NFL Free Agency: Can the Kansas City Chiefs Keep Super Defense Together in 2024?

Could the Kansas City Chiefs keep both Chris Jones and L'Jarius Sneed in free agency? Perhaps, but it will take some serious effort.

LAS VEGAS — This was the year it all came together for Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

For much of the Patrick Mahomes Era, it was the offense carrying more than its own share. But the script flipped in 2023, with the Chiefs ranking top five in points (17.3 per game), yards (298.2), yards per play (4.7), yards per pass (5.4), sack rate (10.3%), and first downs (17.6).

That defense very well could be the difference in Sunday’s Super Bowl 58 showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.

But if it is, the weird reality is it’ll become even harder to keep that special group together in 2024.

Kansas City Chiefs 2024 Free Agency Outlook

Every team experiences change every offseason, but the Chiefs’ defense could look dramatically different in 2024 because seven starters and/or key contributors are set to become free agents.

Those seven players have a combined eight Super Bowl rings and accounted for a whopping 40.1% of the Chiefs’ total defensive snaps in the regular season.

With $23.9 million in projected cap space even before restructuring Patrick Mahomes’ contract, which seems likely, the Chiefs should have the resources to make competitive offers to most — but certainly not all — of the following players.

DT Chris Jones

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 741/1088
  • 2023 stats: 10.5 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, 13 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles
  • Career accolades: Two-time first-team All-Pro, three-time second-team All-Pro, five-time
  • Pro Bowler, two-time Super Bowl champion
  • Spotrac market value: Three years, $85.5 million ($28.4 million AAV)

LB Drue Tranquill

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 577/1088
  • 2023 stats: 4.5 sacks, 7 QB hits, 7 TFLs, 2 FFs
  • Career accolades: PFWA 2019 All-Rookie Team
  • Spotrac market value: Two years, $14 million ($7 million AAV)

LB Willie Gay

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 624/1088
  • 2023 stats: 1 interception, 1 FF, 4 TFLs, 3 QB hits
  • Career accolades: Super Bowl champion
  • Spotrac market value: Four years, $28.3 million ($7.1 million AAV)

CB L’Jarius Sneed

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 991/1088
  • 2023 stats: 14 passes defensed, 2 INT, 1 fumble recovery, 5 TFLs, 3 QB hits
  • Career accolades: PFWA 2020 All-Rookie Team, Super Bowl champion
  • Spotrac market value: Four years, $65.3 million ($16.3 million AAV)

DE Michael Danna

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 745/1088
  • 2023 stats: 6.5 sacks, 13 QB hits, 7 TFLs, 3 PDs
  • Career accolades: Super Bowl champion
  • Spotrac market value: Three years, $26 million ($8.6 million AAV)

DT Derrick Nnadi

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 498/1088
  • 2023 stats: 29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL
  • Career accolades: Two-time Super Bowl champion

S Mike Edwards

  • 2023 regular season snaps: 621/1088
  • 2023 stats: 1 INT, 5 PDs, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 sack, 2 TFLs
  • Career accolades: Super Bowl champion

The Chiefs do have one important tool at their disposal: the franchise tag.

Logic suggests they will tag either Jones or Sneed, but either move would exhaust almost every cent of currently available cap space. Could the Chiefs keep both?

Perhaps, but it would take long-term offers that come close if not match what they could expect to receive in the open market.

Win or lose, Brett Veach has some tough choices to make in the coming weeks.

“Sometimes I look at our situation, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this,’ but we usually work through things systematically and have a list of the priorities,” Veach told ESPN this week. “Certainly, Chris and LJ are at the top of the list.

“It’s extremely hard because you have two keystone players there.”

Chiefs Super Bowl Week Quotes

When Steve Spagnuolo Knew He Had a Special Group

“It was probably some time in training camp and getting through that first month of the season. You know, Charles [Omenihu] was suspended at the time, so we lost him. And then Nick [suffered a serious wrist injury]. When Drue stepped in there and played those games for Nick, and we really didn’t skip a beat, that said a lot.

“And then to get Nick back and a couple of other guys, but it’s just kind of been building as the season went on. I think the guys just got more and more confidence in who they were and what they were.”

Chris Jones on Someday Making the Pro Football Hall of Fame

“I think that if you, if you play the game of football, that’s what you always should have a thought about. Ultimate goal, right? To be the best you every year. And, and if you continue to be the best you, that puts you in position to be one of the best.

“So I think that’s something, playing the game as a competitor, it’s always in the back of your mind, being the best you and let the rest handle itself.”

MORE: Where Do Chiefs’ Andy Reid, 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan Rank Among Top Coaches After a Week Off?

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