Two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short was released by the Carolina Panthers, and is now among the most intriguing, underrated free agents on the open market for the 2021 NFL offseason.
Where could Short continue his NFL career next season? Well, there are several destinations that stand out as good fits.
Given that he’s appeared in only five games across the past two seasons, Short is going to probably draw a bargain, short-term contract laden with incentives and not to the salary he’s accustomed to. Given those circumstances, it’s likely Short will seek out a scheme that fits his strengths, a shot at playing a big role and playing for a quality team.
Using that criteria as the chief qualifiers, here are the best new teams Short could land with after parting ways with the franchise he once helped to a Super Bowl 50 bid.
Kawann Short to Buffalo Bills
Buffalo stands out above all the other teams as Short’s ideal landing spot. Former Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has been the Bills’ head coach 2017. From 2011 through the season prior to taking the lead gig in Buffalo, McDermott was calling the shots during the most productive years of Short’s career.
With 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver continuing to underachieve and the Bills’ pass rush lacking any seriously game-changing players, why wouldn’t McDermott be open to a reunion with Short? During a 15-1 season in 2015, Short was a dominant force who amassed 11 sacks and 18 quarterback hits to go with 16 tackles for loss. Blowing up that many plays in the backfield doesn’t happen by accident.
Even during his last mostly-healthy season of 2018 when McDermott had left Carolina, Short was still making tons of plays. He’s an excellent interior pass-rusher, but can also play the run really well. He’s a system fit for the Bills who could wind up being the slight spark they need on defense to go back to the AFC title game — and push past that point into Super Bowl LVI.
Kawann Short to Seattle Seahawks
Schemes that revolve around Cover 3 zone coverage concepts don’t have as much bearing on the defensive line as they do on the secondary, but nevertheless, there’s some continuity there that Short can lean on.
Seattle doesn’t waver from this system no matter who’s dialing up defensive plays, and the fact that the Seahawks are in need of another pass-rusher — especially if they don’t re-sign Carlos Dunlap — makes them a great fit for Short.
The championship window for this team definitely feels open, but last year’s club couldn’t quite get on the same page. Russell Wilson and the offense carried the load in the first half of the 2020 campaign, only to hit the skids as the defense hit their stride down the stretch. Having someone as disruptive as Short on the inside, playing for a surefire playoff contender, could be just what both parties need for a symbiotic union.
You can bet Short would welcome the chance to play for a Seahawks team that’s in win-now mode, as opposed to being part of the Panthers’ ongoing rebuild. With Wilson under center and a steady head coach like Pete Carroll, Seattle always has a chance to contend — even in a rather tough NFC West division.
Kawann Short to Dallas Cowboys
Playing for America’s Team is always a selling point in free agency, so why not project Dallas as a possible fit for Short? The Cowboys feature Demarcus Lawrence on the edge, and the tandem of he and Short could be devastating for opposing offensive lines.
Add in the fact that Dallas could retain high-end talents like Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory, with a strong linebacker corps to fill out the front seven, and suddenly Short could be an X-factor that triggers a massive improvement for this franchise in 2021.
The NFC East is definitely among the most wide-open divisions in all of football. Provided Dak Prescott returns at quarterback, Dallas’ offense is going to be in good shape. The Cowboys just need some more pieces and experience on defense. They won’t have a ton of cap room whether they franchise tag Prescott again or re-sign him to a long-term contract, so someone like Short is a great financial fit, too.
Dallas’ interior defensive line leaves much to be desired, so Short could have a real crack at a starting job and immediate resurgence with a big-market team to put himself back on the map for a bigger payday in 2022 if he signs a one-year deal.
Kawann Short to Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett is already on the Browns roster as a phenomenal pass-rusher, but Cleveland doesn’t have anyone else who can really scare the opposing quarterback. The healthy version of Short can do just that, and would presumably have a lot of success if he lined up next season alongside the likes of Garrett and another established, talented veteran in Sheldon Richardson.
It’s possible that Richardson is a cap casualty, and whatever the Browns do this offseason, they’ll need to upgrade the starting defensive end spot opposite Garrett with Olivier Vernon likely out of the picture due to a torn Achilles suffered in Week 17.
Short is also capable of helping against the run. He’d have a shot at starting right away even if Richardson stays, because Larry Ogunjobi is a free agent, and it’s very likely the 32-year-old Short could beat out the likes of second-year player Jordan Elliott and Andrew Billings.
Should the price be right for both sides, Short seems like a logical fit in coordinator Joe Woods’ system, given that he likes to run a lot of Cover 3. The more pressure Cleveland’s front four can generate, the better chance the Browns have of moving even further in the playoffs next year after making it to the Divisional Round this past postseason.
Kawann Short to Cincinnati Bengals
If it’s money and a prominent playing role Short is after, Cincinnati is an intriguing dark horse to consider.
The Bengals are all but certain to move on from Geno Atkins. Their defense suffered from Atkins’ absence last season, along with Dunlap’s disgruntled behavior and subsequent trade to Seattle. Cornerback Trae Waynes missed all of 2020, and run-stuffing defensive tackle D.J. Reader missed most of the year.
As long as Carl Lawson comes back and plays at the level he did last season (eighth in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rushing grades among edge defenders) and Reader returns healthy, adding a healed-up Short to the mix would make Cincinnati’s defensive line suddenly formidable.
Short would essentially fill the role Atkins used to as a premier interior pocket pusher, which would complement Reader’s run-centric skill set very well. However, Short is also a menace versus the run when he’s right physically, which would free up the Bengals’ young linebacker corps to make more plays and gain confidence after a rough 2020 showing.
Since Cincinnati has some of the most cap room in the NFL, it could outbid others for Short’s services. It’s a lot of projection, but if Joe Burrow can recover from his knee injury in time to lead the Bengals in 2021, short may see enough signs to go the unconventional route, take a chance on this up-and-coming team and potentially contribute to a shocking playoff run.