Kansas City Chiefs have a chance to change their narrative at cornerback

The Chiefs haven't spent significant resources on cornerbacks but could lose Charvarius Ward this offseason if they don't. AP Photo/Gregory Payan

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Shortly after the end of the 2017 season, the Kansas City Chiefs traded starting cornerback Marcus Peters with one season left on his deal rather than giving him a big contract the following year.

They allowed another starting corner, Steven Nelson, to leave as a free agent the next year. In 2019, just weeks after winning Super Bowl LIV, the Chiefs lost another veteran corner, Kendall Fuller, in free agency.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs replenished at cornerback not with high-priced free agents or premium draft picks, but lower-money veterans such as Bashaud Breeland and Mike Hughes and lower-round draft picks such as Rashad Fenton and L'Jarius Sneed.

The pattern has seemingly been set under general manager Brett Veach: The Chiefs won't spend significant resources on cornerbacks. Veach said that has less to do with his philosophy on how to build a winning team and more about the opportunity not being there for the Chiefs at that particular position.

"A lot of what happens in the league and a lot of how you spend your draft capital, there is some element of being circumstantial," Veach said. "You're going to value corners too because they're hard positions but at the same time, not having a ton of cap space every year and not picking in the top 10, it's hard to just say we're going to go out and get a corner.

"There are so many factors that come to play. You talk about the value of a player. You talk about the scheme. You talk about the fit with the coaching staff. You talk about their medical history. There have been a couple guys over the years that we liked and we just didn't think they were healthy. ... Anytime you can get a good young corner, I think that's something any team wouldn't pass up."

Veach and the Chiefs have a chance to change the cornerback narrative this year in free agency and the draft. Charvarius Ward was acquired by the Chiefs in a typical way for a cornerback, off the figurative scrap heap in a 2018 preseason trade with the Dallas Cowboys in return for a backup offensive lineman. He became a starter by the end of that season and has been a reliable, if not spectacular, player ever since, but is a prospective free agent.

The Chiefs would like to re-sign Ward, but he may be out of their price range. Their situation is fluid because the Chiefs have many options available to create cap space. But according to Roster Management, the Chiefs have about $12.8 million in available cap room. That does not account for the approximately $16.5 million it will take for them to place the franchise tag on offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.

So, depending on what moves the Chiefs make to acquire cap space, they may not be able to meet Ward's demands.

"He's a talented player," Veach said of Ward. "He's done well in our scheme. Coaches like him. I like him. It's one of those things that you have to work through in free agency when you have a talented roster."

Hughes, another one of the Chiefs' top cornerbacks last season in terms of playing time, is also a potential unrestricted free agent. Losing Hughes, who started five games, and Ward would leave a void for the Chiefs. Only Sneed and Fenton would remain among their top four corners.

The Chiefs haven't drafted a cornerback in the first round since Peters in 2015. Fenton came to the Chiefs in the sixth round in 2019, Sneed in the fourth round a year later.

Perhaps the Chiefs draft a corner early or sign one in free agency. Whatever they do, they will be looking for physical players, one who willingly tackles and helps defend the running game. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system demands it.

"I tend to lean toward those guys," Spagnuolo said last season. "I think that makes us better. Now, you don't take that at the expense of the skills that you need to cover and we have a couple guys that have that combination. Ward does that. He's physical. He can cover. L'Jarius does it. Fenton's done it for us.

"We tend to lean toward those kinds of guys. I think those guys know that about this system and how I would like them to play. The old cover corner is a little bit taboo to me because you're kind of limiting yourself saying all you do is cover. You want a complete football player."