The team fell short in the biggest game of the year, so where do they stand at the end of the day?
A regular-season record of 14-2cand an AFC Championship would have many teams consider their season as a very successful one. However, when you have set a standard of play as high as the Kansas City Chiefs have, coming up short in the last game of the year is a failure.
No way around it, the team’s goal at the beginning of the year was to repeat as champions, they had even gone as far as to let the entire NFL know of their intentions with the motto of the year being “Run It Back”, but they came up well short in a 31-9 loss in the Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There are no consolation prizes in the NFL.
All that aside this was still an unforgettable season for the Chiefs, with a ton of accomplishments for the team as well as several individual achievements for the players.
On offense, we saw Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill all continue their historic marches, with Mahomes again lighting the world on fire with his ability to throw the football, Kelce breaking the all-time record for tight ends with 1,416 receiving yards, and Hill solidifying himself as the biggest game breaker in the league scoring a career-high 17 total touchdowns. Each made the All-Pro team, and each was named to the Pro Bowl again.
The season also saw the emergence of rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire who had over one thousand yards catching and receiving which is especially impressive as a rookie. His ability to pick up Andy Reid’s offense was critical for the Chiefs and it looks like for the first time since the departure of Kareem Hunt the Chiefs have some solidity at the running back position. His usage will be interesting moving forward, due to the fact that he was by large the only effective Chiefs player on the offensive side of the ball during the Super Bowl.
The four players mentioned above are the only four players whose future is entirely certain for the Chiefs moving forward. This is where the questions start for this side of the football.
Massive injuries to the offensive line would be the demise of the Chiefs after what looked to be a promising start upfront. By the end of the season starters Mitchell Schwartz, Eric Fisher, and Kelechi Osemele were all out, and the backup line just couldn’t contain the Tampa Bay pass rush in the Super Bowl.
Austin Reiter, Andrew Wylie, Mike Remmers, and Daniel Kilgore will all be free agents this offseason, leaving Nick Allegretti as the lone member of the battered offensive line. This is a unit the Chiefs must address in the offseason via free agency or draft. The futures of Fisher and Schwartz are very uncertain and one, or both, could become cap casualties this offseason.
The wide receiving core outside of Hill was up and down but they did show some flash. Mecole Hardman had a very up and down season, but there is still talent there, and he did make some development as a receiver but not near as much as the Chiefs had hoped. He still has work to do to become an every down receiver, but I think he is closer than others would give him credit for, and he did finish fourth for the Chiefs in receiving yards.
This offseason will be crucial for him. As the season progressed Byron Pringle’s role expanded due to injuries to Sammy Watkins and inconsistent play from Demarcus Robinson. Pringle will be back next season as the fourth or fifth wideout. Pringle is a high energy player and was reliable in limited snaps for the Chiefs. I would expect him to take over Demarcus Robinsons role full time, and the Chiefs to let Robinson walk. The Chiefs will also most likely let Sammy Watkins walk, his lack of production due to injury this season was just to much for them to justify bringing him back.
The Chiefs offense was electric this season, much like it needed to be for them to make a deep run in the playoffs, but it feels no matter how good Patrick Mahoemes is there is still room for them to do better. This was a common theme for the unit all season. They were good all season, and at times looked great, but some changes will need to happen this offseason for them to realize their full potential.
The Chiefs defense continued to improve in 2020, and really came together as a unit down the line, and into the playoffs. Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathiue both had stand out seasons, both making the All Pro, and Pro Bowl teams.
Both had outstanding seasons and in several games were the difference makers they are paid to be. Both will be back in 2021 without question.
Upfront, the Chiefs defensive line saw another productive season from Derrick Nnadi, who excelled as a run stuffer and his best season yet. He is a player I would keep an eye on for the Chiefs to give an extension to this offseason. After Nnadi though, questions remain, and they start with Frank Clark.
Clark plays with fire, is assignment sound, and as tough as they come, but his numbers specifically his pass rush numbers don’t match the money that Kansas City is paying him. Clark struggled to generate pass rush all season, finishing with six sacks, the lowest total of his career. He made plays in the playoffs but all too often he was a non-factor.
He will likely be a Chief that has to restructure his contract this offseason. Mike Pennel has likely played his last down as a Chief, with the rise of Tershawn Wharton in the interior Pennel was mostly a run-down player, but one that they can live without at this point.
Taco Charlton had a hot start as a pass rusher before an injury sidelined him and his future on the team is in question as he is a free agent. Thoano Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor who both played opposite of Clark are also going to be free agents. Mike Danna should be able to step in for Kpass as the run-down end, but the team will need to find another capable pass rusher this offseason.
The linebacking core had it’s share of ups and downs this season, but the Chiefs did see captain Anthony Hitchens play his best season yet for the Chiefs, and he will likely be back again in 2021. He was comfortable with Steve Spagnuolos system and let his play to the talking.
The other every down backer did not see as much success. Ben Niemann had an awful year, and it is really unlikely that the Chiefs will bring him back. His struggles on the field were well documented all season, and it would seem his time in KC is done. Damien Wilson was up and down all year, and he is also likely on his way out.
That leaves Willie Gay to take on a starting role this next season. Gay flashed in 2020, to say the least, but he just wasn’t on the field enough to make a huge impact and missed all of the playoffs with an ankle injury. Gay has potential and could be on his way to being a key contributor in 2021.
The Chiefs secondary was the strength of the unit in 2020, and had key performances from several members. Tyrann Mathiue lead the unit, but Daniel Sorensen has another good season, leading the team in tackles and recording four interceptions.
Sorensen played alot early on since Juan Thornhill was recovering from an ACL injury, but in the playoffs and late in the regular season it looked like Thornhill has returned to form. This is big, because Sorensen could be a cap casualty for the Chiefs in 2021, and someone the team looks to move on from.
Bashuad Breeland had a good season after serving a four game suspension to start the year, and he played great all year long, and was one of the Chiefs more under rated players Breeland will be a free agent this offseason, but something tells me both parties will be interested in his return.
Charvairus Ward seemed to take a step back this sesaon, but as a restricted free agent he will likley also be back. Early season injuries plagued Ward through the season, but we didn’t get to see the flashes he had shown in 2019. The units most surprising contributor was fourth round rookie L’Jarius Sneed, who not only had a good season, but looks like he could be a potential breakout star for the Chiefs defense.
The Chiefs defense looked even better than it did in 2019, but it is Sneed and Gay that draw the most interest. Gay has the untapped potential to be the Chiefs missing piece at linebacker, the one they have been looking for for three years now, the one that can cover in the pass game, side line to side line speed, and the ability to thump in the run game.
Sneed could be a star. He already has all the tools, and he showed how great his ability was by producing for the Chiefs. With those two plus the Chiefs established leaders this unit could get even better in 2021.
This unit was the epitome of “up and down” in 2021. While at times their explosive play making lead to some big changes in momentum for the Chiefs, but mistakes killed the unit all season long.
Harrison Butker will be back again, and his range for kicks is tremendous, with him nailing multiple 50 yard kicks this season. His ability to consistently hit short kicks is all that separate him from being one of the elite kickers of all time, and just another good kicker.
Tommy Townsend was up and down most of the season, but as a rookie he will likely get better. It’s not like the Chiefs plan to punt much though, so his role is minimal.
The Chiefs return game flashed potential but mistakes from Mecole Hardman also lead to major mishaps for the Chiefs. Inconsistency was the name of the game. At times Hardman looked electric, but overcoming special teams mistakes was something the Chiefs had to do way to often in 2019. I hope they take a more conservative approach in 2021.
For all the accomplishments the Chiefs had in 2020, they still came up short. There is no way around that. This team didn’t have aspirations to make the Super Bowl and they failed to get the job done at the end of the day. They can either go in one of two directions in 2021.
They can pat themselves on the back, say “aww shucks we were still pretty good”, and go on with their day, or every member of the roster who returns can lock in with laser focus, and hit the grind stone looking for improvement every day.
Complacency gets teams beat in the NFL, and this team must strive for improvement every day of the offseason so they don’t fall short again next year. This offseason will be one of the most important in the history of the franchise and ultimately set the course for how the future of the franchise will go.