Sam Mellinger

The Kansas City Chiefs and the position they’d most like to upgrade (still)

We start with three truths:

1. OTAs are overanalyzed, and anyone who presents a declaration from football practiced in May without pads should be promptly asked to go kick rocks.

2. Steve Spagnuolo figures to be at worst a small upgrade over Bob Sutton as the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator.

3. We don’t need to know any of that to know the Chiefs’ cornerback group, as presently constructed, is both not good enough to maximize the team’s Super Bowl chances and stands as the team’s most likely fatal flaw.

The Chiefs’ front office and coaches would likely agree with the last point. Football teams never stop trying to upgrade wherever possible, but the Chiefs are putting a particular emphasis on cornerback.

It’s a premium position and among the weaker on this team. If you’re the type to think of what could go wrong for the Chiefs in 2019, the corners being unable to cover top receivers is the most obvious.

Even one injury and all heck breaks loose.

The Chiefs have long been interested in Arizona Cardinals star Patrick Peterson — last year before the trade deadline, at the beginning of this offseason, and even after Peterson took a six-game suspension for allegedly knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.

He is close to an ideal fit — experienced, reliable, smart, relatively cheap — and he would move the rest of the group down a spot on the depth chart.

But the Cardinals have been consistent in shutting down all inquiries, according to league sources. Maybe that will change as the regular season approaches. For now, the Chiefs must search for other options.

No obvious and clear solution exists.

Jalen Ramsey is likely unavailable. The Jacksonville Jaguars star has been mentioned in lots of trade rumors, but none seem to have much substance. He’s 24 years old, under relatively cheap club control for two years before potential franchise tags and is among the best at one of the league’s most important positions.

He comes with drama, sure, and Ramsey and Doug Marrone make for a — searches for the right word — curious star-coach relationship. But, come on. Teams don’t often dump cheap and talented corners. What the Chiefs did with Marcus Peters is the exception.

Chris Harris is likely unavailable. The Denver Broncos star who played at KU has asked for a new contract or trade, but the team has reportedly decided it won’t explore trade options. Also, let’s be honest. If Broncos general manager John Elway ever changes his mind on that, he’s probably not calling the Chiefs.

One interesting possibility could be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Artie Burns. He was awful in 2018 — Pro Football Focus rated him significantly worse than Orlando Scandrick, if that gives you an idea — but he could be both available and worth a chance.

Burns is a former first-round pick, still just 24, and is set for a $1.8 million cap hit. That fits the profile of trades the Chiefs have made in the past. A year ago, he was thought to be one of the game’s more promising young corners. Could be worth a second- or third-day draft pick, anyway.

If you have come to this point in the column less than optimistic about the Chiefs’ chances to significantly upgrade at cornerback then we have some good news: You are a reasonable human being.

At least on paper, this group is not significantly upgraded from last year, when the Chiefs fielded one of the league’s worst defenses despite an active pass rush. Kendall Fuller returns as the No. 1, Bashaud Breeland replaces Steven Nelson as the No. 2 and Charvarius Ward figures to be the No. 3 instead of Scandrick.

The depth chart also includes sixth-round pick Rashad Fenton, undrafted free agent Mark Fields, second-year speedster Tremon Smith and the well-traveled Keith Reaser.

When the Chiefs explored signing Breeland last year, part of the hangup was that they didn’t see him as an obvious upgrade over Nelson. Ward was effective in a small sample last year, and is likely better than Scandrick, but performance of young and unproven corners is hard to predict.

This is a major potential problem. Generally speaking, the Chiefs’ safeties last year were such a mess that they often made the cornerbacks look worse.

In 2019, the corners should have much better support with star free-agent signing Tyrann Mathieu and second-round pick Juan Thornhill. That will help. But maximizing the Chiefs’ Super Bowl chances will require another move or two.

The Chiefs, as currently constructed, are good enough to win the Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes and the offense should score a gajillion points again, and the changes on defense at safety, up front and at coordinator figure to help.

But the corners still need help. One more good player and the group could be a strength, rather than a potentially fatal flaw. The Chiefs’ coaches and executives know this. They’re looking. They’re trying. We’ll see.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.