Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part III

Tennessee Titans 27, Kansas City Chiefs 3

Something is wrong here. I’ve tried to be philosophical about the absurdly rough beginning to the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs season up to this point, but I now find myself out of excuses and explanations. For the first time in a long time — like, way before Patrick Mahomes became quarterback — there is real possibility that this team just isn’t very good.

The Chiefs went into the season with the NFL’s highest projected win total — 12.5 — and were the favorite to win the Super Bowl at +500. Directionally, every signal seemed to suggest they would fare similarly to how they’ve performed the last three years, where they produced a composite regular season record of 38-10 (.792) and went to three straight AFC Championship games.

As it stands the Chiefs are 3-4, with all their wins coming against sub-.500 teams (Browns, Eagles, Football Team) and all their losses coming against teams who are above .500 (Bills, Chargers, Ravens, Titans). Kansas City has been the favorite in every game they have played, and seemingly every game they have either underperformed or been flat-out dominated by the opposition. It’s been by far the most perplexing season of the Patrick Mahomes era, and one of the strangest overall I can remember.

Steven Ruiz of The Ringer posted an article earlier this week recounting all the failures of Kansas City’s General Manager, Brett Veach, from trading first round picks for Frank Clark and Orlando Brown, to using high draft picks on role players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Mecole Hardman, and it really digs into the gambles the organization has taken over the last four years that aren’t, or haven’t yet, paid off.

My contention — not necessarily with the article, but in general — is that everyone was aware that the Kick The Can Down The Road philosophy vis-à-vis the salary cap would eventually force the Chiefs into something of a lost season. When you dole out gigantic contracts to EDGE Frank Clark, QB Patrick Mahomes, DT Chris Jones, LG Joe Thuney and TE Travis Kelce, and have future obligations to pay safety Tyrann Mathieu (free agent after this year), LT Orlando Brown Jr. (free agent after this year) and WR Tyreek Hill (who will be a free agent after the 2022 season), it creates the ultimate sort of stars and scrubs roster. Heavy at the top, and weak everywhere else.

But this wasn’t supposed to have ramifications until at least 2023, one would think. And who knows, with how much the salary cap is projected to increase by then, perhaps even the Chiefs would find a way to make it work. The fact that this team has looked so bad, and so early on in this timeline, is at best troublesome, and at worst a total catastrophe.

That is why, contrary to The Ringer article, I don’t believe the current organizational comeuppance is strictly a botched job by the front office. There remains enough talent on the Chiefs’ roster not only to contend in the AFC but to win the Super Bowl altogether. The problem I’m having is identifying what the problem is. Speculation has never been my game of choice, but I do believe there are questions that need to be asked to get closer to the truth. Among them are:

  1. Patrick Mahomes injured his foot last year in the playoffs, and got surgery that called for a six-month recovery just three days after the Super Bowl. Is he still not feeling comfortable playing on it?
  2. Tyrann Mathieu is the leader of the defense, and he has still not received a contract extension. Is that creating a rift in the locker room?
  3. Andy Reid’s son got arrested for DWI and almost killed a child the weekend of the Super Bowl. Is Reid distracted, or downright depressed, dealing with the legal fallout of his son?
  4. During the offseason Frank Clark got arrested on gun charges in California, and the entire world knows he won’t be back with the Chiefs for the 2022 season. Is his lame duck status affecting the team?
  5. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is linked to multiple head coaching job openings, including the University of Southern California and the Las Vegas Raiders. Is that a distraction?

These are just questions I wonder about. The ineptitude of the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs could very well have nothing to do with any of them, or it could be some combination of all of them. Since it’s easier to get our hands on the nuclear launch codes than it is to peek behind the curtain of an NFL locker room, I won’t pretend to know what’s what. I am simply arguing that the inevitable collapse of this franchise wasn’t supposed to come this soon, that the talent level of this team is still too plush, and that the real cause is something outsiders cannot know about at this juncture in time.

After the fact, media members can fill the holes as they may, blaming the defense or turnovers or what have you. Every game tells a story. When I opened this article by saying “something is wrong here,” I wasn’t saying it was any individual game or any individual play. It’s everything. It just makes no sense that the most talented team in the NFL, the one that was expected to win more games than every other, that had better odds of winning the Super Bowl than every other, should be performing like some middling team.

Selfishly, I just really miss my favorite team playing well. I miss the fun they were having on the football field. The stories I mentioned from the last paragraph… I miss that most of them had a happy ending. I am proud of myself that for the last three years I never once took the Chiefs’ success for granted; I knew what I had and how lucky I was the entire time.

But I expect so, so much more. The Chiefs do, too, which is why it’s going to make a helluva story when they get themselves out of the rut they are in. There is obviously a chance — perhaps a good chance — that they won’t. But that’s an article for another time.

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