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The Five Best UDFAs In Chiefs’ History

Undrafted free agent players rarely grow into successful NFL stars. But some diamonds come out of those rough lumps of coal every so often.

The Kansas City Chiefs have signed hundreds of UFA in their history, the vast majority no one can name. There would be the only one from the 2021 class that anyone can name is Shane Buechele. He is the third-string quarterback who will likely never see a snap in the NFL.

Most of those guys are camp bodies. Guys who have a lot of talent, but it just never materialized into an ability to have success in the NFL for one reason or another. But camp is long and hot, and there have to be bodies to make it work, so they fit that role. But when the planets align just right, a diamond in the rough can come out of those UFA players. The Chiefs have had quite a few in the past, but there are five who stand above the rest.

5. Stephone Paige, WR

Unfortunately, the Kansas City Chiefs have a shortlist of great wide receivers in their organization’s history. Otis Taylor, Tyreek Hill, and Dwayne Bowe are common names you hear around Arrowhead Stadium, but Paige’s name is one that should be on that list as well.

Paige was signed as a UFA out of Fresno State in 1983. Paige was one of the few bright spots during some of the leanest years in Chiefs history.

In ten seasons in the NFL, nine with the Chiefs, Paige hauled in 377 receptions for 6,341 yards and 49 touchdowns. Those numbers do not sound great in 2022, but you have to remember the context of the time in which he played. He still played in an NFL where the offensive slogan was four yards and a cloud of dust. His quarterbacks were Todd Blackledge, Bill Kenney, and Steve DeBerg.

Despite that, in 1985, Paige set a then NFL record with 309 yards receiving in a single game. He also set a Chiefs’ record with at least one reception in 83 consecutive games. That record stood until Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2006.

Paige had his best season in 1990 when he caught 65 balls for 1,021 yards. While Paige does not have the accolades that the rest on this list have, he was a great UFA player. He has to be on any top-five wide receiver list in Chiefs history. Add to that he was nearly unstoppable in Super Tecmo Bowl; he had to make this list.

4. Deron Cherry, S

Long before there was Tyrann Mathieu or Eric Berry, there was Deron Cherry.

What most people do not realize about Cherry is that he was originally signed by the Chiefs as a UFA in 1981 to be a punter. You read that right; at the University of Rutgers, Cherry had been a punter and a safety. The Chiefs cut cherry at the end of training camp in 1981 as he did not win the starting punting job. Fortunately for him, though, the Chiefs had a rash of injuries in the secondary early in the season, and they resigned him to the roster as a safety. The rest is history.

Cherry played for the Chiefs from 1981 through 1991. During his 11-year career, he made six Pro Bowls, starting in five of them. He was named to five All-Pro teams, including three first-team and two second-team honors.

During his career, he recorded 927 tackles, reaching 100 tackles in a season on six different occasions. He recorded 50 interceptions, making him one of only 26 players in NFL history to reach that mark. He is also tied for the Chiefs record of fumble recoveries with 15.

He was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team and was enshrined in the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1996.

In 1988 he won the “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award. You may know this award by its new name, NFLPA Alan Page Community Award. This award recognizes one player who goes above and beyond to perform community service in his hometown and team city.

Cherry made history outside of Kansas City in 1995 when he became a limited ownership partner of the expansion franchise Jacksonville Jaguars. In doing so, he became the first minority owner of an NFL franchise in league history.

That is a pretty good career for a UFA punter who was cut before his first season!

3. Jan Stenerud, K

Stenerud was signed by the Chiefs as a UFA out of Montana State in 1967. Stenerud was born in Norway in 1942 and did not move to the United States until 1964. He came to the US on a ski jumping scholarship until a coach saw the former soccer player kicking field goals for fun with a football friend. He was recruited to the football team, and the rest is history.

Stenerud was one of the earliest kickers to use a soccer style of kicking compared to the straight-on style kickers had used for years. This made him more accurate and able to kick farther than the average NFL kicker at the time. During his early years in the league, kickers averaged a 53% success rate on kicks; Stenerud made 70% of his.

Stenerud played 19 seasons in the NFL, 13 in Kansas City, including their 1970 Super Bowl IV victory. He finished his career with a 67% field goal success rate and 97% on extra points. He was the first full-time placekicker to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1991. He was named to six All-Pro teams, including four first-team and two-second team. He was a four-time Pro Bowler who was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

His number 3 jersey was retired by the Chiefs, and he is in both the Chiefs and Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. Ski jumping didn’t work out for Jan, but he came up with a pretty good plan B!

2. Emmitt Thomas, CB

Thomas was signed as a UFA from small school Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, in 1966. He played for the Chiefs from 1966 through 1978. He was a part of two AFL Championship teams (1966, 1969) and a Super Bowl champion (1970).

During his career, Thomas was named to five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro Teams, including two first-team nods. He was the NFL interceptions leader in 1974 (12) and AFL interceptions leader (1969).

He holds the Chiefs’ all-time record with 58 career interceptions. That is ninth on the all-time NFL list as well. He played in 181 games in KC, which is fifth-most in franchise history. He ended his career with five touchdowns.

Thomas was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame in 1986, and his number 18 was retired. After years of waiting, he was finally inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2008.

Following his playing career, Thomas transferred to a coaching career. It started in 1979 at Central Missouri State (now University of Central Missouri) before joining the NFL ranks in 1981. He coached in the league from 1981 until 2018, the last nine seasons back home with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A UFA turned into a Hall of Fame player, and a nearly 40-year-long coaching career is just about as good as it gets. The Chiefs’ scouting department of the 1960s should get attention for finding two Hall of Famers from the UFA ranks.

1. Nick Lowery, K

All due respect to Stenerud, the greatest kicker in Chiefs history is Nick “The Kick” Lowery.

I tried hard to avoid UFA, who was not signed by the Chiefs directly from college, but it would be criminal to leave Lowery off this list. So yes, technically, he was signed by the Patriots in 1978, but he only played in two games for them. He didn’t play in the NFL in 1979 and was then signed by the Chiefs before the 1980 season. It was because of his signing the Chiefs moved on from the future Hall of Famer Stenerud. So yeah, he makes the list.

Lowery kicked for the Chiefs from 1980 through 1993. If anyone needs to know how important he was, remember his replacement was the same kicker (I do not speak his name) who missed three field goals in the 1995 playoffs.

Lowery made three Pro Bowls during his career and was named to two First-Team All-Pro lists. He was the NFL’s scoring leader in 1980.

When he retired following the 1996 season, Lowery was the NFL leader in career field goals and first in field goal percentage. He’s currently 18th on the NFL All-Time Scoring list with 1,711 points. That is enough to have him number one in Chiefs history. Stenerud is second with 1,699.

Like Cherry, he won the “Whizzer” White NFL Man of the Year Award. Lowery won his award in 1993. And we all remember the Men’s Warehouse commercials we grew up watching during games in the 80s and early 90s.

Lowery is by most measures one of the greatest placekickers in NFL history. He is a Kansas City legend that anyone over the age of 35 has fond memories of. I remember friends who he was their favorite player; yeah, a kicker. Why he is not in the Hall of Fame baffles me more and more as the years go on. But while they sleep on him, I have no problem naming him the number one UFA in Chiefs history!

Who do you believe is the best UDFA in Chiefs’ history? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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