the long ones, too. He’d represent a clear upgrade at the position for a cheaper price tag than Bowe ($14 million). Last year, Johnson caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three touchdowns.

OFFENSIVE LINE

G Clint Boling, 6-5, 310, Cincinnati

Has been a constant on Cincinnati’s offensive line the last few years, and at 25 years old, he still hasn’t reached his prime. Solid athleticism — he can move well on traps and get to the second-level, where he can wall off defenders — in the running game and would be a nice fit in the Chiefs’ zone-blocking running scheme. Regressed a tad as a pass blocker this year (three sacks and 16 quarterback hurries allowed) but hasn’t hit his prime yet and would still be an upgrade over what the Chiefs had at the position in 2014. Boling even started two games at right tackle this year, so he offers insurance there.

G/T Orlando Franklin, 6-7, 320, Denver

Tough, durable starter with decent athleticism and experience in a zone-blocking scheme. Franklin, 27, likely priced himself out of Denver with his play over the last two seasons. He also has experience at right tackle, which could be valuable in case the Chiefs again find themselves in a pinch at the position.

T/G Bryan Bulaga, 6-5, 314, Green Bay

Another player Dorsey should be familiar with. Bulaga, 26, has had his share of injury issues in 2012 and 2013 but started 15 games this year and emerged as a reliable starter in 2014. His run-blocking was average and was solid in pass pro, but Bulaga could perform even better as a guard, where the Chiefs certainly need help. At the worst, he’d solidify the right tackle spot, even though for their money, the Chiefs might be better off giving Donald Stephenson a chance to show what he can do in a contract year.

G Todd Herremans, 6-6, 321, Philadelphia

Yep, another player Andy Reid coached with the Eagles. He only played eight games last season due to a torn biceps, but he’s got a reputation as a tough guy — he played a handful of games with the injury — and could give the offensive line some much-needed attitude. At 32, it remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank, but he would easily be an upgrade at left guard or even right guard, and he shouldn’t break the bank. Herremans also has experience at right tackle.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Sean Weatherspoon, 6-2, 244, Atlanta

Athletic, instinctive and feisty, the former Mizzou star would be a very nice fit as an inside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 scheme. Problem is, he’s been severely limited by injuries the last two seasons. In 2014, he had his entire campaign wiped out by a torn ACL. Also, Atlanta wants him back. But this is exactly the kind of high-upside signing the Chiefs might be wise to explore, depending on what the Falcons are offering the 27-year-old.

Malcolm Smith, 6-0, 226, Seattle

Smith, 25, is small for an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, but last year’s Super Bowl MVP is athletic and projects as a three-down player. He only logged 37 tackles in 2014, but a big reason for that was the Seahawks’ strong linebacker corps — his playing time was limited (just 286 defensive snaps). His PFF grade of negative-9.0 in 2014 wasn’t great, but he battled injuries throughout the campaign, and his 2013 grade of 12.1 was impressive.

Brandon Spikes, 6-2, 255, Buffalo

Spikes had 54 tackles and a sack in 16 games (10 starts) last season, and while he isn’t very quick and is probably a two-down player at this point, he remains very disciplined and stout against the run. Spikes, 27, also plays with an attitude that could, at the very least, help plug a leaky run defense. Considering the league is more passing-oriented than ever, Spikes shouldn’t cost a ton to bring in.

DEFENSIVE BACK

CB Davon House, 6-0, 195, Green Bay

Here’s another player taken by the Packers when Dorsey was a staff member there. House, 25, has only started 14 games in his career, and he’s also had some injury issues, but if the Chiefs are seeking a starter across from Sean Smith, he might be an intriguing option. He had 27 tackles and an interception in 13 games (four starts) last year, and flashes press ability and plus athleticism. The Chiefs drafted a corner in the third round last year (Phillip Gaines) and received interesting contributions from practice-squad signee Jamell Fleming, but they’ll likely need more depth at the position, especially with Smith set to hit free agency in a year.

CB Walter Thurmond III, 5-11, 190, New York Giants

The ex-Seahawk and “Legion of Boom” member only played two games with the Giants last season due to a pectoral injury. Thurmond, 27, isn’t as big as the Chiefs tend to like their corners, but he’s adept at covering slot receivers and possesses long arms. Plus, Dorsey showed he’d be willing to take a shorter slot cornerback when he signed 5-foot-9 Chris Owens to a one-year deal last March. With Thurmond coming off the injury, this is another potentially low-cost signing with upside.

S Nate Allen, 6-1, 210, Philadelphia

Allen, 27, was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Eagles, back when Reid was running the show there. That means these two have a familiarity, and the Chiefs could find themselves needing a veteran safety, especially if Ron Parker bolts via free agency. Allen had 62 tackles and four interceptions last season and posted a PFF grade of 3.9, which ranked 28th among 87 qualifying safeties. However, he was part of a secondary that gave up the most passing plays of 40 yards or more (18), which is a reason the Eagles are expected to let him walk.

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

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