KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)The Kansas City Chiefs are gambling again on a player with off-field issues, selecting Mississippi State linebacker Willie Gay Jr. in the second round of the draft Friday night to plug one of their biggest holes on defense.
The Chiefs have been trying to upgrade at linebacker the past couple years, and they have a starting spot available after losing Reggie Ragland to free agency. Gay is considered one of the best athletes among linebackers in the draft, and his ability to play sideline-to-sideline while also dropping into coverage is perfect for coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s system.
The pick comes with a certain amount of risk, though.
Gay was suspended eight games by the NCAA as part of an academic fraud investigation that swept up 10 players total and led to severe sanctions for the program. He also was ejected from the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss in 2018 after two he was given two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and he was the teammate that allegedly hurt Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader in a practice fight leading up to last season’s Music City Bowl.
The Chiefs have shown plenty of confidence in their strong locker room culture and the leadership of coach Andy Reid when it comes to selecting players with questionable backgrounds.
The results have been mixed. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce turned into stars, landing lucrative long-term contracts; running back Kareem Hunt and cornerback Marcus Peters instead were considerable headaches during their time in Kansas City.
”We did our homework on everything,” Reid said. ”We felt very comfortable taking him at that spot, and it also helps to have the people in the locker room we have with Tyrann (Mathieu) and Frank (Clark). They’ll take him under their wing. That whole linebacking room is a tight group. They’ll take him in and make sure he’s in the right hands.”
The Chiefs are poised to bring back 20 of 22 starters from their Super Bowl championship team, but that stability comes at a significant cost. They franchised Pro Bowl defensive tackle Chris Jones and signed cornerback Bashaud Breeland and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson to one-year contracts, a series of moves that put pressure on their salary cap.
General manager Brett Veach carved out some room by restructuring contracts for defensive end Frank Clark, offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and wide receiver Sammy Watkins – three of the most expensive players on the roster.
Still, the Chiefs know they will have to give quarterback Patrick Mahomes a potentially record-setting payday in the coming months. That combined with the contracts already on the books left Veach and Reid searching for players who could make a significant impact in the coming years while on their relatively paltry rookie contracts.
After spending their first-round pick on LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs turned to defense on the second day of the draft. Their most pressing needs were cornerback and linebacker, and the Chiefs ultimately passed on Wisconsin’s Zack Baun and Wyoming’s Logan Wilson to make Gay their choice.
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