Limited by a decreasing salary cap and a low draft spot, we discuss three moves the Chiefs can make to go back to the Super Bowl.
Philosophy: First, let’s acknowledge some facts: 1. The Chiefs were drummed by the Buccaneers last week. 2. The Chiefs were the second-best team in football that had a bad day. So often, we as fans get so caught up in the end results and forget about the process. There is only one team that ends their season with a playoff win and that’s a hard reality to accept. Just because the Chiefs lost does not mean everything about the roster or the coaching staff needs to change. While there certainly are some conclusions to draw from the disappointing result, let’s remember over the last two years the Kansas City has been the best team in the NFL.
Another fact we must acknowledge is that the Chiefs picked a bad time for a global pandemic to strike (as if there is ever a good time). Their salary cap was always going to balloon with an elite QB who had already been MVP and Super Bowl MVP. The project salary cap is expected to drop down to $180 million dollars in the 2021 season, which puts the Chiefs roughly $20 million over the cap. Now, as bleak as that may sound, there are numerous ways they can get under the cap, but it does limit them. So any acquisitions they make will have to be cheap.
The roster needs many things: offensive line help, a true second wide receiver option, edge rusher, probably another linebacker and secondary help as well. Though it may feel justified, firing up a mock draft of six offensive linemen isn’t truly what this roster needs, especially with so many questions at so many positions. For the analysis of this piece, we are going to assume that the Chiefs aren’t going to sign a premier playmaker as a free agent. No matter how many Allen Robinson tweets you favorite he’s not coming to KC for 1yr/$2M…
Sherman is well past the peak of his career and has done well for himself, playing in three Super Bowls and making plenty of money negotiating his own contracts. Sherman has stated that he wants to play for another contender and has great admiration for Mahomes and the Chiefs organization. Putting another physical corner into Spags’ system only makes sense and it allows the Chiefs to hedge drafting a corner early to wait on the development of players such as DeAndre Baker and BoPete Keys.
With Baushaud Breeland likely on the way out and Charvarius Ward entering his last year of team control (restricted free agent) adding another piece in the secondary makes sense. Though Sherman is not the shutdown player he used to be he still plays at a high-level ranking as PFF’s 38th overall corner. Sherman brings tons of intangibles to a defense as well and is an incredible representative for a team across the league. Brett Veach would have to work some magic but a two-year, back-loaded and incentive-laden contract could stabilize the Chiefs secondary and bring in another leader to an emotional defense.
The Chiefs need to function this off-season like they currently have zero starting tackles. Mitchell Schwartz is a total unknown, both injury-wise and as far as his career goes as well. Fisher will be out most of the season and is instantly at a high risk to suffer the injury again (see Derrick Johnson). Lucas Niang might be Cam Irving or he might be Tristan Wirfs, at this point he’s a complete unknown, and unknown is not acceptable when it comes to protecting Mahomes.
Enter Kelvin Beachum. Beachum has been incredibly consistent over the last four years and grades out as one of the better pass-blocking tackles in the NFL. He is not a strong run blocker however which knocks down his price some. He can provide some stability to the offensive line and can be depended on no matter what happens with Fisher or Schwartz. Worst case scenario is they sign him and he functions as their swing tackle for the year. The expectation is Beachum who is a long-tenured veteran will sign a one-year deal of around $4 million dollars.
The Chiefs have suddenly become two dimensional on offense. Three years ago, there was a vibrant backfield of Kareem Hunt and Damien Williams, an athletic Sammy Watkins, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. Now the offense has become a bit easier to contain because of the lack of weapons. Watkins frankly, has not looked himself most of the season and continues to be a waste of cap space when relative to playing time.
Mecole Hardman at this point cannot be viewed as anything else other than a number three or four receiver. The 2021 backfield could improve if Damien Williams returns with Clyde getting another season under his belt and Darrell Williams still around, but the offense lacks a second or third receiver. Considering that the Chiefs just lost to a team with three great WR, two good TE and two good RB’s, weapons are valuable.
I’d like to see the Chiefs address wide receiver with their first pick in the draft, no matter how severe the offensive line need is. The league is catching onto the fact that pass catchers who can separate are highly valued and should be prioritized in the draft. In order to capitalize on Mahomes’ value, they should not leave adding another WR to just the draft this season. This is why Keelan Cole makes some sense.
Cole has been a good receiver despite very limited QB play in Jacksonville; he is able to play out of the slot and on the outside as well. Cole is a good route-runner who ranks in the 60th percentile at creating separation against single coverage. He’s also been strong at the catch point, winning 52% of his contested catches over the past two years.
He would make a nice addition to Tyreek, Mecole, and Byron Pringle. Adding Keelan Cole in on top of a talented rookie such as Kadarius Toney, Elijah Moore or Rondale Moore would totally revitalize the wide receiving core. Keelan Cole is still just 27 years old and might be looking to set himself up for a bigger payday, the Kansas City offense is a great place to do that. Another added benefit? He can CATCH and return punts.
In just three moves, we have stabilized the offensive line (somewhat), added a great veteran leader to the secondary who still is rated over players such as Marcus Peters, Patrick Peterson and Janoris Jenkins, and given Mahomes another weapon.
The estimated cap hit could be anywhere between $10-$15M, which is still a big number for this season, but the Chiefs have several ways to manipulate that especially by reworking Mathieu, Tyreek, or Fisher’s deal, converting Mahomes’ deal to roster bonus and if Mitchell Schwartz retires.
More importantly, cheap free agents will be important to the team because they can’t afford to be in the trade market. They need all of the picks they can get. It’s highly unlikely that the Chiefs would be able to add three players of this caliber in free agency but adding one or two could be a step in the right direction.