Kansas City Chiefs' NFL free-agent signings 2022: JuJu Smith-Schuster assumes Sammy Watkins role

In five seasons with the Steelers, JuJu Smith-Schuster caught 323 passes for 3,855 yards and 26 touchdowns, but his only 1,000-yard season was 2018. Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency is underway, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2022 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 16 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free-agent signings began to be made made official after that. The first round of the 2022 NFL draft begins April 28 on ESPN.

After struggling out of the gate in the 2021 season, the Chiefs rallied to reach the playoffs and then the AFC Championship Game for the fourth consecutive season after an epic overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. But the season ended there and now the Chiefs are left to reload around quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

They started things early by assigning the franchise tag to left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., which secures the most important position on the offensive line.

Here's a breakdown of every 2022 NFL free-agent signing by the Kansas City Chiefs, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

JuJu Smith-Schuster, receiver

The Chiefs are adding former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year deal worth $10.75 millon, according to ESPN's Field Yates and Jeremy Fowler.

What it means: The Chiefs, who lost No. 2 wide receiver Sammy Watkins in free agency last year, struggled uncharacteristically at times on offense in 2021. They lacked a consistent receiving threat other than Tyreek Hill at wide receiver and Travis Kelce at tight end. They will ask Smith-Schuster to fill the role that Watkins had for three seasons in Kansas City. After Hill was traded to the Dolphins, he joins a wide receiving group that includes Mecole Hardman and Josh Gordon. The Chiefs lost last season’s third-leading wide receiver, Byron Pringle, as a free agent to the Chicago Bears.

What's the risk: Smith-Schuster signed for just one year, so if he doesn't work out, the Chiefs can easily move on without any further obligation. He's just 25 so it's reasonable to expect he could provide the Chiefs with a big season, particularly given that he can be back in free agency next year. The bigger risk for the Chiefs would have been to not bring in Smith-Schuster. Their offense missed a dynamic element last year and this is an attempt to bring it back.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, receiver

Valdes-Scantling joins the Chiefs from the Packers on a three-year deal worth up to $36 million.

What it means: The Chiefs have another speed receiver and their top three wide outs, at least to this point, are Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling has an impressive career yards-per-catch average of 17.5. But after losing Tyreek Hill and two others who played a significant amount last season, Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson, the Chiefs still have more work to do. Don't be surprised if the Chiefs draft another receiver to throw into the playing mix.

What's the risk: The Chiefs are paying Valdes-Scantling $30 million over the three years and he has a chance to make $36 million with incentives, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. That's a lot to pay a receiver with 123 catches in four NFL seasons. But the cap space the Chiefs acquired when they traded Hill afforded them the ability to make a deal like this.

Justin Reid, safety

Former Houston Texans safety Justin Reid agreed to a three-year, $31.5 million deal that includes $20 million guaranteed with the Chiefs.

What it means: The Chiefs will be moving on from veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu. Reid is 25, or far younger than Mathieu, who will be 30 in May, and the Chiefs felt more comfortable sinking their money into a more youthful player. A source told ESPN Reid will receive $31.5 million with $20 million guaranteed over the three years. That's likely less than it would have taken to re-sign Mathieu. Reid, with seven interceptions, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a pair of sacks in his four seasons with the Texans, has some of Mathieu's playmaking ability.

What's the risk: Mathieu brought a lot of value to the Chiefs both on and off the field and it will be interesting to see how well they operate without him. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo relied on him for a variety of roles. Otherwise, Reid is the type of signing that's easy to like. He's only 25, so the best seasons of his career could well be the next three. If the Chiefs weren't going to re-sign Mathieu, replacing him was a necessity and Reid may have been their best option in terms of price and fit.

Orlando Brown Jr., left tackle

Franchise tag salary: $16.66 million

Career highlights: Brown is a three-time Pro Bowler, twice in his first three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and then last season with the Chiefs. Last year, Brown requested a trade to a team that would play him at left tackle, his preferred position. He was mostly a right tackle with the Ravens. The Chiefs, after releasing longtime left tackle Eric Fisher, had a need and sent their 2021 first-round draft choice, among other picks, to the Ravens. Brown played well with the Chiefs, and at age 25 looks to be their long-term solution at the position.

Why he was tagged: The Chiefs weren't going to relinquish last year's first-round draft pick in return for a one-year player. There was a sense when they completed the trade for Brown -- who was then heading into the final year of his contract -- and didn't immediately sign him to a long-term extension that this was the likely outcome for Brown. The Chiefs, picking 30th in the first round this year, had no easy way of finding an adequate replacement for Brown if they decided to let him get to free agency.

What he brings: Brown, at 365 pounds, is bigger and stronger than most players at his position. Generally, if he gets his hands on an opposing pass-rusher, Brown wins that snap. But he doesn't have quick feet for a tackle and can struggle at times with speed rushers. That's one reason some teams were shy about acquiring Brown to play him at left tackle. But he had enough winning snaps last season that the Chiefs felt comfortable going forward with him at a most important line position.

Ronald Jones, running back

The Chiefs are adding Jones, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back, on a one-year contract.

What it means: Darrel Williams and Jerick McKinnon are free agents, so the only proven back the Chiefs had before this signing was Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The Chiefs will likely bring in another back before training camp begins but even if they do, Jones should get a significant share of the playing time. Edwards-Helaire has had each of his two NFL seasons interrupted by injuries.

What's the risk: Jones could be a good signing for the Chiefs. He's only 24, meaning he should be headed into the prime of his contract. The one-year contract should be motivation for him to get a big-money deal next year.

Geron Christian, OT

The Chiefs are signing Wylie on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Chiefs added another experienced tackle into their playing mix, and that’s not a bad idea given how unsettled they are at the two positions. Brown is the franchise player and unsigned. Lucas Niang began last season as the starting right tackle but was unable to finish because of a torn patellar tendon. Christian has experience at both tackle positions so he could figure as the backup plan at both spots.

What's the risk: Very little, given that the Chiefs needed depth at tackle. The former Houston Texans offensive lineman will be a backup, assuming Brown signs in time for the start of the season. The Chiefs recently re-signed Andrew Wylie, the likely starter at right tackle if Niang isn’t ready to go.

Andrew Wylie, offensive tackle

The Chiefs are re-signing Wylie on a one-year deal.

What it means: Wylie has started at guard and right tackle for the Chiefs in recent years. He filled a big hole last season at right tackle after the Chiefs lost their two top players at the position, Lucas Niang and Mike Remmers, to injuries. He could lead the competition for the starting spot at right tackle heading into camp -- depending on what the Chiefs do between now and then. Even if not, Wylie would give the Chiefs an experienced reserve with versatility.

What's the risk: There's little downside to re-signing Wylie, who can play both guard positions as well as right tackle. Ideally, the Chiefs would have a more accomplished right tackle starting for them in a division that features so many top pass-rushers, but Wylie held his own at the spot last year.

Elijah Lee, linebacker

Lee, who played last season with the Cleveland Browns, is coming to Kansas City on a one-year deal.

What it means: Lee will be a mainstay on special teams. Dorian O'Daniel, the linebacker who held that role for the past four years, is a free agent and Lee could turn out to be his replacement. His role on defense is likely as a reserve. He hasn't started an NFL game since 2019, when he played for the 49ers.

What's the risk:Not much. The Chiefs needed depth at linebacker and help on special teams. Lee gives them both.

Chad Henne, quarterback

Backup quarterback Chad Henne returns to the Chiefs on a one-year deal.

What it means: Patrick Mahomes will have the same backup that he's had since he became the starting quarterback, excepting most of 2019, when Henne was injured. The Chiefs believe Henne has value to Mahomes in the quarterback room and continuity there is particularly important this year since the Chiefs lost long-time QB coach Mike Kafka.

What's the risk: Not much. The Chiefs are in trouble no matter what they realistically do for a backup quarterback if Mahomes is down for a prolonged period of time. Henne, at least, gives them someone who has been there and done that, even if most of his NFL playing time came many years ago. He did help the Chiefs win a playoff game against the Browns after the 2020 season when Mahomes left early with a suspected concussion.

Michael Burton, fullback

The Chiefs are bringing back fullback Michael Burton on a one-year deal.

What it means: Burton doesn't play much, but Andy Reid likes having a fullback on hand and the Chiefs will retain Burton, who joined the team last season. Burton won't have much of an offensive role but will again be a regular on special teams. Last year, Burton rushed eight times for 26 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards.

What's the risk: None. Burton will sign a one-year contract, so the Chiefs' exposure will be minimal.

Derrick Nnadi, defensive tackle

Nnadi agreed to terms on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Chiefs needed more help for their defensive line and Nnadi is a good start. He’s been a reliable player for the Chiefs in his four NFL seasons, particularly against the run. Despite having Nnadi, Chris Jones and Tershawn Wharton, the Chiefs could still use more help at defensive tackle. Jarran Reed is a free agent and the Chiefs would need to replace him if he signs with another team.

What's the risk: The Chiefs are well aware of what they’re getting in Nnadi. He’s been a regular for them since he arrived in the 2018 draft. He’s been more productive as a run defender than as a pass-rusher but the Chiefs are obviously willing to live with that, particularly since Chris Jones is capable of providing plenty of pressure from the interior.

Deon Bush, safety

The Chiefs are adding the former Chicago Bears safety on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Chiefs, who already added safety Justin Reid in free agency, get more depth at the position. Bush could figure as the the third safety behind Reid and Juan Thornhill. Bush should also be of value to the Chiefs on special teams.

What's the risk: The Chiefs needed the depth at safety, even after signing Reid. Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen, two of their top three safeties from last season, were still unsigned more than a week into free agency. Bush, a six-year veteran with the Bears, gives the Chiefs a proven commodity.

Blake Bell, tight end

The Chiefs are bringing Bell back on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Chiefs have their blocking backup for Travis Kelce. Bell caught just nine passes for the Chiefs last season after grabbing eight in 2019, his previous season with the team. But that's not why the Chiefs re-signed him. He gives the Chiefs the ability to continue to use the multiple tight end personnel groups that they've been successful with.

What's the risk: Bell, with 58 catches in 97 career NFL games, isn't much of a receiving threat. If the Chiefs lose Kelce, they'll have to turn to other players to try to make up his lost production. The Chiefs have a promising tight end in Jody Fortson who is a better receiver, though Fortson's 2021 season was cut short by injury.

Jermaine Carter, linebacker

The Chiefs are adding Carter, the former Carolina Panthers' linebacker, on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Chiefs needed help at linebacker and Carter could be it after he started 17 games for the Panthers last season. The Chiefs released one of their top linebackers from last season, Anthony Hitchens. Another, Ben Niemann, is a free agent. The two top linebackers in terms of playing time will be Nick Bolton and Willie Gay.

What's the risk: It's minimal with Carter. The Chiefs were looking for some experience at linebacker after losing their two most seasoned players and they found it.

Taylor Stallworth, defensive tackle

The Chiefs are adding the former Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle, Stallworth, on a one-year deal.

What it means: The Chiefs are freed from having to draft a defensive tackle. Stallworth could step in and be a part of the playing rotation that also includes Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi and Tershawn Wharton. The Chiefs could still draft a defensive tackle if there's one available at any given point in the draft but it's no longer necessary to fill out their depth chart.

What's the risk: Not much, since Stallworth won't be asked to play a leading role.