Offseason In Review: Kansas City Chiefs

Although the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV team and multiple other squads from that period housed a whopping six Hall of Fame defenders, it is safe to say the Andy ReidPatrick Mahomes stretch represents the franchise’s peak. The Chiefs, who entered the 2017 season having never won back-to-back AFC West titles, enter 2022 with six straight division crowns. During the Mahomes leg of this reign, the Chiefs have not encountered much divisional resistance. They have become the only team to host four consecutive conference championship games.

But the rest of the division spent the offseason loading up to challenge the Chiefs, whose 2022 edition will look a bit different. Reid and GM Brett Veach moved two cornerstone players — Tyreek Hill and Tyrann Mathieu — off the roster, trading Hill and letting Mathieu walk in free agency. Kansas City was busy at both positions this offseason. How much will these retooling efforts and rivals’ big-ticket moves — one of which having a direct impact on the Chiefs’ plans — impact the perennial Super Bowl contenders’ 2022 season?

Trades:

The Chiefs had begun Hill extension talks in the weeks leading up to free agency. One year remained on the field-tilting speedster’s contract. But the Raiders soon acquired Davante Adams from the Packers, changing the equation not just for Hill but for the entire wide receiver market. The Chiefs balked at Hill’s new demands, which increased after Adams agreed to a then-receiver-record $28MM-per-year deal. Kansas City quickly pivoted to the trade market, leading to Jets and Dolphins offers. After a Jets proposal — one that did not feature any first-round picks but included two second-rounders — nearly sent Hill to New York, the Dolphins came in with a trade including the No. 29 overall pick and an extension (four years, $120MM) that topped Adams’ accord.

Of the offseason’s marquee wideout trades, Hill fetched his former team the most in terms of compensation. At 28, Hill is more than a year younger than Adams and possesses a skillset pairing historically elite speed with legit receiving chops — something most players in Hill’s speed realm have lacked throughout NFL annals. Hill will now entrust his Hall of Fame push to Tua Tagovailoa, while the Chiefs will be tasked with an interesting restart at the position.

It remains fascinating a Chiefs rival changed the AFC West kingpins’ path with one of their best players. Hill said he did not ask the Chiefs for an extension that topped Adams’ AAV but did ask the team for a deal in the $25-$26MM-AAV range. A vital piece during Alex Smith‘s final Chiefs season and to start Mahomes’ rapid ascent, Hill became an All-Pro on a Day 3 contract. The 2019 child-abuse scandal, which came years after a domestic violence arrest eventually dropped Hill to the 2016 fifth round, nearly led to a Chiefs divorce. But after no NFL suspension emerged, the team welcomed its deep threat back and gave him an $18MM-per-year deal — on a team-friendly structure as a result of his second off-field controversy. Hill outplayed that deal, stringing together three more Pro Bowl seasons. But the Chiefs joined the Packers and Titans in letting another team pay their top wide receiver at the new WR1 going rate.

This separation could be a seminal moment on the Chiefs’ timeline, considering the attention defenses paid to Hill. Teams increasingly moved to prevent Mahomes-to-Hill deep strikes last season, something that the receiver later confirmed caused internal frustration. This trade represents the biggest offensive change of the Mahomes era and presents some risk, given the Chiefs’ momentum and non-Hill issues at the position since Reid arrived.

Reid’s other receiver investments in Kansas City have largely not worked out. The 2013 Dwayne Bowe extension backfired, as the previous Chiefs WR1’s skills deteriorated quickly, and the Chiefs cut bait on Jeremy Maclin after two seasons. Sammy Watkins came up big in spots, but frequent injuries suffered in Kansas City have led to the former top-five pick’s value freefall. Drafted in the second round while Hill was barred from the team’s facility, Mecole Hardman has not panned out. Though, the fourth-year wideout may have a more prominent role as the team attempts an interesting post-Hill wideout configuration.

The Johnson flier resembles those the Chiefs took on former first-round cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Deandre Baker. A 2019 second-rounder, Johnson has one year remaining on his rookie contract. He is coming off a career-best three interceptions in 2021, but the young DB — whom the Texans used at corner and safety — fell out of favor in Houston. Pro Football Focus viewed Johnson as one of the NFL’s worst defensive backs during his Texans tenure. The advanced metrics website graded Johnson as the league’s worst primary cornerback in 2019 and slotted him as (by far) the league’s worst safety contributor last season, helping explain the 2024 seventh-round return.

Notable signings:

As Tyrann Mathieu lingered in free agency, the Chiefs quickly signaled they were not bringing him back for a fourth season by committing to Reid during the legal tampering period. Mathieu had also made a Houston-to-Kansas City trek, though Reid played his entire rookie contract with the Texans. Pro Football Focus barely rated Reid above Johnson last year, grading the former as the sixth-worst full-time safety. PFF offered much better assessments for the former third-round pick during his first two seasons, when the Texans booked playoff spots.

While the Chiefs are saving money here compared to Mathieu’s $14MM-per-year deal, the proven veteran is only tied to a $9MM-AAV contract with the Saints. Reid, however, is five years younger, at 25. DC Steve Spagnuolo will bet on the player with more prime years remaining.

Following the Reid accord, the Chiefs began work on their receiving corps. For a short stretch, it looked like Smith-Schuster would complement Hill. The wideouts overlapped as Chiefs teammates for over a week, and considering the Raiders extension’s effect on the AFC West champs, it can be assumed Kansas City at least envisioned a reality in which ex-Pittsburgh slot talent played alongside Hill and Travis Kelce. Smith-Schuster now stands to play a more important role for the Chiefs, but they have eyed the former Pro Bowler for a bit now.

The Chiefs finished second in the Smith-Schuster sweepstakes last year; the USC product prioritized familiarity with the Steelers to better position him for the 2022 market. That decision backfired. Ben Roethlisberger continued to decline, but Smith-Schuster was not there to see much of that deterioration manifest due to the Week 5 shoulder injury he suffered. Still, Andy Reid attempting to lure him last year and coming back to the table in 2022 — despite JuJu’s five-game season — is notable. The Chiefs have not had a consistent slot weapon during Mahomes’ time, though Hill would align there at points. Still just 25, Smith-Schuster has not been able to replicate the 2018 dominance he displayed alongside Antonio Brown, failing to come within 500 yards of that 1,431-yard year. But being paired with one of the game’s best quarterbacks and arguably its premier play-caller could reignite him.

Shortly after the Hill trade, the Chiefs poached the Packers’ top vertical threat. Valdes-Scantling has not caught more than 38 passes in a season, but the 2018 fifth-round pick’s deep capabilities produced a market. The Packers bowed out but were interested in keeping him. MVS led the NFL with a 20.9 yards-per-catch number in 2020, when he caught six touchdown passes. Like Hill, Valdes-Scantling has dealt with drop issues. He finished sixth in drop rate in 2020 but largely curbed that problem last season. Despite coming into the league three years after Hill, MVS, 28, is only a few months younger.

This contract doubles as a prove-it deal, with the Chiefs not guaranteeing anything into Year 2. Only Valdes-Scantling’s prorated signing bonus would count as dead money if the Chiefs moved on in 2023; they would be tagged with $4MM if they did so. For 2022, however, Valdes-Scantling will be a discounted deep target — albeit one with a larger catch radius than Hill, due to a 6-foot-4 frame. MVS joins Hardman and Skyy Moore as field-stretchers for the Chiefs, who will trot out a near-fully reshuffled receiving corps.

Wylie and Christian may be battling for the team’s right tackle gig, a position that has seen inconsistency since Mitchell Schwartz‘s ironman streak ended during the 2020 campaign. The Chiefs have locked-in starters at each of the other four O-line spots. PFF rated each of the Chiefs’ three right-edge options, a list that also includes 2020 third-rounder Lucas Niang, between 60th and 70th at tackle last season. Christian started eight games for the Texans in 2021. Niang might not factor prominently in the upcoming training camp competition. The 2020 COVID-19 opt-out suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week 17 of last season. Its right tackle situation is far from ideal, but Kansas City does have one of the league’s most enviable O-line situations on the whole.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire has not delivered on the team’s first-round investment, with injuries playing a significant part in his NFL stumbles. The Chiefs figure to give Jones an opportunity to work as a between-the-tackles supplement to Edwards-Helaire, who has, counting the playoffs, missed 14 games in two years. Bruce Arians reduced Jones’ responsibilities late in the 2020 season, turning to Leonard Fournette, who dominated the Buccaneers’ backfield in 2021. But Jones, before being diminished for “Playoff Lenny,” amassed 978 rushing yards (5.1 per carry) in 14 games two seasons ago. McKinnon took over as the Chiefs’ primary postseason back. Although the injury-prone veteran likely will not be in line for high touch volumes during many games, he represents another Edwards-Helaire complement/competitor.

Notable losses:

The Chiefs’ wide receiver reorganization project has received more attention, but the team also bid farewell to its top two secondary pieces. Mathieu lived up to the lucrative contract he signed in 2019, while Ward developed into the team’s top cornerback after it passed on extending Marcus Peters. Kansas City addressed these positions, but replacing the exiting talents may take time.

It can be easily argued the Chiefs cost themselves a second Mahomes-era Super Bowl title because of defensive staffing in 2018. Mahomes’ stratospheric debut was largely necessary to prop up one of the NFL’s worst defenses, a unit that could not stop the Patriots in an AFC championship classic. Mathieu was the biggest back-seven difference-maker in the years that followed. Poor starts to seasons plagued the Chiefs’ defense, but Mathieu’s versatility helped stabilize the group — particularly during a 2019 season that saw Spagnuolo’s first Kansas City unit transform into a reliable crew down the stretch. Mathieu earned All-Pro acclaim that season and for his 2020 contributions.

The safety/slot player’s jack-of-all-trades routine revived his career after it had drifted off course in Arizona. It is certainly interesting the Chiefs bailed on the Honey Badger this year, considering the midlevel pact required for the Saints to bring him home. Mathieu said the Chiefs did not offer him an extension.

Under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have largely passed on cornerback payments. The team did sign Sean Smith during Reid’s first offseason (2013), but no other notable deals have commenced. Peters was traded, and Ward, Steven Nelson and Kendall Fuller ventured elsewhere in free agency. It is difficult to argue with the grand scheme, but the team — particularly in games against the 2021 Bengals — struggled in big coverage spots. PFF viewed Ward as a top-25 corner last season, giving the former UDFA-turned-multiyear starter his best marks in 2021. The Chiefs’ Reid-era M.O. at this position makes it unsurprising they passed on retaining Ward, whom the 49ers gave a three-year, $42MM deal. Per usual, rookie-deal players will handle Kansas City’s outside coverage in 2022.

Ingram did not flash statistically, but the ex-Charger’s addition allowed the Chiefs to end their ill-conceived Chris Jones-at-defensive end experiment. The short-stinted Steeler notched two playoff sacks, and while the Chiefs attempted to retain him via the seldom-used UFA tender, the Dolphins poached the former Pro Bowler. Ingram’s exit leaves the Chiefs thin at defensive end.

They are deeper at off-ball linebacker, with recent second-rounders Nick Bolton and Willie Gay set to lead that group. The Chiefs signed Hitchens during the same offseason they gave Watkins a receiver-market-altering contract. Hitchens drew scrutiny, but the Chiefs received four starter seasons from him to provide decent value on a $9MM-AAV contract. Kansas City saved more than $8MM by shedding it this year.

Draft picks:

Although Nick Bolton, Trey Smith and Creed Humphrey‘s rookie-year showings instill more confidence in the Veach-Reid draft process after a few unremarkable hauls, the Chiefs’ top two 2022 picks will be asked to be full-timers at higher-profile positions immediately. The McDuffie selection obviously resembles the Chiefs’ Peters acquisition seven years ago, both being first-round investments after Huskies careers. But Kansas City returned its No. 1 corner (Sean Smith) when it added Peters. Ward’s San Francisco defection makes McDuffie assimilating early more important.

The Spagnuolo-era Chiefs have generated dependable corner play from late-round or UDFA investments (Ward, Rashad Fenton, L’Jarius Sneed), but the team ranked 27th in pass defense last season — bottoming out on Ja’Marr Chase‘s rookie-record 266-yard day. Using its top offseason asset to land this draft’s No. 3-ranked corner makes sense for a team with rising expenses elsewhere on its payroll.

Differing drastically from Peters’ profile, McDuffie did not produce a turnover last season and will be asked to anchor a group that will face the likes of Chase, Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen and Davante Adams. It would be nice if the Chiefs employed a bankable veteran complement as their 5-10 rookie steps straight into a marquee role, but that is not how they roll at this position. Offseason links to James Bradberry and Stephon Gilmore did not lead to deals, putting McDuffie and two former Day 3 picks (Fenton, Sneed) under some pressure.

Some of that pressure comes from a pass rush with questions. The Chiefs will pair Jones with an inconsistent edge anchor (Frank Clark) and a draft choice. After an impact freshman season, Karlaftis missed most of the 2020 campaign and totaled just 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a junior. More of a strength- and effort-based prospect than one with enticing measurables and athleticism, Karlaftis — like McDuffie — will not have the luxury of being eased into the Chiefs’ lineup. The cupboard is bare behind the projected D-end starters. Barring an outside addition — Jason Pierre-Paul, Carlos Dunlap, Trey Flowers and Ryan Kerrigan are available — the Purdue product will start opposite Clark. Jones at D-tackle all year should aid the Chiefs’ rush, but after the team registered 31 2021 sacks (29th), this group could use at least a capable rotational rusher.

Kansas City’s hyphenated hired guns will allow Moore more an easier NFL entrance, but Smith-Schuster, Valdes-Scantling and Hardman are all either in contract years or de facto contract years (in Valdes-Scantling’s case). Moore may be the only current Chiefs wideout tied to Mahomes long-term.

Taking over as Western Michigan’s post-D’Wayne Eskridge receiving anchor, Moore tallied 1,292 yards and 10 TDs last season. Moore went two picks after the Steelers took George Pickens and one spot after the Colts nabbed Alec Pierce. Profiling as a slot player and potential downfield presence, Moore landed in one of the best possible spots. The JuJu-MVS-Hardman-Moore quartet will form one of the NFL’s most interesting position groups this year.

With Mathieu gone and Juan Thornhill in a contract year, dot connecting to a long-term Cook-Justin Reid safety future is easy. Like Moore, Cook should not have to be a full-timer immediately. But Thornhill looked closer to his pre-ACL-tear version, at long last, in 2021. The 2019 second-rounder showing that form again in a pivotal year will give the Chiefs a nice-looking three-safety arrangement. Then again, the coverage corps does not look as formidable as it did with Mathieu.

Extensions and restructures:

Part of the reason the Chiefs might miss Ingram: Clark did not live up to the $21MM-per-year deal he signed upon being acquired via trade in 2019. Clark notched 4.5 sacks in 14 games last season and, after he salvaged his 2019 and ’20 seasons with eight combined sacks in those playoffs, the ex-Seahawk did not notch any sacks during last year’s postseason. Clark, who came to Kansas City with off-field baggage, was also arrested twice on gun charges in 2021. With no suspension coming last year, he is a candidate to miss time for these incidents in 2022.

But the Chiefs chose to run it back with the 29-year-old edge rusher, who again will be in line to be the team’s top D-end. Clark opted not to try his luck on the market, and the new agreement will reduce his 2022 cap charge from $26MM to $13.7MM. This is effectively a Clark contract year.

Other:

Kansas City deserves credit for its 2021 offensive line overhaul. Long-term starters appear in place at three spots, but the team’s long-lens outlook with its left tackle now bears monitoring.

Brown passing on a six-year, $139MM deal is a bold move. The second-generation NFL blocker earned Pro Bowl acclaim in his Chiefs debut and can bank on the team holding him in high regard based on what it gave up to acquire him (first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks). But the former Ravens right tackle is not yet a top-tier left-sider. The Chiefs offer’s five-year cashflow ($91MM) appears to reflect this view. The offer’s guarantees are not known; only the signing bonus ($30.25MM). After Hill and Adams allowed their new teams to use final-year dummy salaries to drive up their AAV figures, Brown nixing the Chiefs’ attempt at similar cosmetics shows his self-belief.

Trent Williams‘ 49ers deal also contains a large, nonguaranteed final-year salary ($32.2MM), though the Chiefs’ Brown offer was believed to include a $40MM-plus final-year base. It is understandable why Brown would be hesitant to commit six years, even at what technically would be a tackle-record price. The salary cap’s rise combined with the Chiefs’ 2021 trade points to Brown cashing in, but the ex-Raven — who entered the NFL after a woeful 40-yard dash time at the 2018 Combine — is also gambling he will not be exposed as a left tackle in Kansas City.

The Chiefs can tag Brown again in 2023 at the cost of $19.9MM. That is probably where this situation heads, positioning the 2023 spring-summer stretch as the time window that will determine if the Chiefs and Brown are a long-term match or a stopgap partnership. Brown has teased the prospect of skipping games, but after being tied to third-round money for four years, it would be stunning if he leaves franchise-tag game checks on the table.

Nagy making Mitchell Trubisky competent in 2018 does not receive enough credit. The former Chiefs OC’s experience, even in a job that veered off-course mostly because of QB ineffectiveness, will undoubtedly benefit the franchise this time around. This will be Nagy’s first run with QB1 Mahomes; he took the Bears’ HC job after five years tutoring Alex Smith. Same as it ever was for Bieniemy, who was connected to two of the 10 available HC jobs this year. Continuity like this is rare, with OCs paired with superstar quarterbacks or attached to prolific offenses receiving HC chances annually. For 2022, a Reid-Bieniemy-Nagy triumvirate should boost the Chiefs. Bieniemy going into Year 5 in this position still represents one of the weirder looks in recent coordinator history.

Top 10 cap charges for 2022:

  1. Patrick Mahomes, QB: $35.8MM
  2. Chris Jones, DT: $29.4MM
  3. Orlando Brown Jr., LT: $16.7MM
  4. Frank Clark, DE: $13.7MM
  5. Travis Kelce, TE: $8.9MM
  6. Joe Thuney, G: $8.2MM
  7. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR: $4.9MM
  8. Justin Reid, S: $4.6MM
  9. Mecole Hardman, WR: $4.4MM
  10. Harrison Butker, K: $4.2MM

Mahomes and Jones’ cap numbers skyrocketed from their 2021 places ($7.4MM, $8.5MM). Both those figures rank in the top five across the NFL. That and Brown’s tag number now officially on the 2022 books forced the team to make adjustments this year. But Clark’s pay cut and Kelce’s attachment to a team-friendly contract helps the Chiefs’ cause.

How this machine functions without Hill and Mathieu will be crucial intel for the AFC equation. Kansas City will not enter the season as the kind of favorite it was from 2019-21, and the spooky AFC championship game ending could produce a hangover. But the Reid-Mahomes partnership (55-16 in regular-season or playoff games the superstar QB starts) and a strong O-line still makes this one of the NFL’s highest-floor operations — no matter what the rest of the AFC West did this offseason.

View Comments (7)