KANSAS CITY, Missouri — When general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid were hired by the Chiefs last year, they knew that there would be plenty of turnover on a roster that produced just two wins.
So, they predictably made a splash — the kind you make doing a cannonball off the high diving board — in free agency, signing veterans such as Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson, picking up role players such as offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz and giving everything a fairly thorough overhaul.
It all seemed to work, too. The Chiefs went 11-5 and made the playoffs.
The downside of all that maneuvering is that now the team is starved for cash, and with free agency starting Tuesday, the Chiefs are looking at a much more modest splash.
Think pebble-in-a-pond kind of splash.
The priorities are interior offensive line, where Schwartz and Jon Asamoah are due to hit free agency, along with wide receiver and free safety. Offensive line and defensive back are two areas with depth, so Kansas City just might be able to make due with its shoestring budget.
"No team stays the same, players or coaches, and we have free agents on this team," Reid said. "We know that things happen in this league and there are changes that take place."
How many changes will be determined by how much wiggle room the Chiefs will have under the salary cap. As of last week, they had about $9.6 million to spare, and that doesn't include the roughly $5 million that it'll take to sign their own draft picks.
That means filling their needs might take some creativity.
The Chiefs have several massive contracts on their books, and could conceivably free up some wiggle room by restructuring or extending them. The two obvious candidates are Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, who carries a massive $11.6 million cap hit, and quarterback Alex Smith, who counts about $8 million against the cap and whose contract expires after this season.
In the case of Smith, the Chiefs have already acknowledged a desire to work out an extension. They sent a package of draft picks to San Francisco last year for him, and Smith responded with arguably the finest season of his career.
"When we made the trade for him a year ago, that was part of the thinking," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told Kansas City radio station 810 WHB in a recent interview. "I don't think that thinking has changed. He came in and did a nice job. We're glad to have him a part of the Kansas City Chiefs and we hope it's longer than a two-year stay."
Massaging the current roster could free up enough cash for Kansas City to at least entertain the thought of filling their most glaring needs prior to the draft.
Along with Schwartz and Asamoah becoming free agents, the Chiefs are also losing left tackle Branden Albert. But there's an internal replacement for him in Donald Stephenson, who performed admirably in spot duty last year. The more pressing need is at guard, and there appears to be mutual interest in Schwartz and the Chiefs working out a deal.
Wide receiver has been a vexing issue for years. The Chiefs cycled through possibilities but never settled on someone to take the pressure off Dwayne Bowe. And with Pro Bowl punt returner Dexter McCluster due to hit free agency, the big hole becomes a gaping one.
The Chiefs have already signed Canadian Football League standout Weston Dressler, but he's mainly a slot receiver. There is still a pressing need for someone who can stretch the field.
Then there's free safety, where Kendrick Lewis was torched by Indianapolis in the playoffs and was allowed to become a free agent. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd would be the ideal fit, but he may break the budget, leaving Kansas City to sift through the second tier of candidates.
When asked what he looks for in a safety, Dorsey replied with an answer that might be just as appropriate for every other position the Chiefs need to fill this offseason.
"I could sit here and do a list of what the requirements of this and that are," Dorsey said, "but at the end of the day, does the guy make plays? That's kind of what you're looking for."
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