It was a rough offseason for Chiefs Kingdom at times. GM Brett Veach opted for a patient, draft-centric approach to rebuilding the defense, which led to a fan base meltdown when Kansas City traded Tyreek Hill to Miami for five draft picks. So is a rebuild coming?
The reality is that Kansas City pivoted into the second phase of Patrick Mahomes' career. The former MVP QB has a famously flexible half-billion-dollar deal, which the Chiefs tapped for cap relief the last two seasons, but that wasn't sustainable. Rather than make Hill the highest-paid receiver in NFL history, the Chiefs gained cap space this offseason by dealing him to the Dolphins and collecting draft chips in 2022 and 2023 to spend on cheap, controllable talent. It may prove to be a really smart move, especially after the rest of the AFC West took on massive costs in free agency to try and keep pace with the Chiefs, who won the division for a record sixth consecutive season in 2021.
Make no mistake, this isn't a rebuild — not with Mahomes as the QB and future Hall of Famer Andy Reid patrolling the sideline. The Chiefs absolutely expect to finish the season Feb. 12, 2023, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on the field at State Farm Stadium.
Statistically, Mahomes had the worst year of his career, posting the fewest passing yards per game — 284.6, which still ranked fifth in the NFL — with the worst passer rating (98.5, 10th)/QBR (62.2, fifth) in his four seasons as a starter. His touchdown-to-interception ratio also sunk to a career low, but don't panic. Mahomes completed a career-best 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,839 yards with 37 TDs and 13 interceptions — a dream season for most QBs. Perhaps a slight regression was inevitable after he missed out on a typical offseason while rehabbing after foot surgery following the Super Bowl LV loss. Mahomes remains an exceptional QB, and the newlywed wasted no time gathering the rest of the Chiefs' skill players for workouts in Texas after his March nuptials.
Kansas City traded away an otherworldly talent in Hill, yes, but the Chiefs still have Travis Kelce, one of the most productive tight ends in NFL history. Mecole Hardman Jr. also returns, coming off his best season, to lead a revamped receiving corps. To replace Hill's production, the Chiefs added two veteran receivers and proven weapons in former Green Bay deep threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who will play outside, and former Pittsburgh fireball JuJu Smith-Schuster, who will play in the slot. Neither will match Hill's franchise-record 111 catches last season, but they both should easily eclipse the production Kansas City got from Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson. Add second-round pick Skyy Moore into the mix, a route-running wizard from Western Michigan with clamps for hands and decent speed, and the Chiefs' receiving group is deeper and more talented overall, especially if Josh Gordon rounds into form. Kansas City may see more man coverage as opposed to the two-deep shell it struggled to crack without a diversity of weapons.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire and veteran Ronald Jones II, who signed with the Chiefs after losing his starting job with Tampa Bay last season, make a formidable pair in the backfield, with seventh-round pick Isaih Pacheco potentially adding a change of pace with a dash of elite speed. Jerick McKinnon, who is most effective as a receiver, also was re-signed.
Up front, Kansas City franchise-tagged LT Orlando Brown Jr. and re-signed RT Andrew Wylie, keeping one of the league's top offensive lines — including LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey and RG Trey Smith — together. Second-year right tackle Lucas Niang isn't expected to return from a knee injury until late in training camp at the earliest, but the unit has plenty of depth and versatility.
Kansas City's defense ranked fifth in the league with a 26.4 percent pressure rate, but that only translated to a paltry 31 sacks, fourth fewest in the NFL. After abandoning the Chris-Jones-at-DE experiment a few weeks into the season, Kansas City traded for Melvin Ingram III — a band-aid who helped the Chiefs rebound from a slow start to win the division and host another AFC Championship Game. But it was clear that the defense needed an overhaul after Kansas City blew a 21–3 halftime lead against Cincinnati with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
Veach reworked right DE Frank Clark's deal — he'll get $1.5 million more than the dead-money cost to cut him — and plucked Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis, a powerful two-way edge rusher with an unceasing motor who projects as the left defensive end. Kansas City will remain active in the pass-rush market right up until training camp if Ingram or another veteran has interest. Beyond Karlaftis and Clark, the DE group thins out with Mike Danna, Josh Kaindoh and Malik Herring, who should be recovered from a torn ACL and will get his first NFL look.
Inside, Jones and Derrick Nnadi return to anchor the middle with Tershawn Wharton, former Indianapolis DT Taylor Stallworth and Khalen Saunders providing depth.
Linebacker appears to be a strength for Kansas City, which released veteran Anthony Hitchens. That will allow Nick Bolton to slide to his natural position at middle linebacker with Willie Gay Jr. emerging as a playmaker at weakside linebacker and bruiser Leo Chenal, a third-round pick from Wisconsin, in line for a look at strongside linebacker along with former Carolina LB Jermaine Carter Jr. Chenal has the most value as a blitzer in the bunch, while Gay is rock solid in coverage.
Kansas City's secondary got battered at times last season and lost three starters — SS Tyrann Mathieu and corners Charvarius Ward and Mike Hughes. It should be no surprise then that half of the Chiefs' 10 draft picks were used on the secondary. Washington CB Trent McDuffie's first-round slide allowed the team to trade up and snag the athletic, sure-tackling and quick-processing phenom. He'll step in for Ward and joins Rashad Fenton as the presumptive starters outside. L'Jarius Sneed returns in the slot, while former Texans safety Justin Reid was signed to replace Mathieu alongside FS Juan Thornhill. McDuffie isn't as tall and long as Kansas City's preferred cornerback, but fourth-round pick Joshua Williams from Fayetteville State (6'3", 197) checks that box and could develop into a future starter. Look for third-round SS Bryan Cook, a heat-seeking missile from Cincinnati, to bring the same tenacity but more athleticism to Daniel Sorensen's old role as a box safety.
Kicker Harrison Butker ironed out his extra-point problems and remains one of the most accurate, clutch and dependable kickers in NFL history. James Winchester returns for his eighth season at long snapper, while punter Tommy Townsend made significant strides last year in his second season. Hardman is back as the punt returner, but Kansas City must replace Pringle as the kick returner and lost several critical coverage contributors. The departed quartet of Dorian O'Daniel, Marcus Kemp, Armani Watts and Ben Niemann all played at least 50 percent of special teams snaps.
It remains Super Bowl-or-bust for the Chiefs, who'd never hosted an AFC Championship Game before hosting the last four straight. Kansas City went to a couple Super Bowls and lost the other two title games in overtime, including last season's second-half collapse against Cincinnati, but there's no reason to think the Mahomes/Reid marriage is finished producing magic. Barring major injuries, the Chiefs will be in the thick of the AFC title hunt again. Written off amid midseason struggles last year, Kansas City is fine with prognostications of demise, especially after the Hill trade. It's more fuel for the competitive fire. Don't be surprised if the road to Glendale and Super Bowl LVII runs through Arrowhead Stadium.