It doesn’t take a football savant to realize the Kansas City Chiefs need help at cornerback. It’s been a long-standing issue, and given the pass-happy nature of the NFL in 2019 it’s an area in which every competitive team needs to at least be competent.
Watching Charvarius Ward try to defend D.J. Chark in the Chiefs’ Week 1 game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars illustrated just how badly this team needs to improve that group.
A few names have been bandied about as potential trade targets for the Chiefs. Arizona’s Patrick Peterson has almost become a meme to Chiefs fans at this point, with rumors, speculation and fantasies fueled by the concept of Kansas City taking on his astonishingly team-friendly contract. Miami’s Xavien Howard has entered the fray lately too, considering the Dolphins are already poised for one of the worst seasons in franchise history and one of the most blatant tank jobs in the NFL’s history.
Here are a handful of potential trade candidates (listed in alphabetical order by last name) that would instantly shore up the Chiefs’ biggest defensive weakness and would be worth the draft picks needed to acquire them. Good teams probably aren’t giving up their best player at a premium position, so these are players picked from bad teams or just teams that could be staring down a tough 2019. Some options are also, quite clearly, more realistic than others, with one in particular seeming like a pipe dream. However, if the Chiefs want to make a serious Super Bowl run, they should be open to paying a premium.
Things aren’t completely done for the Bucs this season, but after a dismal Week 1 performance things aren’t looking great for their 2019 prospects. If they fall off quickly and look to build for the future, Hargreaves becomes an intriguing target. A 2016 first-round pick, Hargreaves has missed plenty of time due to injuries, including playing just nine games in 2017 and only one in 2018. His fifth-year option has already been picked up, and his cap hit is small because he’s on a rookie deal.
If Tampa Bay views Hargreaves as a key piece to their future, it will probably try to work out a long-term extension soon. He would make an ideal candidate for Kansas City, though, given his youth and small cap number. The fact he’s locked up for the rest of this season and next is a perk too. Those all factor into cost, which could make Hargreaves a more expensive target. The Buccaneers hold the leverage in that theoretical negotiation.
Harris is an intriguing option because, while he is getting a pay raise this season, it’s his last one he’s under contract for with the Broncos. He’s getting older (30 this season) and without any future security, Denver may be willing to move on from one of the key pieces of their quasi-legendary defense. His $11.9MM cap hit this season would fit within the Chiefs’ open cap space.
Harris is a slot corner, which in and of itself isn’t a problem because if you can cover a receiver, you’re valuable to Kansas City. Plus, Harris is still arguably the best slot corner in the league. Adding him would require moving Kendall Fuller back outside, which is antithetical to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s plan for the Chiefs’ defense, but that’s only relevant to a point. If you can improve your talent level substantially, you make it work. As a true rental player, the compensation may be among the cheapest of any of these hypotheticals.
It seems wild that a second-team All-Pro who led the league in interceptions just a year ago could be on the block, but the Dolphins have shown they’re willing to move anyone for the right price. He’s just 26 years old and has already ascended to the ranks of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s under contract for the next five seasons (he just signed a new deal), but the numbers are far from untenable. His cap hits range between $12.2MM-$14.4MM over the length of his deal and the dead cap numbers are surprisingly reasonable; it’s $4.2MM in 2021 and decreases annually down to zero in 2024.
His quality of play, age and contract make Howard an expensive option, but all of those factors also justify paying a premium for him. If it takes a first-round pick (likely several of them, actually) the Chiefs should still strongly consider the option if it’s presented. It would be nice for Kansas City to finally pick in the first round again, but the odds a first-round pick turns into a player as good as Xavien Howard are fairly low. The price may sound high (and it is) but it would also change the Chiefs’ secondary from a weakness to formidable.
The Bengals fought for 60 minutes with the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 before coming up short. Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and the team widely predicted to finish last in the AFC North is now 0-1. It’s hard to know what coach Zac Taylor plans on the team looking like going forward, but if there’s a personnel overhaul on the horizon they may look into moving for Kirkpatrick for a decent return. He’s not an elite ball hawk (10 interceptions in 94 career games) and has a problem with penalties (for example: he committed a personal foul in Week 1 after committing 15 penalties from 2017-18, including nine defensive pass interference calls). All that said, he’s still a solid cover corner.
Kirkpatrick’s cap hit hovers around $11MM from now until the end of his contract, with $2.8MM dead cap in 2020 and half that much in 2021. That’s a lot of control for the team without a huge penalty should they decide to move on. Kirkpatrick may not be the most skilled or youngest player on this list, but he’s a good enough player on a decent enough contract that it would make financial and practical sense to add him to your team. To keep Charvarius Ward and Mo Claiborne on the bench more, it’s worth dealing with giving up a few extra penalties.
Norman’s star has fallen since his breakout season in Carolina, but he’s still been productive at worst with Washington. His approximate value of seven last season was ranked 14th among cornerbacks by Pro Football Reference, and he’s still the top coverage option for the Redskins. In the last three seasons he has six interceptions, which includes a 2017 campaign without any picks.
The Redskins dedicated a lot of capital to Norman when they signed him, making him one of the most expensive players in this group based on cap hit. The dead cap number isn’t terrible for next year, however, at just $3MM. The prospect of having him for the better part of two seasons is tempting, and regardless of his perceived drop off he’d still be the No. 1 corner for the Chiefs from the jump. One question here is whether or not Washington would look to move Norman. It likely won’t be the last-place team in the NFC East this year, but that doesn’t ring true as a playoff endorsement.
The white whale. The one that got away, even if they never had him in the first place. Peterson is still one of the best cornerbacks in the game, who still has great hands, great speed and fantastic playmaking ability. His cap hit this year is a minuscule $8MM due to his PED suspension, then in 2020 it’s just about $13.2MM. Peterson is still a phenomenal player at a ridiculous bargain.
If the Cardinals are willing to part with one of the best players in team history, the Chiefs better do all they can to be first in line for him. Arizona has a ton of holes to fill, so the only question is what amount of picks it would take to pry Peterson away. Anything that doesn’t involve a first rounder would be a steal for Kansas City. There’s no knowing right now if the Cardinals are even looking to make a move, but he should be the top target for the Chiefs if there’s any chance.
Here’s the most outlandish of the bunch, although it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. Ramsey might be the best cornerback in the game (even after getting cooked by Sammy Watkins in Week 1), and while he talks as much or more than anyone, he can back it up between the lines. His contract is cheap right now since he’s still on a rookie deal, even. That’s going to change soon because he’s going to get paid a lot in the near future (he didn’t show up at training camp in a Brinks truck for no reason).
The cost here will probably be prohibitive. The deal would start with a first-round pick and only get more pricey from there. If Kansas City has an extension in the plans it would be far more worthwhile. Again, pricey, but it’s hard to find elite cornerbacks. You would be hamstringing the rest of the roster in terms of future deals, but there’s no time like the present for a Super Bowl run. Don’t expect this deal to happen, but it’s not an impossibility (just an extreme unlikelihood).
Fans of the NFC North are hoping for this outcome. Slay held out of all offseason activities until training camp as he waited for a new contract, which was worked out. While not at his very best in 2018, he still shut down opposing receivers with regularity, bolstering a weak Detroit secondary. His cap numbers are big on the remainder of his contract (which runs through the 2020 season), but those are justified by production. There are a lot of elite receivers who will play against the Chiefs this season, and while Slay isn’t a household name like Ramsey or Peterson, he would be a stellar option to curtail opponent air attack production.
There’s no telling what the cost would be to get Slay. The Lions still feel like they can compete in a brutal NFC North (DVOA has them winning the division, in fact) so they’re not desperate to sell. They can ask for a reasonably high price, and the Chiefs should be willing to go reasonably high with their offer. To reiterate the initial point, Kansas City desperately needs cornerback help. If Darius Slay is on the market for a couple draft picks, it would be negligent of Brett Veach to not make a competitive offer.