KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With his first pick as Chiefs general manager, John Dorsey set a tone that established his image as a draft evaluator.
Dorsey inherited left tackle Branden Albert, who loomed as a free agent in the following offseason. The team selected Eric Fisher as the No. 1 overall pick to serve as heir apparent.
Thus began the Chiefs’ tradition of drafting for future needs rather than immediate impacting with their first selection.
Dorsey continued the trend in 2014, selecting Dee Ford one year before Justin Houston could become a free agent. The following year Marcus Peters came to Kansas City as cornerback Sean Smith entered his final contract year.
Last season Dorsey traded out of the first round and made defensive lineman Chris Jones the team’s first pick in the second round. A year later, Dontari Poe left via free agency.
Dorsey established a reputation for using his first pick to meet the team’s potential biggest need for the following season. If Dorsey uses a similar formula for this year’s draft, the team’s potential free agents in 2018 could offer insight in to this year’s early picks.
But narrowing down next year’s needs to a single pick proves challenging. According to OverTheCap.com, the Chiefs have 34 players under contract for next season. Those players total just more than $170 million in salary cap commitments. This year’s NFL salary cap is set at $167 million.
Potential free agents include newly acquired defensive tackle Bennie Logan, punter Dustin Colquitt, fullback Anthony Sherman and kicker Cairo Santos.
One potential free agent remains in limbo. The Chiefs hold an option on Dee Ford as the fifth-year of his rookie contract. That option carries a price tag of $8.718 million, according to analyst Joel Corry. The Chiefs must decide on the option by May 3.
Many of the team’s potential free agents in 2018 are role players, such as wide receiver Albert Wilson, backup quarterback Tyler Bray and linebacker Ramik Wilson.
But with the staggering salary cap commitment for next season, the Chiefs may be forced to make other difficult roster decisions. The Chiefs could save $17 million toward next year’s salary cap by parting ways with quarterback Alex Smith.
Other potential moves that could save significant cap space includes linebackers Derrick Johnson ($8 million) and Tamba Hali ($7 million), wide receiver Jeremy Maclin ($8.6 million) and defensive lineman Allen Bailey ($6 million).
Linebacker Justin Houston carries a $20.6 million salary cap hit for next season, but cutting ways with the veteran pass rusher would save only $7.9 million against the cap. He would still carry a $12.7 million hit toward the cap.
The Chiefs own 10 draft picks in this year’s draft. But while this year’s roster seems to leave little room for that many rookies, the team could use affordable, young backup players in 2018. That could mean Dorsey looks for trade partners to move down in this year’s draft or flip picks from this year into selections next season when they could carry more value to the team.