A Super Bowl loss followed up by a repeat performance just weeks apart, in the form of a 2nd half collapse, that allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to celebrate an AFC Championship on the hallowed grounds of Arrowhead Stadium. Ugh. The talk of any Chiefs’ dynasty is officially dead and the off-season is upon the Kingdom. As we slowly recover from a devasting loss (for the record, the Bengals are going to get crushed in the Super Bowl and at the end of it all, this is the Rams season. They sold out for their upcoming SB win) What will next season’s team look like and what needs to happen to return the Lombardi Trophy to K.C.?
The offensive inconsistencies were maddening this season and the AFCCG loss is a prime example, mistakes were made. The offensive had very few games where they went wire to wire full speed through a team. Slow starts or 2nd half meltdowns continue to plague this unit comprised of Pro Bowl talents like Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce. Therein lies the problem, defenses can key on those players. It is no secret that the offensive lacks a true #2 receiver. Mecole Hardman has his role as a gadget player, but a solid number #2 WR that borders on being a #1 is essential for this team.
With the Chiefs salary cap a work in progress they need to address a WR on two fronts. First, as we have come to know and trust Brett Veach, the Chiefs need to make a move on a free agent WR. With some wrangling the Chiefs should be able to get $50-60 million under the cap. It might hurt a bit, but it is possible. This kind of cap space should open the door for Veach to be aggressive in free agency. How aggressive and how much is he willing to commit to this position we will have to see. This year’s WR free agent pool is deep, Jacques Cousteau deep, and Veach needs to give Mahomes another Pro Bowl-caliber option and opposing defenses another problem to contender with on Sundays. JuJu Smith-Schuster, who probably regrets his choice of returning to Pittsburgh last season, could be a solid addition that wouldn’t break the bank, but wouldn’t Davante Adams be fun? The FA list also has Chris Godwin’s name on it, returning to Tampa Bay probably doesn’t sound as appealing with Brady retiring. Recently, Allen Robinson’s name has been linked to the Chiefs and would provide an instant upgrade. Will Fuller could warrant some consideration but seems a little Sammy Watkins-esque. This shouldn’t be too difficult to address as catching passes from Mahomes should be an easy sell.
Byron Pringle is one of the Chiefs’ FA who Veach should let test the market before possibly bringing him back on a team-friendly deal. Demarcus Robinson should not be in a Chiefs uniform next season and Josh Gordon might find himself in camp, but as with this season shouldn’t be considered to make any real contributions. Of course, extending Tyreek Hill is a no-brainer and would help free up some cap space as well. Finally, the Chiefs need to find a WR in the draft, last year’s pick of Cornell Powell did not yield any positive return. Unlike last year’s pick with Powell, the Chiefs need to find a WR that will be a solid contributor on a rookie deal. I am not going to do a draft preview but with eight picks, including five in the first four rounds, WR is paramount and should be addressed early.
Outside of this need, the Chiefs should work out a deal for Jerick McKinnon, his role in the absence of Clyde Edwards-Helaire is worthy of a role on this roster. This move could be at the expense of Darrel Williams, but nobody said there weren’t going to be tough choices. There is the Orlando Brown Jr. situation, but that seems a given that Veach will reach a long-term deal or use the franchise tag. Eliminating unnecessary searches would benefit the team allowing focus on positions of need. Brown is already invested in the team and although he did not have a stellar season, is the best option.
The defense, not unlike the offense, had a maddening up and down season. Languishing at the bottom of the league early in the season only to go on a dominant run, ultimately ended in a less than ideal playoff stretch. Just as Veach went all out on the offensive line last season, he needs to make similar moves on the defensive front this off-season. Frank Clark recently commented that his home is in Kansas City and it appears he wants to continue to play for Steve Spagnuolo’s unit. The problem is Clark’s contract will absorb 12% on the Chiefs’ salary next season and although his home is in K.C. it certainly hasn’t been in the opposing team’s backfield. Clark and Chris Jones registered zero sacks in the playoffs. ZERO. Hopefully, Veach reminds Clark of this fact when the Shark is given the option to restructure with a pay cut or call a realtor. Job #1 is to determine Frank Clark’s future on this team. Releasing Clark would cost the Chiefs in dead money, but it would also free up $13.4 million in cap space.
What happens with the Clark situation would determine how Veach would set up other moves. Of course, the next move would be with re-signing Tyrann Mathieu. Not unlike the Brown Jr. move, the Honey Badger seems like a no-brainer and a deal should have been done months ago. And again, not unlike the Brown Jr. move, Mathieu is already here and the heart of the defense. Why make more work trying to replace him when this defense has so many other issues to be addressed? As these two pieces fall into place will determine how Veach can address an entire revamping of the defense line. Alex Okafor is an unrestricted FA and deserves consideration, however, Jarran Reed added the last off-season should go. Reed was terrible early in the season as the expectation of reuniting him with Frank Clark fell flat. If the Kingdom is going to be witness to an overhaul, players need to go and Reed should be the first one out the door. The interior DL free-agent market isn’t particularly strong nor is the list of edge rushers which is why Melvin Ingram (who ignited this team after his mid-season addition) should warrant a contract offer. The rest of the FA market features some quality players, headlined by Chandler Jones and Von Miller, but 30-year-old plus DL who are seeking big contracts is not the answer. At least some of the DL revamp will have to come through the draft.
Finally, on the list of needs is the cornerback position. The Chiefs have ignored this position, outside of drafting L’Jarius Sneed, for years. Content with retreads or trades the Chiefs need to develop a shutdown CB opposite Sneed. Charvarius Ward is a free agent and is expected to be afforded the option to test the market, Ward is an option to return. Although the Kingdom might disagree, CB should be in consideration early in the draft. It is well past time to invest in a solid CB or a CB/hybrid safety to pair with the Honey Badger.
Finally, it doesn’t seem reasonable that we would not see Eric Bieniemy back on the sideline after another unsuccessful bid for a head coaching position. Regardless, as the defense needs to be revamped and reimagined, Andy Reid needs to reinvent the offensive scheme of this team. Although the Kingdom witnessed a maturation of PM 15, the old tendencies of pressing returned and cost them a trip to the Super Bowl (the Rams are winning it anyway.) Reid must rethink his “throw first, run maybe a little” tendencies behind in that loss to the Bengals. If this team is to deliver another world championship to the Kingdom it will be through the strong defense and a balanced offense. Reid needs to accept that and start planning now, because there will be a host of teams who will circle their date to play the Chiefs with plans on defeating, still one of the best teams in the NFL. If this season is managed properly, they will be “the” best again.
If the Chiefs want to return to the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi again (and again) during this golden era of Mahomes, fielding a top 10 defense is a key piece towards that goal. With the offense having received the attention during the draft and the last few off-seasons, this off-season needs to be the year of the defense. The Rams will win the Super Bowl, I am convinced, and part of the reason is they sold out to do it. It is time for the Chiefs to mortgage some of their future for another Lombardi or two. That starts with Veach making some moves on defense akin to those he made last year with the offensive. A top defense with this Mahomes-led offensive and true #2 receiver is the route to those championships.