The Kansas City Chiefs have a Need for Sneed.
No, this is not referring to the racing game that rose to prominence in the 2000s (Need for Speed: Carbon was my personal favorite). It's referring to Chiefs third-year defensive back L’Jarius Sneed.
With most of Sneed’s snaps coming from the slot so far in 2022, it seems like defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has dialed in how to use him as a weapon. Over the last few decades, an NFL slot defender has been smaller in stature, shifty and likely with shorter arms. This was due to offenses sticking smaller, shiftier players of their own in the slot due to the revelation of receivers like Wes Welker. Now, the league is evolving again. Players like Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp and Chase Claypool — who traditionally wouldn't play in the slot due to their size — now can and do.
This change in philosophy on both sides of the ball means that defenses need to adapt, and Sneed seems to be the Chiefs’ answer. His size (6’1”) and arm length (31.4”) play into this “big slot” role and let him match up with the Adams and Kupps of the NFL world.
Sneed’s size is not the only reason he's a truly unique slot defender. His great run defense and blitzing ability are what sets him apart from other slot defenders across the NFL. In run defense, Sneed is able to shake wide receivers blocking him with consistency which leads to him making many splash plays against outside runs. Pair that with his excellent blitzing that has already netted him seven sacks so far in his career, and it's easy to see why Spagnuolo likes Sneed in the slot.
Sneed is the first true success story for Brett Veach in the NFL draft. All draft picks before him, which includes the entire 2018 and 2019 classes, had too many question marks surrounding them for the Chiefs to consider extending them at the team’s earliest opportunity (after the player's third year). The only Veach draft pick that has gotten new money from the Chiefs has been Derrick Nnadi, who returned on a small, one-year contract this offseason. With him starting the 2022 campaign incredibly strong, Sneed is playing himself into a new extension as we speak.
When looking at what kind of contract Sneed would command, it's important to recognize that slot defenders are still valued less than outside cornerbacks. True shutdown, outside corners are now earning up to $20 million a year (Jalen Ramsey and Jaire Alexander). The highest-paid, strictly slot cornerback in the league right now is Darious Williams, who is being paid $10M a year over three years by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Williams, who signed last offseason, is a recent example of what a very good slot corner is getting.
It stands to reason that Sneed will ask for more than what Williams earned next offseason due to his unique skills as a blitzer and run defender. The Chiefs, however, would get some benefits thanks to him still having a year left on his rookie contract. They will be able to spread a signing bonus over more years by leveraging the year left on the contract.
This means that an extension for Sneed that has a realistic chance of being signed is a three-year, $40M extension on top of the one year remaining on his rookie deal. In new money, Sneed will make a lot more than any slot defensive back currently. The benefit for the Chiefs is that in totality, the contract will be around four years and $44M, which the Chiefs should not have issues fitting in with other contracts they will hand out. With the team hopefully being set at outside cornerback for a couple of years with Trent McDuffie and Jaylen Watson, it's easy to stomach this price to keep a key secondary player.
Veach will have a chance to hand out the first serious extension to one of his draft picks next offseason. Sneed is worthy of the money and his skill set is hard to replace. Because of the aforementioned Need for Sneed, the Chiefs should hand L'Jarius a fat stack of cash this offseason.