The questions regarding Kansas City Chiefs‘ biggest offseason concern were resoundingly answered during their 45-44 AFC Wild Card defeat courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts. Yes, as Chiefs’ fans helplessly watched Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton tear apart Kansas City like a Pee Wee league defense, it became increasingly clear. The Chiefs’ secondary would be the point of emphasis for the front office heading into 2014.
The cornerback position — to be precise — needs serious work. Don’t get me wrong; Brandon Flowers was great this year, and Sean Smith was impressive at times as well. But when opposing offenses lined up three receivers (which happened often), Kansas City nearly always had a weak link on the field.
Occasionally that weak link was in the form of Marcus Cooper; other times Dunta Robinson was the culprit. Whoever was at fault, something will need to change for the Chiefs at cornerback if they expect to replicate their defensive performance from the season’s first half. Midway through the season, opposing offenses caught on to Kansas City’s glaring weakness and would exploit it for the remained of the season.
So what are Kansas City’s options? Let’s exclude Robinson immediately. Robinson was absolutely horrid in place of the struggling Cooper, routinely letting wideouts find space quickly off the line and haul in uncontested receptions. Robinson was at one time one of the league’s premier corners, but now at 31-years-old, his time has come and gone.
Cooper, though, will be an interesting player to watch in 2014. He struggled mightily this season, at times looking downright awful, but there’s no denying the potential is there for this 23-year-old. Cooper has only been a cornerback for a couple of years now — he was a receiver his first two years at Rutgers — and the chance of vast improvement over the offseason is likely. It’ll be a telling year for Cooper and his possible future success in the league.
Ron Parker impressed during his limited snaps during 2013, but I don’t believe the guy has what it takes to perform in the NFL on a regular basis. Parker has played for four different franchises since entering the league in 2011 as an undrafted rookie out of little-known Newberry College in South Carolina. There’s a reason for this. I still like Parker as a reserve corner, but a starting role simply isn’t for him.
Many anticipate that the Kansas City front office will look to snag a possible franchise corner in the 2014 NFL Draft. But aside from the position’s top two players — Oklahoma State‘s Justin Gilbert and Michigan State‘s Darqueze Dennard — the cornerback position offers little depth this year. Gilbert will most certainly be gone by the time the Chiefs’ first-round pick rolls around, but Dennard may still be on the board. Dennard isn’t a big play threat or overly athletic; he’s just a solid coverage corner who doesn’t make many mistakes. This is exactly what Kansas City needs.
As for free agency, it likely isn’t the answer this season. Though they’ll likely create additional cap space, Kansas City’s $3-4 million they’re expected to have this offseason isn’t enough to sign the players they want. With a possible extension for QB Alex Smith in the works and 12 players of their own heading into free agency, the Chiefs simply can’t afford to sign an established, proven cornerback.
Like it or not, these are Kansas City’s options for next season. The good thing is I can say with a fair amount of confidence that things can’t get worse here. If Cooper can put it together before the season, I like him for the job. The tools are there for the kid, and with another year of experience under his belt I think he figures it out in 2014.