Kansas City Makes Room By Cutting Flowers
By Eric Paolini
On Friday the 13th, the Kansas City Chiefs released Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers after six seasons with the team. Following the release, head coach Andy Reid told Kansas City radio station WHB the move was because Flowers didn’t fit in the team’s defensive scheme. Last year, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton implemented a defensive scheme that required its cornerbacks to press opposing wide receivers. Physical cornerbacks are a necessity with this strategy, and at 5-10 Flowers doesn’t really fit the bill.
In his first year under Sutton, Flowers didn’t have one of his best seasons. Pro Football Focus gave Flowers the harsh grading of −9.8, the worst grade among Chiefs cornerbacks. Despite all of that, Flowers earned his first Pro Bowl bid. Flowers’ performance in 2013 was actually somewhere in between. He was the most talented cornerback on the roster. Perhaps another season in the system, or some tweaks in the system, could have upped Flowers’ performance in 2014.
This move will make the Chiefs worse, specifically the secondary. Sean Smith is the only other cornerback on the roster with a proven track record. There are high hopes for many of Flowers’ replacements who have potential, but there is also uncertainty. Marcus Cooper showed flashes of both solid and subpar play last season. Some of his best play occurred when he was an injury replacement for Flowers. Chris Owens has rarely started in his five seasons in the NFL. Rookie Phillip Gaines is an unknown. He matches the club’s desired profile of cornerbacks who are both big and fast.
As last season progressed and the schedule got tougher, the play of the secondary declined. In some of Kansas City’s most notable games, some tremendous quarterbacks picked apart the secondary. Some of the last memories for Chiefs fans was the combination of Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton eviscerating the secondary, especially the backups, in Kansas City’s loss in the wild-card round. Some of those backups may become starters. However, the organization seems to think they will be able to step up.
Reid’s radio interview suggested that on-field performance was the determining factor for Flowers’ release. With this move, the Chiefs do save quite a bit of money. Even if Flowers doesn’t fit very well, he is still a very good cornerback, the best on the team, which makes me think this decision had to do with finances.
By releasing Flowers, the Chiefs will save a little over $7 million in each of the next two seasons. Kansas City now has approximately $10 million in cap room. The Chiefs won’t be able to do much with that room this year, but the savings next year are much more important. While the Chiefs have the financial flexibility to sign any player who gets released before or during the season, the increased cap room will make signing Alex Smith and Justin Houston to extensions that much easier.
Quarterback is the most important position in the game, and Houston is the defensive anchor of the future. Houston has been a dominant pass rusher in his first three seasons and will be the basis of the defense — as much as one player can be — for the foreseeable future. If Houston somehow makes it through the season without signing an extension, re-signing him should be the Chiefs’ first priority next offseason.
It’s not fair to say Flowers was overpaid, but he didn’t perform like a $10 million-a-year player. When a team dedicates that much to a player, not being able to maximize that player’s performance is not desirable. Being new to the organization, GM John Dorsey hasn’t had much time to shape the roster the way he wants. Keeping a player who costs eight figures a year that doesn’t fit the organization’s philosophy is a bad investment. In that sense, it’s understandable why the Chiefs opted for the financial flexibility to build the roster as they see fit.
One of the worst spots a franchise can be in is where the Dallas Cowboys were this past offseason. Large contracts to middling players such offensive tackle Doug Free and kicker Dan Bailey cost the Cowboys their best defensive player, DeMarcus Ware. Dallas’ cap sheet was clogged and Ware had to be sacrificed because of it.
While Flowers is certainly better at his position than Free is at his, creating cap room for a Houston extension and to find players who are better schematic fits is the right move. However, the benefits won’t be realized this season.