KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs put their finishing touches on their initial 53-man roster for the 2018 season, releasing veteran linebacker Frank Zombo and cornerback David Amerson among their final cuts.
Vested veterans with four or more years experience become free agents immediately and can sign with any team. Players with fewer than four years experience must pass through waivers. Once the waiver process closes at 11 a.m. central time Sunday, teams can start building their 10-player practice squads an hour later.
The 53-man roster as of Saturday's 3 p.m. deadline serves as a merely a starting point for the first week of the season. More changes are not only possible but likely as the Chiefs scour through the lists of players released by other teams.
IN: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne and Matt McGloin
OUT: Chase Litton
The Chiefs opted for trying to have their cake and eating it too, keeping McGloin on the initial 53 and sliding Chase Litton on to the practice squad, assuming he clears waivers.
But McGloin's experience in the quarterback room as an additional resource for Mahomes played a factor in McGloin winning the No. 3 job, according to general manager Brett Veach.
"The thing I would say about Matt, his experience in the league and playing in our division too, and just the feedback that he and Chad are able to give Pat, that's a big deal," Veach said.
The Chiefs did consider keeping Litton on the 53 as a fourth quarterback, a source tells ChiefsDigest.com. But concerns for Eric Berry's heel forced the team to carry an extra safety for now. The Chiefs definitely want Litton back on the practice squad if no other team claims him for their 53-man roster.
RUNNING BACK (5)
IN: Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware, Damien Williams, Darrel Williams and Anthony Sherman
OUT: Kerwynn Williams, Ray Lawry, and Algernon Brown
Rookie free agent Darrel Williams lands on the roster, and it's not big surprise. He had the best preseason of any of the team's running backs. Lawry might find his way back on the practice squad.
Williams won over Veach with his big frame and ability to run between tackles as well as catch the football.
"When you have guys come in at this stage, being versatile and being able to help out in many different ways is a big deal," Veach said. "The kid's smart, he works hard, does a great job in pass protection, he can catch the football, he’s a big back."
TIGHT END (2)
IN: Travis Kelce and Alex Ellis
SUSPENDED LIST: Demetrius Harris
OUT: Jace Amaro and Tim Wright
The Chiefs play in Week 1 without Harris, which helped Ellis make the squad. Right now the Chiefs have just two tight ends, but Harris will make three. These could be a spot where the club seeks depth via the waiver wire.
"So we’re certainly going to look and maybe a guy slips through the cracks, but I think we’re going to be probably at three after week two for a little bit here and depending on what else we have injury-wise, that might be a tough place to add," Veach said.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
IN: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Chris Conley, Demarcus Robinson, Marcus Kemp and De'Anthony Thomas
OUT: Jehu Chesson, Gehrig Dieter, Blake Mack, Daniel Braverman, Jordan Smallwood, Josh Crockett
INJURED RESERVE: Byron Pringle
Kemp, Thomas, Chesson and Dieter battled for the last two spots, but it appeared increasingly likely Kemp and Thomas had those spots nailed down the last two weeks. Pringle might have cracked the 53 if not for his season-ending hamstring injury. He'll spend the year on injured reserve learning from the veteran receivers.
Kemp won his roster position due to his value on special teams, deep understanding of the offense and flexibility as a receiver, Veach said.
"You have a utility guy in the true definition of a utility guy," Veach said. "He can do everything. He can line up at any of those receiver positions and he and play teams and that’s why he’s on our roster because of his ability to play all of the positions in a pinch and then also cover punts and cover kicks."
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
IN: Eric Fisher, Cam Erving, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Mitchell Schwartz, Andrew Wylie, Bryan Witzmann, Jordan Devey and Kahlil McKenzie
OUT: Ryan Hunter, Bentley Spain, Jimmy Murray and Ethan Cooper
The Chiefs opt for nine offensive linemen, finding space for youngsters Wylie and McKenzie as well as veterans Witzmann and Evey. Witzmann takes the swing tackle role, Wylie can play both guard and tackle while Devey can play all three interior positions. McKenzie is there to develop. Look for Hunter to land on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6)
IN: Chris Jones, Allen Bailey, Xavier Williams, Jarvis Jenkins, Derrick Nnadi and Justin Hamilton
OUT: T.Y. McGill, Dee Liner, Stefan Charles and Mike Purcell
A sixth defensive lineman seemed increasingly necessary with injury concerns for both Bailey and Williams. Hamilton wins that spot in a battle with McGill. Liner remains a likely practice squad target.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4)
IN: Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Breeland Speaks and Tanoh Kpassagnon
OUT: Frank Zombo, Rob McCray and Tyrone Holmes
The writing appeared on the wall for Zombo during the preseason when he played just 11 defensive snaps and none in the last two games. The Chiefs lose a veteran leader, particularly on special teams. Expect McCray to comeback on the practice squad.
Veach believes that Speaks is capable of making a bigger impact as a rookie that either Ford or Kpassagnon did during their first campaigns.
"I think it will be safe to say that Breeland will log more snaps year one and you can also do so more stuff with him," Veach said. "So I think the versatility is something that you always have to keep in mind.”
INSIDE LINEBACKER (5)
IN: Anthony Hitchens, Reggie Ragland, Terrance Smith, Dorian O'Daniel and Ben Niemann
OUT: Ukeme Eligwe, Raymond Davison and Otha Peters
Niemann, the undrafted rookie from Iowa, cracks the squad at the expense Eligwe. Smith's standout performance the last two seasons on special teams preserved his roster spot.
"That was another one like the quarterbacks that came right down to it because I thought all those guys had solid camps," Veach said. "It basically just came down to Ben Niemann. You couldn’t ignore the tape. That was it."
Along with Chesson and safety Leon McQuay, the Chiefs released three of the six members of the 2017 draft class. Only Patrick Mahomes, Kareem Hunt and Kpassagnon remain just more than a year later. Veach said the addition of this year's draft class and undrafted success stories such as Niemann make it easy not to dwell on the past.
"I think we just kind of focus on where we are now and we focus on where we’re going," Veach said.
IN: Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson, Orlando Scandrick, Tremon Smith and Charvarius Ward
OUT: David Amerson, Arrion Springs, D'Montre Wade, Keith Reaser, Will Redmond, Step Durham and Makinton Dorleant
The Chiefs chose to end the experiment with Amerson, choosing Scandrick as their veteran bridge between Full and Nelson and young corners Smith and Ward. Scandrick provides flexibility to play inside and outside, and the younger corners can play special teams, which Amerson has not done much of his career.
"So why not go with a young guy to fill out the bottom end of the roster and see if we grow and develop him and also know that he’ll be available to cover punts and cover kicks and help you out on the (special) teams end of things," Veach explained.
Springs remains an intriguing prospect and likely to return on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
IN: Eric Berry, Daniel Sorensen, Eric Murray, Armani Watts and Jordan Lucas
OUT: Leon McQuay and Jordan Sterns
The initial 53 includes five safeties, but one of them is not named Ron Parker. Parker agreed to a deal to return to Kansas City on Saturday, a source confirmed to ChiefsDigest.com. That spells another roster move to come. That could mean placing Daniel Sorensen on injured reserve, making him eligible to return at midseason.
"We're hoping to get him back, we're hoping he plays at least half the season," Veach said. "I would say my hope would be he'd be ready by Week 8."
Veach acknowledge that the sore heel that has kept Berry out of action since Aug. 11 played a role in roster construction.
"I think you factor in everything," Veach said. "We’re excited to get Eric Berry back and get him in the mix here. Ron Parker's here and we’re kind of working through the process."
K Harrison Butker, P Dustin Colquitt and LS James Winchester
Never any doubt about this group and no changes expected barring injuries.