Harrison Butker is Another Example of Brett Veach's Eye for Talent
In 2017, the Carolina Panthers made a peculiar move and kept two kickers on their 53-man roster.
One was Graham Gano, the Panthers' long-time incumbent kicker, and the other was seventh-round rookie kicker Harrison Butker.
The Panthers had taken Butker because Gano had missed three kicks in the Panthers' season finale along with the fact that Gano’s contract was up after the 2017 season. With both kickers performing well in training camp and in the preseason, the Panthers kept both on the first 53-man roster.
After Week 1, the Panthers decided they needed a roster spot and they chose Gano, and Butker fell to the team's practice squad, vulnerable to another team claiming him. That is exactly what Brett Veach and the Kansas City Chiefs did.
In September, the Chiefs' previous kicker, Cairo Santos, got injured, and the Chiefs needed a new kicker. Veach set his sights on Butker and signed him off the Panthers' practice squad.
In Butker’s first game for the Chiefs, he hit a game-winning field goal and the rest was history.
Butker is just one signing by Brett Veach over his three years as the Chiefs' general manager, but Butker's signing does point to a trend so far under Veach’s leadership: Veach is excellent at finding hidden gems and role players.
The other example of Veach finding a diamond in the rough was when Veach traded Parker Ehinger, a backup guard from John Dorsey’s last draft before being fired, for a standout training camp player for the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Charvarius Ward.
Ward transformed from a backup in 2018 for the Chiefs to the Chiefs' full-time starter in 2019. Ward was one of the best performers at cornerback in the league in 2019, being included in the company of cornerbacks like Tre’Davious White and Stephon Gilmore.
The fact that Veach was able to find a starting-level cornerback and All-Pro-caliber kicker on other rosters and acquired them for little to no capital really speaks to his eye for talent. Beyond Butker and Ward, this ability actually led to the acquisition of many starters and role players over the last few years.
Emmanuel Ogbah was a quality starter at defensive end for the Chiefs early in the 2019 season, racking up 5.5 sacks and six tackles for loss before going down to injury. Ogbah was traded for backup safety Eric Murray, who was in danger of being cut, and Ogbah’s salary was only $1.35 million.
Stefan Wisniewski was signed mid-season in 2019 as depth for the offensive line as injuries piled up. As the season went on, Wisniewski worked into the starting lineup and in some ways was actually an upgrade over what the Chiefs had before. Wisniewski’s salary was only $656k.
Damien Williams was brought in from Miami in the 2018 offseason to back up Kareem Hunt, however, Williams' role was increased when Hunt was released by the Chiefs, and Williams excelled in the role and had had a fantastic 2018 playoffs for the Chiefs. Williams' salary cap number has never exceeded $3 million, and he originally signed on with the Chiefs for only $1.25 million.
Bashaud Breeland was a hot commodity in the 2018 offseason before failing his physical with the Carolina Panthers. After bouncing back on a cheap deal with the Green Bay Packers, Breeland was once again a free agent. Brett Veach and the Chiefs were able to lure Breeland to Kansas City on only a one-year/$2 million deal in 2019 and Breeland recorded an interception for the team in the Super Bowl.
Mike Pennel was a revelation at defensive tackle for the Chiefs in the last half of 2019, where his inclusion on the defensive line led to a noticeable improvement in run defense. Pennel only cost $473k for the 2019 season.
Austin Reiter has been the Chiefs' starting center in both 2019 and 2020, and Reiter came to the Chiefs via the waiver wire in 2018. When Reiter stepped in for injured starter Mitch Morse in 2018 and played well, the Chiefs moved to re-sign Reiter on the cheap for only $2.275 million per year over two years.
Andrew Wylie was a mid-season pickup after the Chargers released him in 2017. After having a full offseason with the team in 2018, Wylie started every game in 2018, 11 games in 2019 (due to injury), and is the Chiefs' starting right guard for 2020. Wylie is making $750k in 2020.
Brett Veach’s eye for talent has given the Chiefs an advantage few teams have. Being able to get starters and quality role players for cheap is a huge advantage in the NFL due to the salary cap. Veach has demonstrated he is great at finding talent in UDFAs, on practice squads, in trades, and in cheap free-agent signings. Veach’s eye for talent will be imperative for the Chiefs as Mahomes’ contract ramps up, and finding gems like Butker will help keep the Chiefs as serious Super Bowl contenders for years to come.