The Chiefs run-it-back campaign ended frigidly in Central Florida as the Buccaneers bullied them in this year’s Super Bowl. Kansas City’s Super Bowl showing was hardly something that we’ve come to expect from an Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes-led football team. Mahomes was running for his life in the pocket from start to finish, receivers were dropping passes that hit them in the facemask, and the Chiefs defense surrendered nine penalties. However, instead of focusing on Kansas City’s disappointing Super Bowl performance, let’s take a look at their body of work in this past season as a whole. Additionally, we will discuss how the Chiefs can improve their roster through the draft and in free agency.
The Chiefs appeared to be the most complete football team heading into the playoffs. Had they not rested starters in week 17 and lost a fluky game to the Raiders early on in the year we could have been looking at an undefeated season. As anyone could have guessed, the Chiefs were again led by their dynamic offense. In year three as the trigger man for the Chiefs, Mahomes threw for 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns, and six interceptions. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce combined for 2,692 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns. Hill and Kelce were easily the most dangerous tandem of skill players in the NFL this past season.
Similar to years past, Kansas City’s concerns heading into the playoffs were largely on the defensive side of the ball. Their defensive DVOA over the course of the season ranked 21st in the league. Kansas City’s defense fared decently in pass coverage, but their biggest issues were again in the run game. The Chiefs allowed 123.2 rushing yards a game which ranked them 19th in the league.
However, the Chiefs defense would often buffer their subpar play with timely turnovers. This created the perception that they could do just enough to capture another Super Bowl with the help of Mahomes and company. However, there were stretches during the year where Kansas City’s defense couldn’t stop a cold during the summertime. The question now becomes how this problem can be addressed through free agency and the draft.
Salary Cap Situation
It is well known that the salary cap is going to drop for this upcoming season. According to Pro Football Network, the Chiefs are expected to be about $15 million over the cap as it stands right now. Which means Kansas City’s front office has some difficult decisions ahead of them regarding roster cuts and contract restructuring. It is inevitable that Kansas City will have to cut some players if they want to clear cap to bring in new free agents.
Another option that exists for Kansas City is restructuring some of their larger player deals for more cap space. Specifically, converting Mahomes’ $21 million roster bonus to a signing bonus this year could save around $17.5 million in cap space for the 2021 season (h/t Pro Football Focus). If the Chiefs choose to cut players this offseason, there is one position group that immediately comes to the forefront of the conversation.
Much of Kansas City’s problems in the Super Bowl were on the offensive line. As mentioned earlier, Mahomes was running for his life throughout the game. This is in large part because the team was without their two starting tackles due to injury. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz had been out of action since week six due to a back injury. Left tackle Eric Fisher tore his Achilles near the end of the AFC Championship game against the Bills.
Fisher’s significant injury will keep him on the shelf for essentially all of next season. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but Fisher’s release would save Kansas City roughly $12 million against the cap. A Schwartz release would save Kansas City about $6 million in cap space. These are both hypothetical cuts. As of now, there has been no indication that Kansas City is exploring these options. However, if they wanted to move the offensive line in a different direction it is most likely that Fischer would be the first release.
There is a solid chance that the Chiefs select their left tackle of the future in the first round of this year’s draft. Christian Darrisaw out of Virginia Tech is likely to be available at number 31 when the Chiefs are on the board. Darrisaw was a two-year starter at left tackle for the Hokies. He just finished off a great junior season that earned him an All-ACC nod. At 6’5″ and 314 pounds, he has above-average size and speed for the position. Agility and speed are important when blocking for Mahomes as he frequently likes to escape the pocket and make throws on the run.
The Chiefs are also in need of help on the interior offensive line, specifically at the center position. It is worth noting that right guard, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, will likely be returning next season after taking this past year off to work in a medical care facility to combat the spread of Covid-19. If he can return to the level he was at in 2019, he will be a welcome addition to Kansas City’s offensive line. At the moment, both of Kansas City’s centers, Austin Reiter and Daniel Kilgore, are unrestricted free agents. It is possible that the Chiefs could choose to re-sign one of these players. However, getting younger at the center position is likely the team’s better option.
It would not be surprising if the Chiefs use their first two picks in the draft on offensive line help. In round two, Kansas City owns the 63rd pick, and there is a possibility that they could snag a center with that selection. Creed Humphrey is a center out of the University of Oklahoma. It wouldn’t be surprising if Humphrey was off the board before the Chiefs are on the clock in round two. However, if he isn’t, the Chiefs would have their starting center of the future.
Humphrey was a three-year starter at Oklahoma and this past season he was awarded the Big 12 offensive lineman of the year. He’s a solidly built guy that possesses great strength and an extremely high football IQ. The knock-on Humphrey is that he isn’t very athletic, but he makes up for that with his intangibles.
Read More: Creed Humphrey Scouting Report: The Anchor
Kansas City also needs to bolster their depth at the defensive end position. Outside of Frank Clark and Chris Jones, the Chiefs had a fairly non-existent pass rush in 2020. Many Kansas City fans are clamoring for the front office to make an aggressive play for J.J. Watt, but that seems highly unlikely given their cap situation. The wiser choice would be targeting a defensive end in the draft.
Patrick Jones II
The Chiefs have the 95th pick in round three of this year’s draft. A player worth considering is Patrick Jones, the defensive end out of the University of Pittsburgh. Jones had 17.5 sacks during his last two seasons in college. He has great speed for an edge player and he holds his own in run defense. Jones has the potential to be a productive starter in the NFL for many years.
Sammy Watkins is Kansas City’s biggest unrestricted free agent this offseason. With Kansas City’s salary cap situation and considering Watkins’ presumable market value, it is likely that he will be in another uniform next year. It is entirely possible the Chiefs will be on the hunt for another veteran receiver at a cheaper cost. Alshon Jeffery is a player that immediately comes to mind.
The Eagles recently released Jeffery who had some great moments for the organization. During his time in Philly, he was also often on the injury report. Jeffery played in 17 games over the last two seasons, but this past year he hardly touched the field. It is reasonable to assume the Chiefs could sign him inexpensively on a one-year prove-it deal to see if he has anything left. If Jeffery can remain healthy for a full year he could be a great pairing to go alongside Hill, Kelce, and Hardman. Jeffery is a solid possession receiver that does a great job of high pointing the football over defensive backs. He has lost a step as the injuries have mounted and as has gotten older, but he still has value and is potentially worth taking a chance on.
If the Chiefs instead elect to improve the receiver position through the draft, there is one player that fits their scheme very well — T.J. Vasher. Vasher is a lengthy receiver out of Texas Tech. It is likely that he will still be on the board in round 4 at pick number 127 when the Chiefs are selecting. Vasher played in six games for the Red Raiders this past season and his stats were uninspiring. Additionally, there are some character concerns surrounding Vasher’s motivation and attitude. However, there are not many receivers entering the league that have his physical tools. He is 6’6″, has above-average speed, and possesses outstanding hands. Vasher’s skill set and frame are going to entice some NFL front offices. It is hard to imagine a situation where his name does not get called on day two of this year’s draft.
Kansas City could also use some more depth at the cornerback position. L’Jarius Sneed had a great rookie season at cornerback for the Chiefs this past year. Kansas City’s other starter at cornerback was Bashaud Breeland who is now an unrestricted free agent. Breeland’s play was average in 2020, but he struggled significantly during the playoffs. The Chiefs could very well retain him on a decently priced one-year deal. Demand for Breeland in free agency will likely not be too high. However, if the Chiefs do choose to move on from him, Richard Sherman could be a player the Chiefs have an interest in.
Sherman played in only five games this past year due to a calf injury that kept him sidelined for an extended period of time. The season prior, he proved he was still an elite NFL cornerback. Sherman was one of the main cogs on the 49er’s defense during their run to the Super Bowl. He is now 32, but his football IQ combined with his leadership skills will make him a valued commodity during this year’s free agency. The Chiefs could benefit from having Sherman across from Sneed if the price isn’t too high.
The Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. Oh, did I mention Patrick Mahomes? From a skillset perspective, Mahomes is arguably the most talented quarterback that we have ever seen in the NFL. The scary thing is that he’s only getting better and you better believe he’s coming back with a vengeance in 2021. Mahomes is an elite competitor, his offensive weapons are fully automatic, and his head coach is an offensive mastermind. I assure you, the Chiefs will be just fine.
That is not to say there isn’t room for improvement on this Chiefs roster. Any NFL team that sustains long-term success is constantly tinkering with parts. The largest need the Chiefs have is shoring up the offensive line so Mahomes can do what he does. The next need is to add two impactful players on the defensive side of the ball. Adding a legit player at cornerback and one on the defensive line would do wonders for a defense that has had its documented struggles. Additional wide receiver help isn’t on the top of the list, but it never hurts to make a fast car faster.
There is no way to sugar coat it, the Chiefs’ performance in the Super Bowl was a huge letdown. Instead of Patrick Mahomes taking the reins as the league’s most promising son, Brady instead re-cemented himself as the G.O.A.T.
Here’s how Chiefs fans should rationalize what happened on February 7th: The Buccaneers were a worthy adversary, plain and simple. They were on a playoff hot streak, their defense was overbearing, and Todd Bowles put together a great defensive game plan to stifle the Chiefs’ offense. It’s never easy winning a Super Bowl and making it back the next year. The Chiefs accomplished that and it’s something the players, organization, and fans should take pride in. The run-it-back chapter might have come to an end in Kansas City, but it’s time to commence revenge SZN.