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Kansas City Chiefs free agency preview: five safeties to watch

We currently sit 33 days away from the legal tampering period of NFL free agency and 35.5 days away from the official start of free agency—March 13.

For the next month, the talk of the football world will be pending free-agent moves, both additions and subtractions. As the time between now and then goes on, we will get a better idea of players leaving, players returning and potential targets in free agency. Until then, the goal is going to be familiarizing ourselves with potential free-agent signings from around the NFL.

This first installment will focus on safety, which is one of the better positions to need talent at.

The first thought that will go through many Chiefs fans’ minds is simply, “But we can’t afford or simply don’t need another S.”

The thought process is sound and but it’s extremely reliant on Eric Berry being healthy enough to play an entire season, wanting to play an entire season and then returning to his prime form.

That’s a long list of “ifs” to bank on for such an important position, detailed more specifically in this Spagnuolo secondary use article, one that carries a lofty cap hit. Even more so than the Bob Sutton years, the position is vital to Spagnuolo’s defense. Between the two starting safeties, you have a key run defender, the main tight end cover player, a slot defender and the primary deep safety blanket.

The current roster, as it stands Wednesday, does not instill a ton of confidence to fill any of those roles. That lack of confidence pushes the need for a safety high up on the list.

Free agent safety primer

The move to win the off-season

Landon Collins

Jacksonville Jaguars v New York Giants

Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Collins is probably the best safety who could become available for the Chiefs.

Collins is currently a free agent, but there is an equally good chance that the New York Giants franchise tag him if they can’t reach a long-term deal as there is that they let him walk.

The franchise tag for a safety this year looks to be around 11.3 million, which would place Collins as the fourth-highest-paid safety in the NFL. The most obvious reason that Collins is the perfect fit is simply his familiarity with Steve Spagnuolo. He was drafted to the Giants in Spagnuolo’s first season in 2015, saw a drastic improvement to his game in 2016 (he was an All-Pro) and continued that success into 2017 even as the team overall struggled.

Additionally, the rumor during the season was the Chiefs called the Giants about trading for Landon Collins, and while it doesn’t sound like the two sides were particularly close, Veach has a shown a trend of signing players he previously tried to trade for (see Anthony Hitchens; Sammy Watkins).

Collins is the perfect fit for Spagnulo’s defense because he fills arguably the most versatile and burdened position—strong safety—perfectly.

Collins is a monster of a run defender, period. He is comfortable around the box working through traffic, attacking linemen in space and frequently beating tight ends tasked with sealing him off. His downhill nature led him to become one of the best safeties in the NFL against the run.

Collins isn’t just simply a small linebacker masquerading as a safety, either.

Often the main man-coverage option for tight ends or larger slot receivers to the strong side of the formation, he is competent in man coverage in shallower areas. Even more importantly, he’s a massive deterrent to players crossing the middle of the field when in robber or hook/curl zones in which his instincts and quick burst make him a missile.

Even still, Collins is not limited to playing less than 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. He has drawn single-high assignments, split-safety assignments and plenty of quarters coverage and when he’s on the back end, he’s proven to be a complete ball hawk.

Collins is definitely a high-tier signing and happens to play a position the Chiefs already have a lot of money invested in. He only makes sense if the goal is to move on from Berry or there is no trust in him to return to his old form. The bonus is there is complete confidence he can perform in this defense and at the age of 25 (of this writing), provides a defensive leader for the next three to five years.

Good fits

Adrian Amos

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Amos is a more versatile safety that doesn’t specialize in a specific area (like Collins) but rather provides quality play on every play. Through much of his career, he’s been underrated, and now he is overshadowed by Eddie Jackson. Amos is most at home playing in deep zones but has the size and demeanor to stick his nose down in the box to make a big hit.

As a free safety who roams the back end by staying over the top, with the ability to drop into man coverage, he excels. Amos is likely the best, medium to long-term free safety on the market based on his versatility, age and upside as he still improves.

Amos may not be the most valuable safety when it comes to his upcoming contract, but he’s as close as you can get. He’s a very good fit for the less important safety role (free) in Spagnuolo’s defense and is trending up. Like Collins, this likely coincides with Daniel Sorensen gone and Berry either gone or with little faith in his full return.

Tre Boston

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

I have been not liked Boston for the Chiefs in years past.

In Sutton’s system, asking for versatile safeties who played every role based on motions, he would be exposed in the box for poor tackling skills and a lack of physicality. But now with a defensive change that asks for more specificity out of the Chiefs’ safeties, he makes a ton of sense. Boston’s ability as a single-high defender with plus range and ball skills is well documented, but with the Arizona Cardinals last year, he was given an opportunity to show off more burst and downhill ability.

Boston’s one-year prove it deal did just that, as he showed to be an above-average starting free safety in the NFL, again, and is likely on his way to a mid-tier safety contract. The Chiefs still have to move on from Berry or Sorensen to make it work.

Kenny Vaccaro

NFL: New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to the 2018 free-agent safety crew, Vaccaro comes up next on the list after filling in admirably for an injury-riddled Tennessee Titans team.

More of a strong safety type with some man-coverage ability, Vaccaro was able to affect the run and shallow passing game. Vaccaro isn’t the same level of playmaker as the other players on this list, but he fills that strong safety role with some flexibility to kick out in man coverage and stuff runs at the line.

Vaccaro probably remains in the lower tier of the safety cap hits but played well enough to garner a multi-year deal. Vaccaro may be just cheap enough to make sense as a third safety and primary backup for Berry if they have confidence in him to come back. Sorensen would also likely be gone in this scenario.

Sleeper safety

Adrian Phillips

NFL: Pro Bowl-AFC Practice

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Phillips has received more and more responsibility as his career has gone on and has responded accordingly. A pure strong safety type that played a lot of pseudo-linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers last year, Phillips is a physical run defender who embraces contact. His ability in space and in man coverage isn’t as adept as most on this list, but he’s far from awful. He will likely be retained in LA, but if he by chance hits the market, teams looking for physical, run-defending safeties can find a bargain.

Phillips is likely on the lower end of the safety scale, making him a prime candidate for the Chiefs. He makes the most sense with a Sorensen cut, but he can be insurance for Berry, as well as a chess piece to deploy in sub-packages.

The guy I don’t want

Tyrann Mathieu

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Matheiu was still a very good player for the Houston Texans last year, and despite catching some backlash from Texans fans, he was a huge reason for their secondary success.

The issue with Matheiu in this defense is that he has always been more of a slot defender than a pure safety, usually only playing “safety” in base before kicking into the slot. The Chiefs already have a primary slot defender in Kendall Fuller, and while the free safety will be asked to play some man coverage in the slot, it is not his main role.

As a pure deep safety, Mathieu gets caught flat-footed and often overly aggressive on the first pressing route rather than keeping his eye on everything. While a feisty, physical player for his size, Mathieu’s ability to live in the box (taking on linemen, tight ends and running backs) isn’t consistently there. He’s a good player who will require upper-tier safety money but doesn’t have a great fit in this defense, which asks for more traditional safeties rather than hybrid slot defenders.

This is by no means every free agent safety on the market but rather a rundown of six players that struck me as a potential fit or lack thereof.

As the offseason continues, the Nerd Squad will be down in The Laboratory keeping an eye on all the potential Chiefs free agents.

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