KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo arrived in town Monday to begin sifting through the club's roster, and general manager Brett Veach believes he should find plenty of valuable assets as he transitions the defense to a 4-3 scheme.
“I think one of the things we wanted to do was to bring guys that were versatile and that can do different things,” Veach said Thursday. “And now certainly going from a 3-4 to probably more of a 4-3 defense, these guys will obviously still fit in that role.”
Veach last offseason began an overhaul of the team's defense that included the addition of free agents such as Anthony Hitchens and a defense-heavy draft that included Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi. Add in diamond-in-the-rough cornerback Charvarius Ward, and Veach believes the Chiefs have the elements for an improved defense in 2019.
“Between Nnadi and Ward and Breeland, which should fit nicely in a 4-3 defensive end role, we feel good and we also feel good that these guys will continue grow and get better and work at their craft,” Veach said.
While Veach plans to take Spagnuolo's evaluations and combine them with the salary cap implications, he believes the Chiefs already have the elements in place for their defensive front. The cornerstones of the defensive line expect to start with Nnadi as the run stuffer in the middle with Chris Jones generating an interior pass rush.
“Obviously Chris is the type of guy that can play any scheme, and having a premier pass rusher is a good thing to have,” Veach said. “Chris can do anything, he can play all along on the line. Certainly Nnadi will have a role, such a good, stout run defender.”
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Speaks, however, might be the biggest piece in the move to a 4-3 front. Speaks played outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense under former coordinator Bob Sutton, but now he expects to put his hand back in the dirt as a defensive end.
“Breeland – most people, and even our organization too – his natural fit was more of a 43 defensive end, but we liked his versatile back a year ago as potentially a 34 five-tech, too,” Veach said.
The biggest questions, however, come at linebacker. Dee Ford, who turns 28 next month, enters the offseason as a potential free agent unless the Chiefs negotiate a long-term extension or place the franchise tag on him. Houston carries a cap hit of $21.1 million entering his age 30 season, and hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2014.
Both players have also spent their entire NFL careers as 3-4 outside linebackers, but Veach says “both those guys can play in this (4-3) scheme and do well.”
Veach says Ford fulfilled in 2018 the vision the Chiefs had for him when they selected him with the 23rd overall selection in 2014 draft. He made it sound as if he wants Ford to stay in Kansas City.
“Obviously Dee's a player that has done so much for us in particular last year that we're excited about bringing him back,” Veach said.
As for Houston, Veach said he remains a key member of the defense and a huge part of what they Chiefs want to do defensively. He says there have been no discussions with the player regarding a restructured contract to bring down his salary cap number – “There will be a time and place at a certain point we can go through some different scenarios,” Veach said.
“We've got a lot of time, and certainly Justin being how valuable he is for our team is something that I'm excited to talk to Steve about.”
As for how Spagnuolo fits in the Chiefs organization, Veach said he sees the veteran NFL coach sliding in to his new role comfortably.
“He's been around the league a long time, knows the game really well, he's a great teacher, he's great coach, great family man,” Veach said. “He's going to fit right in there. It's been fun even the last few days of him being in the office and being able to bounce some stuff on him.”
Veach did say he expects Spagnuolo and head coach Andy Reid to round out the defensive coaching staff soon. Linebacker coaches Mike Smith and Mark DeLeone departed for new jobs soon after Spagnuolo's hiring, but secondary coach Al Harris and defensive line coach Britt Reid remain on the staff for now.
“I know they've had a lot of discussions with a bunch of different candidates at different positions,” Veach said. “They're still working through some of those things right now, so I'd hate to sit here and throw a number that would be inaccurate. But I do think though very shortly this will all be ironed out.”