Chiefs turn to Spagnuolo to turn around ailing defense
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Chiefs hired Steve Spagnuolo as their defensive coordinator Thursday, moving swiftly to replace Bob Sutton after his unit’s dismal performance against the Patriots in the AFC title game.
Spagnuolo began his coaching career as Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s assistant in Philadelphia, where he worked with several position groups over the course of eight seasons. He left to become the Giants’ defensive coordinator, and has held similar roles with the Saints and Ravens.
He’s best known for his two stints as head coach, though. Spagnuolo went 10-38 over three seasons with the St. Louis Rams and 1-3 as the Giants’ interim coach during the 2017 season.
“Steve is a bright defensive mind with a lot of coaching experience and success in our league,” Reid said in a statement. “I know him well from our time together in Philadelphia and I feel that his leadership skills and teaching abilities, combined with his scheme, will be a great fit for our team.”
Spagnuolo, who spent last season out of coaching, has primarily run a 4-3 defense, which would be a change from the 3-4 scheme that Sutton had run. But the Chiefs drafted last season as if they planned to move forward with two defensive tackles and two defensive ends, so the adjustment should not be a big one for a defense that returns many of its key pieces.
One big change will be the mentality of the defense.
Sutton orchestrated a bend-but-don’t-break approach to defense, while Spagnuolo — who learned under defensive mastermind Jim Johnson — prefers an aggressive, blitz-oriented approach. But he’s also been willing to adapt, running variations of his defensive scheme with the Giants.
Sutton was fired Tuesday, two days after his defense collapsed in the fourth quarter and overtime in a 37-31 loss to New England. The Chiefs failed to stop the Patriots in OT, meaning star quarterback Patrick Mahomes never got an opportunity to step on the field.
That was likely the final straw for Sutton, whose defenses regularly ranked among the worst in the NFL the past few seasons. The Chiefs were particularly bad against the run this season, and they allowed at least 29 points in each of their five losses this season.
Spagnuolo doesn’t come without some concerns, either.
While his Giants defenses finished in the top 10 three times, two of his last three units were last and second-to-last in yards allowed. And while the Eagles were regularly stout with Johnson as the coordinator and Spagnuolo in various roles, his Saints defense in 2012 allowed more yards than any other in history and Spagnuolo was ultimately fired after the season.
Now, the attention in Kansas City turns to Spagnuolo’s personnel.
Pass rusher Dee Ford is ready to hit free agency, though it’s becoming increasingly likely that he will be franchised. Defensive end Allen Bailey is also a free agent, while defensive tackle Chris Jones and cornerback Kendall Fuller are likely candidates for contract extensions.
Longtime safety Eric Berry has been beset by injuries the past few years, and he is set to take up $16.5 million of the salary cap next season, while linebacker Justin Houston carries a cap hit of $21.1 million next season. The Chiefs could cut both over the summer and free up substantial space, or they could attempt to restructure their deals for a more manageable number.
The Chiefs will be looking to plug holes just about everywhere on defense, but particularly at cornerback and middle linebacker. They are projected to have about $32 million in salary cap space and will have one first-round pick and two second-rounders in the upcoming draft.