Chiefs' fullback prepared to become free agent


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Jan 22, 2006
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Chiefs' fullback prepared to become free agent
Popular Chief’s contract will expire next week
The Kansas City Star

Fullback Tony Richardson for years had the look of someone who would finish his career with the Chiefs.

He arrived in 1995, making Richardson second in terms of seniority among active Chiefs behind Will Shields. He quickly became ingrained in the community with his involvement in charity and civic endeavors. That, along with his two Pro Bowl appearances, made him one of the Chiefs’ most popular players.

But Richardson’s contract expires next week, and it’s looking as if he will finish his career playing against the Chiefs rather than for them. He certainly sounds like a man preparing for that eventuality.

“I definitely will become a free agent,” Richardson said. “This organization has been great to me. It’s allowed me to grow as a man and as a football player. I’ve got a lot going on in the community. But I’m open to playing somewhere else if I can’t work something out here.

“It could become a reality. It’s a business, and it’s about what the organization wants to do. You have to be realistic about the situation.”

Richardson heads a short list of Chiefs players who would become unrestricted free agents on Friday. The only other regular is defensive tackle Lional Dalton.

Richardson indicated his preference was to remain with the Chiefs and didn’t rule out the possibility he would eventually re-sign. He said he recently spoke at length with new Chiefs coach Herm Edwards but wouldn’t reveal whether he was told he was no longer part of their plans.

The facts seem to speak against his return. He was used on roughly one-third of the plays last season, and it’s difficult to see how a team like the Chiefs facing a salary-cap overage of more than $20 million can dig deep into its pockets for a part-time player.

Richardson is also 34, another fact working against him. In a recent video interview on the Chiefs’ Web site, Edwards indicated the need for the Chiefs to find more youth.

“When we arrived at the Jets, we were the second-oldest team in pro football,” Edwards said. “The Raiders were first, and we were second. Eventually, we started to turn the roster a little bit, and that will happen here. It will happen in the next couple of years where the roster will become younger.

“I’m not saying I’m trying to run veteran guys out of here, because I’m not. I’m trying to make sure we have young players that are learning how to play early so that when we make the transition and that happens, they’ll have experience.”

Fullback is one of those spots where the Chiefs might opt for a younger player at a lower salary than the $1.25 million Richardson made last season. They have often preferred to use a second tight end or a third wide receiver rather than a fullback, so that’s one position where youth might not cost them as much.

The Chiefs’ only other fullback with regular-season NFL experience is Ronnie Cruz, a first-year player last year. Cruz played rarely other than on special teams.

None of that is lost on Richardson, who acknowledged that he would miss being a part of the Chiefs’ high-scoring offense if he leaves. But as the son of a military man who moved often while Richardson was a youngster, he is used to pulling up roots.

Richardson faces an uncertain market. Fullbacks rarely get top money. Neither do most 34-year-olds.

“It’s kind of hard to say what’s out there,” he said. “I have some positives, and I have some things working against me.

“That’s part of the fun. I’ve never been a free agent before.”

Richardson is a versatile fullback who can run and catch, but his strength is as a lead blocker and pass protector. He was a major factor in the touchdown record Priest Holmes set in 2003 and Larry Johnson’s phenomenal season last year.

He can only hope those achievements weigh heavier than his age.

“Teams will put a value on what you can do and not how old you are,” Richardson said. “Everyone wears down eventually, but I still believe I can play at a high level. I feel like I’m a young 34. I’m durable. I lined up all 16 games last year, played in pain like everybody does and got the job done.”

Tony awards

Here are some of Tony Richardson’s contributions beyond the regular season:

■ Pro Bowl, 2003 and 2004

■ NFL Man of the Year nominee, 2002

■ Pro Football Weekly Humanitarian of the Year, 2003

■ Distinguished Citizen Award, 2005
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