Opinion

Juan Thornhill’s questionable future after 2022

The Kansas City Chiefs may be hesitant to sign Thornhill to a long-term deal after injury and with other notable Chiefs to re-sign.

After an active offseason for the Kansas City Chiefs that locked up crucial pieces, most notably extending quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the largest contract in NFL history. This ironically left cap space to extend both tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones.

For now, the Chiefs have put themselves in an amazing position to win for the next five years. But these extensions will lead to key contributors potentially leaving due to there not being enough money to pay everyone.

One of those players is second-year safety Juan Thornhill. After an early selection on the second day of the 2019 NFL Draft, the 6-foot safety out of the University of Virginia was expected to have a shot to play meaningful snaps for the Chiefs.

Not only did Thornhill play, but he also started every single regular-season game. Thornhill finished the season with three interceptions, the most notable was his pick-six against quarterback Derek Carr in Week 13 in a 40-9 victory.

But Thornhill’s season would be cut short after he suffered an ACL tear in their last regular-season game against the Los Angeles Chargers. As one of the several young talents the Chiefs have, Thornhill is the only one to have a serious long-term injury.

Thornhill was a major addition to the secondary, tied for twenty-first in interceptions as a rookie is an incredible feat. But the performances the defense as a whole put up after their week 10 loss to the Tennessee Titans turned their season around.

Over their last five regular-season games, the Chiefs defense would only give up 10.4 points-per-game, which was the best in the NFL. The defense was playing at an incredible level to end the season with Thornhill playing off of first-team All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu.

The Chiefs would finish the regular season riding a five-game winning streak into the postseason. The defense was a huge reason for the momentum coming into the playoffs last season.

Despite a successful season for Thornhill, the team played well enough to win the Super Bowl without his contributions in the postseason, which could lead to a sense of him not being essential to their winning formula in the future.

In the 2023 off-season, after the 2022 season, the Chiefs have wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman becoming free agents along with Thornhill. Hill will be 29-years-old and likely will be the most notable and urgent extension to give.

Hill has already received high praise, with four Pro Bowl nominations, two All-Pro selections, and being selected to the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team as a punt returner. Hill has shown to be an irreplaceable piece to the Chiefs’ receiving core since his arrival in 2016.

This leaves the Chiefs with an important decision choosing between two young talented players on separate sides of the ball. Hardman, who will be 25-years-old as a free agent, received a Pro Bowl nomination for his rookie campaign as a returner.

Hardman and Thornhill could both prove to be key contributors in the next three seasons, especially if they can win another Super Bowl title with both healthy. However, the Chiefs will struggle to pay them both given their star contracts already on the payroll. Jones, Mahomes, and defensive end Frank Clark will all make over $20 million in 2023, with Mahomes making $42.4 million.

The Chiefs may also try to learn from past mistakes with safeties. With former Chiefs safety Eric Berry, injuries and being on the sideline continued to occur after his ACL tear in 2011. Despite being a major contributor in the secondary, the Chiefs may be hesitant to sign Thornhill to an extension due to their recent history with drafted safeties.

With three years left until free agency, many questions and concerns will be answered. But for Thornhill: staying healthy, being a productive piece, and winning another Super Bowl playing in the postseason will be the key factors in whether or not he will be wearing red after 2023.

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