Patrick Mahomes was the MVP of the Super Bowl and Tyrann Mathieu was voted by the team as MVP of the season. Both deserve the recognition, but the true MVP of the 2019 season was general manager Brett Veach.
This was a season of change in Kansas City and it was spearheaded by Veach. It all started on March 10, 2019, when Justin Houston was released by the Chiefs. Two days later Dee Ford was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2020 second-round pick. The next day Eric Berry was cut by the Chiefs.
In a three day span, Veach set the tone for the entire season that what happened in 2018 was not good enough. It wasn’t that it just wasn’t good enough, but it wasn’t even close to good enough on defense. He let this be known by dropping the hammer on three of the four best defensive players from the 2018 season.
Many fans were not happy with all these moves. I remember tweeting that they should move on from all three in early February and people called me crazy. The talking heads on local sports radio couldn’t see how losing three team leaders could work. It was a small minority of us that understood it wasn’t just talent holding the defense back, it was a mindset.
That mindset started to change when the team hired Steve Spagnuolo on January 24, 2019. An aggressive, blitzing defense needed aggressive, vocal players. Clearly, the silent lead by example mantra was not working. So, it was out with the old and in with the new starting on March 14, 2019, when Veach signed Tyrann Mathieu.
In a scene that reminds Chiefs Kingdom of when Clark Hunt hired Andy Reid, Veach met with Mathieu and refused to let him talk to anyone else. Mathieu signed a three year, $42 million deal locking him in as the defensive team leader. He did his job as he was voted the team MVP by his fellow teammates. He finished the season with 75 tackles, two sacks, twelve passes defended and four interceptions. The funny thing is that as great as he was, he dropped at least five other interceptions that hit him right in the hands.
As great as he was on the field, it was his attitude and vocal nature that was a real game-changer. Mathieu didn’t hide from the media or talk in coded coach speak. When they played bad he was right up front saying it to any media who would ask. He was the guy walking up and down the sideline firing up the team and getting into guy’s faces if they needed it. It was clear that players were not going to be allowed to make the same mistake twice this year.
As a big fan of mob movies, I looked at the Chiefs defense in 2019 as a mafia family. Mathieu was the boss, and every boss needs his number one, the loyal enforcer who makes sure his message is followed. For the Chiefs, that was Frank Clark. Veach acquired Clark in a deal just before the draft. He came at a high price as the Chiefs traded a first and third in 2019 and a second in the 2020 draft. Then, they signed him to a five year, $105.5 million deal.
I will admit I questioned this move at the time thinking it was too high of a price to pay. I believed they had enough on the defensive line to not need to make this move. Veach himself acknowledged the high price but stated how elite he believed Clark to be; and an elite talent doesn’t come cheap. Clark started the year slow due to injuries, but when he got healthy he became the elite player Veach said he was.
Like Mathieu, it wasn’t just his play on the field that made him the elite defender we needed. It was his fire and mentality on the field and to the media. He never ran from the media when he was playing bad and he didn’t complain about an injury. He said he’d get it fixed and be a better player. When he did he had no problem saying I told you so. When the playoffs started his mouth wrote large checks about stopping Derrick Henry and beating the San Francisco 49ers. The media was negative towards his comments, saying he was giving bulletin board material. Clark backed up his statements and along with Mathieu galvanized the defense to cash those checks his mouth wrote. Veach may like all his moves this season, but I believe he’d say his two favorites are Clark and Mathieu.
With the leadership in place, Veach went to work rebuilding the defense in the image he needed to win the Super Bowl. He signed Alex Okafor to a three year, $18 million deal. Veach stole Emmanuel Ogbah from the Cleveland Browns in a trade for Eric Murray. Both of them were crucial to helping the Chiefs defense as they gained traction early in the season. Unfortunately, both ended the season on injured reserve with torn pecs.
Veach didn’t stop there signing Bashaud Breeland and Damien Wilson to free-agent contracts. Wilson finished second on the team and tackles and Breeland locked down a corner position that was considered weak before the season. During the season he ignored fans and media who demanded a big name trade. Veach understood he wasn’t desperate and didn’t need to overpay. Instead, he signed Mike Pennel under the radar which proved to be the missing link for the defense.
It wasn’t just his player acquisition of veterans, though, as Veach hit a grand slam in the draft. Juan Thornhill turned into a defensive rookie of the year candidate while Rashad Fenton and Khalen Saunders put in impact minutes during the playoff run.
In 2019, Veach had as close to a perfect season as a general manager can have. He hit on all his draft picks. Nearly all of his trades and signings worked out. He transformed a defense from one of the worst of all-time to a top-five dominating Super Bowl defense. If that is MVP worthy then I don’t know what is.