The Kansas City Chiefs blossomed under new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in 2010, and no player was more impressive than linebacker Tamba Hali. According to Pro Football Focus, Hali was the most productive pass rusher in the entire NFL last season. Although he didn't make the Pro-Bowl, which made absolutely no sense considering he finished the season with 14.5 sacks, second-only to DeMarcus Ware with 15.5, he did put his name on the NFL map and the Chiefs need to lock him up with an extension as soon as possible.
Hali was reportedly looking for Ware-type money with this next contract. Ware signed a 6-year $78 million deal with $40 million guaranteed with the Dallas Cowboysin 2009. That's a pretty lofty amount of money for one player but Hali has been one of the guys that was always praised by head coach Todd Haley for buying into what they wanted to do and for working his tail off every day.
Any player whose salary escalated at a higher rate than 30 percent from 2009 to 2010, as [Michael] Huff's and other players' did, was precluded from signing a contract extension with his team, according to an NFL source.
Hali falls into this category so there wasn't even a possibility of reaching a deal last season. They gave him the franchise tag and their number one priority whenever this lockout ends should be extending Hali's contract. Hali has said before that he wants to stay in Kansas City, according to his agent.
"Tamba has stated to me on numerous occasions that he'd like to retire a Kansas City Chief"
When the Chiefs extended the contracts of Derrick Johnson and Jamaal Charles last year it was apparent that the Chiefs were not having to over spend to get these guys to stay in Kansas City. The Chiefs weren't underpaying them by any means in relation to market-value, but it was nice to see the Chiefs not having to break the bank in order to keep their talent in-house. While Hali has consistently been praised from day one, his running mate on the linebacker core, Derrick Johnson, has not had the same path.
It would make sense that if Haley and company are really into guys "buying into" their system, they would notice a guy who has "bought in" since day one and it would only make perfect sense that they would do everything they could to keep that guy in Kansas City. Derrick Johnson was not always praised by Haley for the work he's done, and he received an extension, so wouldn't it then make even more sense to re-sign Hali because he has done everything they've asked?
Derrick Johnson was one of the pleasant surprises of last season. The Chiefs had seen plenty of brilliant flashes from Johnson over the last couple of years, but at times would just look lost, or be completely irrelevant. He took that next step last year and he was rewarded handsomely for it. Derrick Johnson is going to be asked to take on more of a leadership role over the next couple of seasons as the veterans on the team, or could have on the team depending upon who might return, are most likely done after this season if not before.
The Chiefs return Jovan Belcher at inside linebacker for the 2011 season. Hopefully Belcher gets pushed to improve by 2010 late-season signee Micah Johnson, who is competing for a spot on the game day roster as well as Belchers backup spot at inside linebacker. Belcher has been a pleasant surprise as an UDFA out of the University of Maine, who now finds himself heading into his 3rd season with the Chiefs and 2nd as a full-time starter.
The SOLB position could possibly have the most depth of any linebacker position on the Chiefs right now. The chances are pretty good that Mike Vrabel returns for another season, but probably in a limited playing-capacity. A lot of the snaps will be divided among Andy Studebaker, who signed a three-year extension back in September, and Justin Houston, the third-round pick of the 2010 draft. Fifth-round pick Gabe Miller will also be working out as a linebacker, making the transition from being a defensive end at Oregon State to the outside linebacker position. Miller's impact in year one would most likely be on special teams, a place that he could thrive.
Some other linebackers that could develop into assets for this team heading into next year are Justin Cole, Cory Greenwood, Cameron Sheffield and Pierre Walters. They are all battling for backup and special teams positions.
WIth Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali playing at a Pro-Bowl level at linebacker, and the young talent we already have in the secondary, this defense is shaping up to be something pretty special over the next few years. It all starts with Hali and getting him under contract for the next 5-7 years.