With free agency underway and the draft just a couple of weeks away, what areas have the Chiefs already improved on and what areas have they gotten worse?
It was clear after the debacle of Super Bowl LV, that the Kansas City Chiefs were going to need some help this offseason if they wanted to hoist the Lombardi Trophy once again. In that game, the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown and lost by double-digits for the first time in quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ young career.
They became only the third Super Bowl team to not come away with at least a touchdown. There were clear offensive struggles, mostly on the depleted offensive line, but there were also miscues between the receivers and Mahomes.
Defensively, they were outmatched and heavily penalized. Upgrades on both sides of the ball would certainly be warranted. So, with the draft remaining and training camp hopefully starting in July, have the Chiefs improved their roster, or is it looking worse for the upcoming 2021 season?
Here are three areas where the Chiefs have improved.
The Chiefs went out and signed one of the more coveted offensive line free agents this offseason in Joe Thuney. Thuney comes from New England and is only 28 years old and has played and started in every game since joining the league in 2016. In that time, he has only given up 33 total pressures.
Kansas City also brought in long-time veteran and three-time pro-bowler Kyle Long. When healthy, Long was one of the NFL’s best offensive guards. However, various injuries limited Long to eight games in 2016 and ’18, 10 games in 2017, and just four games in 2019. Long retired after the 2019 season to recover from a serious hip injury but is apparently good to go and will provide some nice depth for the Chiefs this season.
The Chiefs didn’t stop there though. As the Athletic’s Nate Taylor reported, the Chiefs signed center Austin Blythe to a 1-year deal.
Blythe has spent most of his career with the Rams and has started 48 games at the center position. He should be a slight upgrade over former center Austin Reiter.
It should also be noted that the Chiefs will be able to retain the services of guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, so he will also be added to the interior line depth.
The Chiefs made a big splash signing on the defensive side of the ball when they signed former Seahawk defensive tackle Jarran Reed. Pairing Reed in the interior alongside Chris Jones should help both players see more one-on-ones, according to ESPN’s Adam Teicher. Pass rush was also something that the Chiefs were having problems generating in last season’s Super Bowl. The result was Tom Brady being able to pick apart the Kansas City secondary.
Back-up Tight End
A quieter move that the Chiefs made this offseason was bringing back tight end Blake Bell. Bell was a backup tight end for the Chiefs during the Super Bowl season in 2019 but signed with Dallas last offseason. Now that he is back, he becomes an upgrade over Deon Yelder, Nick Keizer, or Ricky Seals-Jones. Plus, he has this awesome touchdown in the playoffs that lead to one of the coolest endzone celebrations from Eric Fisher.
Unfortunately, here are three areas where the Chiefs have actually gotten worse.
The loss of Sammy Watkins is a big one. I know, he had some injury issues and would have periods of the season where he was just unproductive, but when he was on, he was one of the best. He was a great compliment to Tyreek Hill, and he had big moments in some of the biggest games, including Super Bowl LIV.
However, it was time for both the Chiefs and Watkins to go their separate ways. The problem is that the Chiefs did nothing to try to replace him. They resigned Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle, so the thought seems to be that those two will compete with Mecole Hardman for the number two spot. In theory, this isn’t a horrible idea, unless none of them take that next step.
The Chiefs have tried to upgrade their cornerback situation since the team did not resign former starter, Bashaud Breeland. The team brought in 49er slot cornerback K’Waun Williams for a visit, but he ended up resigning with San Francisco. The Chiefs currently have rookie standout L’Jarius Snead, who by all accounts looks to be a legitimate star, Chavarious Ward, and newly signed Deandre Baker.
With Ward’s inconsistency and Baker’s inexperience, the Chiefs don’t have too many concrete answers at that position. The Chiefs will also have last year’s rookie BoPete Keyes and third-year backup Rashad Fenton, which also provides zero solutions to this huge problem.
The Chiefs lost veteran linebacker, Damien Wilson, to free agency this offseason. Wilson had 46 solo tackles, which was the highest among the team’s linebackers. The linebacking core as a whole was not very efficient, however. Last year’s rookie Willie Gay Jr. was the only linebacker to record a sack all of last season.
I understand that in this defense the linebackers are not primarily the pass rushers, but in 2019 the Chiefs linebackers recorded five and a half sacks. Clearly, the position fell off a little last year, and with the loss of Wilson, it doesn’t appear to be getting better.
Offensive tackle is another concerning area. It isn’t quite an area that got worse in the offseason. It’s just an area of unknowns starting with last year’s rookie and Covid-19 holdout Lucas Niang likely getting a starting spot.
Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz’s release was definitely a huge blow, but they were going to have a long road to recovery ahead of them and they may not have had much of an impact on the 2021 season. Mike Remmers struggled at left tackle in the Super Bowl but was pretty adequate in place of Schwartz at right tackle throughout the season.
Obviously, GM Brett Veach would like to improve these areas in this year’s draft, but it won’t fix everything. Guys are going to have to step up. That’s always been the case though. That’s how guys like Darrel Williams and L’Jarius Snead made their mark. Now it’s time for guys like Byron Pringle, Deandre Baker, Willie Gay Jr., and Lucas Niang to step up as they did. Because if they can’t, the 2021 season may end up being a rough one.