Disclaimer: I began this article on Saturday, March 13th, before the Chiefs agreed to terms with former Patriots’ offensive lineman Joe Thuney. The deal is apparently for 5 years and $80 million.
After winning Super Bowl 54 against the 49ers, the Kansas City Chiefs did what most world champion football teams do: They partied, they had a parade, and then they went ahead and took care of everyone. I’m talking about paying Patrick Mahomes like a half-billion dollars over the next 10 years; I’m talking about paying Chris Jones $84 million over 4 years; I’m talking about extending Travis Kelce’s contract for another $60 million over 4 years; they even gave contract extensions both to head coach Andy Reid and general manager Brett Veach.
Little did they or any of the rest of us know, about a month later COVID-19 took over the globe and (perhaps on a slightly lesser scale) changed the course of 2020 football season. As a consequence, the Chiefs utilized last offseason by prioritizing continuity over bringing in a batch of fresh faces that may or may not have markedly improved the roster. That wasn’t felt in signing or extending superstars like Mahomes, Jones and Kelce. Instead it was seen in re-signing players on the fringes, such as cornerback Bashaud Breeland, and keeping rather than releasing linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson.
Heading into the 2020 year the Chiefs returned an unprecedented 20 of 22 starters from their starting Super Bowl roster. The only losses were cornerback/safety Kendall Fuller (who signed with the Washington Football Team) and guard Stefen Wisniewski (who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers). As it worked out, because of COVID and what not, the Chiefs had two starters who opted out of the season — running back Damian Williams and guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — so the true number of returners came out to 18 instead of 20. Regardless, it’s an insane amount in a sport with a turnover rate as high as the NFL. It was a legitimate “Run It Back” campaign.
The result was a Super Bowl appearance. I feel the need to use “appearance” in quotes because in reality that’s as much as the Chiefs accomplished that night. It was a massacre. I wouldn’t trade the 2020 season for anything, but in retrospect it’s convenient to clutch to the idea that the success of the prior year — combined with it being a COVID year — ultimately hindered Kansas City’s ceiling. Had they not won the Super Bowl in 2019, and had it not been a year where continuity was an advantage (considering no OTA’s, no training camp, and less practice time), the Chiefs would have been much more prone to take shots to significantly upgrade the roster.
Since they got smoked in Super Bowl 55 against the Bucs, and since I’m relatively comfortable with the idea that we are now on the back-nine of COVID, this is now the offseason to take those shots. Last week the Chiefs released both their starting tackles — Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz — to clear roughly $18 million in cap space. And a day later they did the most obvious thing in the world and converted Patrick Mahomes’s 2021 base salary to a signing bonus, which will clear another $17 million in cap room. Given that Kansas City started the offseason around $20 million below the cap, these three moves alone figure to put them in the black by about $15 million (if 17 + 18 – 20 checks out).
The Chiefs’ front office is a lot smarter than I am, but I think the next logical move is to extend safety Tyrann Mathieu. I’m not sure what kind of cap saving that’s going to create — as opposed to what we know about the Fisher/Schwartz/Mahomes transactions — but I think it’s safe to assume it will be somewhere in the ballpark of another $10-$12 million, making the grand total of offseason spending money for the Chiefs right around $25 million. That isn’t anywhere near the war chest of teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who at $70 million have the most cash to spend, but it will allow Kansas City to go after one, or possibly two, elite free agents on the open market.
If it were up to me — which, again, it isn’t — I would put all my eggs into moving the needle on the offensive side of the football. The free agent target I most coveted heading into the offseason was Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson, but last week Chicago used their franchise tag on him and now I’m not so sure he’ll be available in the first place. For the Chiefs to acquire him it would at minimum cost their first round pick in 2021 (#31 overall), and probably a 3rd rounder to boot. Not only that, but if Kansas City used that much draft capital to get him it would also force them to sign him to some sort of extension, likely in the range of $20 million per season over the next four years.
Is any of that going to happen? Probably not. But would I be willing to give up the #31 and #93 picks, and sign Robinson to an extension? Absolutely. This is why I’m not the Chiefs’ GM, and this is why it’s always more fun to spend other people’s resources than it is my own. But I do have a theory for why I would do it. And it’s not complicated.
Patrick Mahomes has now been a starting quarterback in the NFL for three years, and in that time he has managed to make three AFC Championships, two Super Bowls, and has one title under his belt. The one year of the three he didn’t make the Super Bowl he was saddled with one of the worst defenses in the sport, and to defeat the Chiefs that night Mahomes didn’t touch the ball in the overtime session. The lesson there? Mahomes does not need an elite, let alone average, defense to go deep in the playoffs.
Adding a playmaker like Allen Robinson would be a cheat code for the Chiefs offense. As it stands now they have two elite playmakers aside Mahomes — WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Because of that most opposing defenses play some version of a concept known as “double-double”: they double-team Hill and Kelce, and play man coverage against everyone else. If KC added a third elite playmaker of Robinson’s caliber, defenses would be forced to abandon that strategy.
What I mean by that is they wouldn’t be able to double Hill and Kelce, because it would leave Robinson one-on-one. They couldn’t double Robinson and Hill, because it would leave Kelce one-on-one. And they could double Robinson and Kelce, because it would leave Hill on an island. Do you get it? I think you get it by now.
Many media members at this point are trying to convince people — or themselves — that since the Chiefs got crushed in the Super Bowl it means they should begin to comply with the ways of the old world. They should run the ball more; they should tighten up on defense; they should do all the things that won football games every year before Mahomes showed up and became the best player in the game.
What I argue is that Patrick Mahomes is a unicorn, and that he has changed (and continues to change) the game. So instead of improving both sides of the ball in hopes of a more perfect union of complementary football, I challenge the Chiefs to go absolutely scorched earth, overkill mode, on the offensive side. Surround Mahomes with Allen Robinson, use one of the draft picks on another lottery ticket at wide receiver, draft or sign another tight end to play opposite Kelce, and generate an offense that is dummy-proof even for a talent as great as Pat and a genius play caller like Andy Reid. Just put up 40 points a game, and forget about everything else.
My outlook bends towards turning video games into real life, but it isn’t the worst idea in the world. I think the only way the Chiefs could possibly botch this offseason is by trying to plug holes — on the offensive and defensive lines — rather than doing what’s necessary to stay a step ahead of the rest of the league. Having Pat Mahomes at QB makes it easy to take this championship window for granted, since everyone knows the Chiefs will be one of the favorites regardless if they make any sizable moves in free agency. I’m just of the belief that when you have someone like him, it can never be a bad thing to surround him with as much playmaking talent as possible.