KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs released veteran cornerback David Amerson among their final cuts to open the 2018 season and while that investment didn't pan out, it's not diverting general manager Brett Veach from betting low to win big as he retools his secondary.
“What you do is you bring him in and you make it an incentive based deal,” Veach explained following the team's cuts down to 53 players on Saturday, “knowing that if you kick the tires and you hit it on this guy, you have a veteran guy that can kind of come in the room and add some depth and some quality play. If you have some younger guys that have flashed and maybe passed him out, you leave yourself enough flexibility to do that.”
Veach believes Amerson worthy of the investment that team put into him. The club signed Amerson to a one-year incentive-laden deal with $625,000 in bonus money paid. That wanted him to serve as a bridge between starters Kendall Fuller and Steven Nelson and young players the team expected to add during the draft and offseason program.
“We brought him here during the free agency period and we had a lot of tape and a we had a lot of evaluation time,” Veach said. “I think one of things that we did going into the free agency period was, there’s only so many guys out there and available to you.”
Amerson might still be with the Chiefs had veteran Orlando Scandrick not become available. Veach still wanted his veteran bridge from the starters to his younger group of corners. But whereas Amerson plays primarily outside and performed best at left corner, Scandrick can play inside or outside and is better accustomed to the nickel back role the Chiefs envision for their third corner.
“(Scandrick's) done that, he was primarily in nickel his last few years, but he’s played on the outside and played on the inside,” Veach said. “With Orlando we thought we still need that veteran sandwiched in-between, you have Kendall and Stevie. You have Tremon (Smith) and another young corner now, you still need that veteran.”
Once Scandrick arrived and proved suitable for the nickel role, Amerson's lack of special teams experience hurt his bid as a fifth corner.
“I think when Orlando became available and knowing that he had some more versatility, in regards to outside-inside, we just decided to go younger so we’d have more of a (special) teams guy and a guy that we can now groom and develop,” Veach said.
When the Chiefs signed Amerson back in March, Veach believed big-name free agent cornerbacks such as Trumaine Johnson or Aaron Colvin proved too much of an investment. The club had interest in Chicago's Kyle Fuller before the team offered him a contract tender. Veach says he didn't want to get into a price tag war and overpay for a name-brand cornerback at market rates.
“We decided to invest in guys that we thought were play makers in Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens,” Veach said. “Some of the corners weren’t available or they didn’t fit what we do or just wasn’t the right deal there.”
Instead the Chiefs opted to place multiple smaller bets rather than one all-in move. Terrance Mitchell, for example, left the Chiefs in free agency for a 3-year, $10 million deal with Cleveland. He carries a cap hit of $2.67 million in 2018. For nearly the same cost, the Chiefs took a bet on Amerson and still covered the costs of Fuller and Smith.
“I think we surveyed the landscape in free agency and, like I said, there's only so many moves you can make in free agency,” Veach said.
It's a common cap strategy for Veach. He made a similar cost-benefit analysis last year, choosing to swap one-year of salary cap costs for swing tackle Jah Reid for two lower-cost seasons with Cam Erving. So far that decision has paid off for the club.
Now the Chiefs had added rookie Charvarius Ward to the cornerback mix. Ward fits the mold of the Chiefs' corners – long, athletic, press corners.
“He was a junior college transfer too, he wasn’t one of these guys that played four or five years in a big school and had all the grooming and the prep,” Veach said. “We still feel like there’s a lot of upside with him.”
Rebuilding the team's secondary and defensive unit overall couldn't be done in a single offseason. But with Fuller at age 23 along with Smith and Ward at 22, Veach feels he has a core unit to build upon for 2019 and supplement further with next year's draft class or free agent market.
“I think Tremon has shown that he is making strides here and if Charvarius Ward can follow on that path, then you have two young guys moving forward and then a lot of arsenal in regards to picks and potentially cap for what we can do in the future,” Veach said.
The Chiefs may still make a move for another cornerback, but for now Veach appears content where the team landed with its group for 2018.
“I don’t think we are going to look at any position and say, ‘we're good there and we're happy there,’” Veach said. “I think we'll continue to do that. Look, the season will start and there will be guys on practice squads and there will be guys that move throughout the waiver wire here and we will always be active. So, we like our group. We have a good mix now.”