If you ask any fan of any NFL team they could probably give you a good reason why (insert free agent) would fit well with their team. It's just that time of the year and now that we're past the franchise deadline period we can all turn our attention to the players that are available and start making our cases for them for our favorite teams. Well, this is an attempt at doing that with Mike Tolbert and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Despite the obvious reasons like need and money, although the Chiefs do have a need for a complementary back and they do have money. There are a few other reasons that this move would make sense. First of all, Scott Pioli and company covet versatile players, and that's one thing that Tolbert absolutely brings to the table. He is 26 years old and was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Coastal Carolina in 2008 by the San Diego Chargers. The first couple of years in San Diego Tolbert was primarily used as a special teams player and full back. In 2010 however, Tolbert was counted on to carry the load as a running back for the oft-injured rookie Ryan Matthews. Tolbert responded by running the ball 182 times for 782 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was good for a 4.0 yards per carry average for the 5'9 243lb brusier.
Then in 2011, while Matthews returned to play a more healthy role in the offense at running back than he did as a rookie, another void was created with the departure of Darren Sproles to free agency and the New Orleans Saints. Then stepped in Tolbert, who caught 54 passes for 433 yards from quarterback Philip Rivers while carrying the ball just 121 times. The 54 receptions put him second on the team behind Antonio Gates (64) and Vincent Jackson (60). Tolbert had only caught 55 passes in his first three years in San Diego and then catches 54 in 2011 because that's what the offense asked him to do. Just like in 2010 when he came into the season with just 38 career carries, he ran the ball 182 times because that's what they needed him to do, and he did it well.
But the reason that the Kansas City Chiefs would covet Tolbert above all else is his special teams ability. There aren't many teams, if any, around the NFL that could say that their No. 2 running back was also their Special Teams Player of the Year. That's a pretty special accomplishment for a player that was also responsible for 951 combined rushing and receiving yards in 2010, and 923 yards combined in 2011. Those numbers probably won't entice many teams to throw No. 1-type money at Tolbert during this off-season. But teams will know what kind of value he brings as a No. 2 running back AND quality special teams player.
One of the other obvious reasons that the Chiefs might be interested in Tolbert is the simple fact that he's played in the division. That was one of the first things that was talked about with the Stanford Routt signing is that they liked that he played in the division and was already familiar with the teams and players. It makes the transition to a new team a little bit easier. There's also a familiarity with the player that you're getting if you've had to face him eight times in the last four years. They would have a good idea in what they're getting in Tolbert.
Tolbert had salaries of $295k, $385k, $470k and $1.835 million between '08-'11. His restricted free agent tender gave him quite the significant bump in salary during this past season. The Chargers don't seem to want to pay Tolbert as they have said they have gotten nowhere in negotiations with Tolberts' side this off-season. They didn't want to pay Sproles and I think that was a mistake, and I think they will end up wishing they had Tolbert next season.
I'm going to go ahead and take a stab in the dark at some contract numbers and in a couple of weeks we can laugh and see how far off I was in my projection. In Tolbert's four years in the NFL he's made around a combined $2.985 million in San Diego. I wouldn't mind the Chiefs offering a deal in the neighborhood of 4 years and $12 million, including a $4 million signing bonus. Have salaries of $1 mil, $1.5 mil, $2 mil and $3.5 mil over those four years. Those salary cap hits would be $2 mil in 2012, $2.5 mil in 2013, $3 mil in 2014 and $4.5 mil in 2015. I like the bump in this particular contract because it'd motivate Tolbert heading into that last year of his deal knowing that he's getting a significant raise and will want to play well for his next contract at the age of 30. While that may be old for running backs, he could still get more than just a one-year deal at that point barring any major injuries.
One of the major factors that will be addressed in these negotiations this off-season is whether or not he's going to be considered a full-back or a running back. Much like LeRon McClain was for the Chiefs heading into last season. This does significantly change the amount of money he could be seeking.
Whatever the amount that Tolbert ends up signing for and the team that he ends up playing for next fall. I can say that I'll be glad he's out of the division, that is unless he's playing for Kansas City.