Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champion Chiefs have their eyes set on a repeat
It took 50 years for the Chiefs to win the franchise’s second Super Bowl, and after head coach Andy Reid’s Hall of Fame-clinching breakthrough, the band is back together to try and do it again. The Chiefs believe they are just getting started adding to that Lombardi collection. Kansas City returns 20 of 22 starters from the Super Bowl and should contend for the crown as long as QB Patrick Mahomes is healthy.
A record-setting offense got more explosive through the draft, and a defense that found its sea legs midway through Steve Spagnuolo’s first season as coordinator should continue to improve. The Chiefs — from Reid and Mahomes to defensive leaders Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark to owner Clark Hunt and GM Brett Veach — are hungry for more.
Mahomes is the NFL’s supreme talent, an MVP in his first season as a starter and a Super Bowl champion the next. He also will be in Kansas City for the long haul after signing a record-setting, 10-year contract extension for $450 million that could be worth up to $503 million. With WR Sammy Watkins back on a restructured deal and the addition of RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs’ blitzkrieg offense should be even more potent — potentially on a generational level.
WR Tyreek Hill remains a preeminent deep threat, with blazing speed and an insane ability to track Mahomes’ downfield rockets. Travis Kelce, the only tight end in NFL history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons, remains a terror at the intermediate level, but the addition of Edwards-Helaire adds a more dynamic catch-and-run threat underneath, especially in the screen game.
Edwards-Helaire draws comparisons to former Eagles great Brian Westbrook, and few offensive minds are better at scheming matchups to get a running back the ball in space than Reid. Remember how incredible the Chiefs’ offense was in 2018 with Kareem Hunt in the backfield? Expect that, but with a more explosive backfield passing-catching option in Edwards-Helaire — an ideal scheme fit. Damien Williams, who scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl victory, was expected to team with the rookie, but he decided to opt out of playing this season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Darwin Thompson, last year's sixth-round pick, will get a chance to claim a larger role in the offense with Darrel Williams, an LSU product like Edwards-Helaire, also in the mix.
Watkins, who restructured his contract to free up $5 million in salary-cap space, and second-year WR Mecole Hardman bring additional game-breaking ability, so you’ll have to forgive opposing defensive coordinators for their night terrors during Chiefs week.
While Watkins has underwhelmed during the regular season in Kansas City, he’s been clutch in the postseason and remains a chain-mover from the slot. Hardman, who had only 26 catches as a rookie after entering the league relatively unpolished, should improve with a full season under his belt. His 20.7-yard average per reception, highest in the NFL among players with at least 10 catches, and seven total touchdowns (six receiving and one kickoff return) provide a glimpse of his ability.
Free-agent addition Ricky Seals-Jones adds another weapon at tight end with Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle providing depth at receiver.
Up front, the Chiefs return sturdy veteran tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, but the interior is looking at an overhaul. Nick Allegretti, a 2019 draft pick, figures to push Austin Reiter for the starting center job. At guard, even though Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and third-round pick Lucas Niang have opted out this season, Andrew Wylie will still have competition to retain his starting spot. Kansas City signed veterans Kelechi Osemele and Mike Remmers in free agency and Martinas Rankin should be healthy after tearing his ACL in Week 5 last season. Depth could either be an issue or could become a strength for this re-tooled line.
It took the defense half the season a year ago to establish solid footing under Spagnuolo, especially with DE Clark battling a neck injury. But the D won’t need two months to settle in this time around.
Safety Mathieu, who was brought in last offseason to rejuvenate the defense and reset the culture, was the team’s MVP. Spagnuolo turned Mathieu into the defense’s Swiss army knife — using him as a blitzer and in coverage at all levels. Mathieu and Clark helped remake the Chiefs’ defense in their image — gritty, swaggy and never satisfied.
Clark and DT Chris Jones, combined for 17 sacks and 34 pressures last season as a ferocious inside-out combination. Both are elite players and in their prime as pass rushers. Shortly after extending Mahomes the Chiefs inked Jones to a four-year contract extension that guarantees him $60 million and could be worth as much as $85 million.
Veteran DE Alex Okafor, who missed the last six games in 2019, is a liability against the run, but his five sacks also demonstrate his pass-rush value, which will be needed to offset the loss of Emmanuel Ogbah in free agency.
The emergence of DE Tanoh Kpassagnon last season was a pleasant surprise. Now, even more is expected after a breakout 2019 that included 4.0 sacks and 11 pressures. Demone Harris, who was signed off the Ravens’ practice squad, and fifth-round pick Michael Danna from Michigan, need time to develop as productive edge players.
Inside, DT Derrick Nnadi remains an unsung hero, leading the line with 48 tackles as the top run-stuffing option and perfect complement to Jones’ disruptive, sometimes risk-taking style. The rotation also includes DT Mike Pennel, who showed a knack for big plays in key moments after signing midseason. Second-year DT Khalen Saunders has crazy athleticism but needed a season to adjust from the FCS level.
Pass coverage is simply not a strength for MLB Anthony Hitchens or SLB Damien Wilson. Hitchens’ production plummeted in 2019 with the scheme change — down from 135 tackles to 88, which still led the team — but his even keel is an asset in the locker room, and Wilson has a home as a strongside thumper. Second-round pick Willie Gay Jr. from Mississippi State needs to pick up Spagnuolo’s system quickly and lock down the weakside linebacker job to fix KC’s coverage issues. He’s a speedy and fluid athlete with impressive range and ball skills for his size.
On the back end, Mathieu and second-year FS Juan Thornhill are a formidable pair. Thornhill had an excellent rookie season — 58 tackles, three picks and five pass breakups — but he missed the playoffs after tearing an ACL in Week 17 and may not be available to start the season. The Chiefs will count on Daniel Sorensen and Armani Watts for depth.
Starting cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are serviceable. Losing Kendall Fuller is a blow, but second-year CB Rashad Fenton projects as a fine replacement at nickel back. Antonio Hamilton, who came over from the Giants, and two rookie draft picks with intriguing athleticism, Louisiana Tech speedster L’Jarius Sneed and uber-confident Tulane grad Thakarius “Bopete” Keyes, add depth at corner.
Harrison Butker and James Winchester are entrenched at kicker and long snapper, but the Chiefs decided to move on from the longest-tenured player in franchise history, punter Dustin Colquitt. After 15 seasons, Kansas City, which saved $2 million against the salary cap by releasing Colquitt, will let undrafted rookie Tommy Townsend from Florida and former Notre Dame punter Tyler Newsome battle in training camp for the job. Hardman was a Pro Bowl return specialist as a rookie.
No offense to Reid’s signature press-conference line, but the “time’s yours” right now, Andy. The road will be tougher. Denver and Las Vegas have built up their offensive arsenals in hopes of halting Kansas City’s four-year reign atop the AFC West, but the addition of a seventh playoff team all but ensures Mahomes and company will get another crack at the postseason. Bottom line: It shouldn’t shock anyone if the Chiefs are the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the 2003-04 Patriots.