The biggest difference between Brett Veach and the man he replaced as Chiefs general manager is communication. Veach talks constantly with those who work around and below him. Decisions are not surprises. That’s important, but it’s also quiet, behind the scenes, hard for fans to track.
The biggest departure from John Dorsey that fans will see as Veach begins his first full offseason is a top-to-bottom obsession with making the roster younger, faster and in certain spots cheaper.
The changes will be significant.
Generally speaking, a priority on youth is the single greatest contrast between Veach’s football world view and Dorsey’s.
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Keep that in mind as you watch the Chiefs’ roster evolve this offseason.
Veach’s emphasis on youth and the Chiefs’ institutional stance that their problems on defense are the fault of the players and not coordinator Bob Sutton mean a massive roster turnover is likely.
If Sutton doesn’t lose his job after leading one of the league’s worst defenses in a year they claimed to be competing for the Super Bowl, then you can be sure many players will be gone. The failure has to be someone’s fault.
They’ve already started to shift. Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis, acquired in trades late last summer, could have bigger roles going forward. That’s particularly true for Ragland, who essentially replaced Derrick Johnson at inside linebacker. Ragland is 11 years younger than Johnson.
Many other factors were involved, of course, but trading Alex Smith to Washington made the Chiefs younger at quarterback and cornerback.
More changes are on the way, and they will involve some of the biggest names in recent franchise history.
Tamba Hali will almost certainly be cut, saving about $7.7 million in cap space. And if you are looking for the type of contract Dorsey did that Veach will never repeat, you could do worse than Hali’s: three years and up to $21 million for a respected, accomplished ... and soon-to-be 33-year-old linebacker whose best seasons were certain to be in the past.
Dorsey is one of the NFL’s most respected scouts, but he does have a tendency to act on whims, and to pay $2 for something he likes but should only cost $1. He also saw a proven track record where Veach is more likely to see wear and tear.
Veach still must prove his personnel chops, but he will communicate more thoroughly with staff and coaches, and will err on the side of having too much youth. The NFL’s pay structure makes younger players more valuable anyway, but even more than most evaluators, Veach believes they can often be more productive, too.
If not Hali, Johnson could be the next big name whose salary and roster spot are made precarious by Veach’s priorities. The Chiefs would save $8 million by cutting him, and Veach’s emphasis on youth and speed contrast heavily with a 35-year-old linebacker with two major and relatively recent major injuries coming off his least productive full season in years. Time for Ragland, Ukeme Eligwe and others.
But while those moves will spark the most attention if and when they happen, they are also relatively easy decisions, even if Veach felt differently about youth.
The moves that will really tell the story will come if and when he walks away from safety Ron Parker, linebacker Frank Zombo, defensive lineman Bennie Logan and perhaps others.
Parker is a particularly interesting case. He has a terrific football mind, wide respect in the locker room as a man and leader, and a versatility that makes him a good fit with the Chiefs.
If Dorsey were still in charge, you would bet on Parker’s return.
But Parker will be 31 before the season starts and showed subtle signs of age a year ago. Cutting him would clear nearly $5 million in cap space.
Zombo is strong on special teams and dependable at setting the edge on run plays — a valuable contrast with edge rushers Dee Ford and Tanoh Kpassagnon. Cutting him would only save about $1 million, and replacing him would likely cost more. But Zombo is slow, and turns 31 next month, and brings no dynamism. If you’re trying to get younger, and faster, he’s easy to walk away from.
Logan was one of the Chiefs’ most consistent performers on defense, even if the contributions of a grunt interior lineman are subtle and sometimes hard to detect. He was dependable at taking space and eliminating lanes, and the Chiefs don’t have a proven in-house replacement. But he played for $8 million last year and will turn 29 during the 2018 season, so here’s another spot Veach can make younger and cheaper.
Safety Daniel Sorensen would leave more dead money ($3 million) than cap savings ($1.8 million), but he’s slow and was exposed too often in 2017. Defensive lineman Allen Bailey wasn’t as effective in 2017 as the year before, and cutting him would create nearly $6 million in cap space.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis — decent in coverage, horrible in the run game and soon to be 33 — has already been cut.
All together, that’s eight of the 15 men who played more than a quarter of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps in the playoff game either already cut, almost certain to be cut soon, or in real jeopardy of being cut.
Even with safety Eric Berry returning for a season in which he’ll turn 30, this defense will be younger and faster, and likely cheaper.
This is the beginning of Veach’s rising influence over the roster, and it’s imperative if the Chiefs believe Sutton is not culpable for last season’s failures.