KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson never wanted to finish their careers anywhere other than with the Chiefs.
Now, they’ll have that opportunity.
The Chiefs made the signing of their Pro Bowl linebackers official Thursday, leading a wave of announcements after a busy start to free agency.
Hali and Johnson both received three-year deals, saying on separate conference calls that it’s quite possible they’ll play through the end of them.
“I’ve gotten paid enough money to live the rest of my life without working, so it wasn’t based on money. I love being here,” Hali said. “I didn’t have any interest in other teams.”
The Chiefs also announced the signing of former Browns offensive tackle Mitch Schwartz to a five-year deal, defensive tackle Jaye Howard to a two-year contract and their re-signing of linebacker Frank Zombo.
The 32-year-old Hali rarely practiced last season to rest his ailing knees, but he was still a stalwart on game day.
He even played with his hand heavily wrapped after breaking his thumb late in the season, finishing with 6 1/2 sacks for a defense that was among the best in the NFL at rushing the quarterback.
“I know they want to limit my role as in how much I play to be able to sustain me over the 24-week period of playing a season,” Hali said, “but I believe there will be times that I may have to play the entire game, and I believe there will be times I have to step back and there will be other guys that will play.”
The Chiefs have no shortage of pass rushers. Justin Houston has become one of the league’s best on the opposite side, and former first-round pick Dee Ford has worked well with Hali in a platoon.
One of the big questions will be Hali’s health. He had surgery on his right knee similar to a procedure he had last offseason, and is still about a month away from being able to run.
“I feel like I’m right on time with healing,” he said. “I’m happy where I am right now.”
Johnson returned from a season-ending Achilles injury to make his fourth Pro Bowl. He had 95 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, passing Gary Spani along the way as the franchise’s career tackles leader.
“I’m to an age that I know I can’t play another 10 years, but at the same time, my goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy,” he said. “It’s to have that ring on my finger. Signing this three-year deal, it just assures that I can help this team win. That’s all I want to do.”
The Chiefs had just under $20 million in salary cap space at the onset of free agency, but they were still able to keep most of their team intact. That includes using the franchise tag on safety Eric Berry.
Howard is coming off a breakthrough season that included 5 1/2 sacks.
The big defensive lineman received plenty of interest on the open market, but he chose to return to Kansas City in part because of the familiarity. Berry, Hali and Johnson also returning means that the Chiefs should once again have a defense that allows them to contend in the AFC West.
“We’re building something special here in Kansas City and I wanted to be a part of it,” Howard said.
The Chiefs weren’t successful in signing all of their targets. Cornerback Sean Smith agreed to a four-year, $40 million deal with the Raiders.
Still, the work done by Kansas City on the first day of free agency means that general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid will have far fewer holes to plug during the April draft.
That became even more crucial when the Chiefs were docked their third-round pick, along with a sixth-round next year, and fined $250,000 for violating the NFL’s anti-tampering rules.
The biggest addition is Schwartz, who started every game over the past four seasons for the Cleveland Browns. He not only replaces Jeff Allen, who signed with the Houston Texans, but represents an upgrade when it comes to protecting quarterback Alex Smith from the pass rush.
The former second-round pick was among the top offensive tackles graded by Pro Football Focus last year, and his job shutting down the Broncos’ Von Miller no doubt caught the Chiefs’ attention.
His signing also means that Jah Reid, a part-time starter last year, could be in play at guard.
“I’m just excited to be here. I don’t really want to get into too much else right now,” said Schwartz, one of many free agents who left the Browns. “I’m just really excited for this opportunity to be here with these coaches and the organization. I look forward to giving the organization my best.”