Optimism runs high this time of year. Every team has cause to believe the future is bright and anything is possible. This year's offseason "winners" like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders show how even longtime basement dwellers believe in a breakout season. Maybe it will.
That aside, there's also not enough realism/pessimism this time of year — unless you read Internet comments. Every year, there are teams who fall apart for reasons both foreseen and unforeseen. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens just couldn't stay healthy. The Colts lost their star quarterback. While most bad teams will likely remain bad no matter the offseason moves, some teams will miss the playoffs because things just fell apart.
For this column, let's swallow the red pill. Let's live with a harsh reality to see if the Chiefs are built to withstand it. For this round, we're going to focus solely on the offense to see what a worst case scenario sort of season (within some realistic parameters) could mean.
[Editorial note: By worst-case scenario, we're not going overboard with "every member of the team gets an ACL tear including Clark Hunt." Rather, it's a measured worst-case scenario. Maybe I should call it pretty bad scenario, but there we lose the dynamism of the piece.]
Worst-Case Scenario: Alex Smith misses significant time
The comments on this piece are destined for another Alex Smith-themed dumpster fire, but since I'm the author, I will declare that Alex Smith represents the Chiefs' best chance of winning and it's not even close. Despite recent QB rankings that place him 20th in the NFL, I'd take Alex over the 5-6 above him as I think he's an above average option. The Chiefs paid two second round choices for him, so they agree with me. Not you.
The Outcome: Complete wild card. It's impossible to even have an educated guess of what Tyler Bray, Aaron Murray or Kevin Hogan might bring at the pro level. Too few preseason reps. Injury concerns. Mental adjustments. There's just literally no way of knowing after Chase Daniel sat at the No. 2 slot for the last three years.
What this means, however, is that even in a worst-case scenario, the floor is an inexperienced quarterback. Denver just won a Super Bowl alternating between Dikembe Mutombo and a limp noodle at quarterback, so I'm not convinced the Chiefs' season is lost if they lose Alex. In addition, there's the chance — the slim chance — that one of the young guys actually looks the part of NFL starter.
Appropriate Emotion: Recoverable stomach punch
Worst-Case Scenario: Jamaal Charles doesn't return to form.
Charles is coming off of another season-ending injury. He's going to be 30. Fate typically only needs one of these to pull the rug out from under a professional athlete's career.
The Outcome: The Chiefs are pretty well versed in this emergency drill. They've practiced it enough to know how to diversify the offense without the greatest catalyst on the offensive side of the ball. John Dorsey also re-signed Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware to extensions in the offseason, albeit small ones, that show he liked them enough to keep the tandem in house. They moved the chains last year when Charles was lost, and it seems like experience and a stronger offensive line should let them do so again. Plus the fact that Knile Davis is still around means the Chiefs have more depth here than anywhere else.
Appropriate Emotion: A cry for Jamaal. An unfortunate shrug for the team.
Worst-Case Scenario: Jeremy Maclin suffers a serious injury.
There are several not-so-great scenarios here. Rod Streater is more like Weston Dressler than free agent find. Albert Wilson's ceiling isn't as high as Dorsey says it is. Defenses never have to truly respect Chris Conley's ability. Yet all of those pale in comparison to losing Maclin, the sure thing. He's the complete package, a true top-flight receiver, and he's extremely well-versed in Reid's offense. Dorsey cheated to get him for a reason. (Ba-dum-ching!)
The Outcome: Mixed. The Chiefs offense was a limited offense last season. Without Charles, the Chiefs just couldn't move the chains like they should have. If Charles remains healthy and returns to form, then losing Maclin might not hinder the passing game like you think. Over the long haul, however, the loss of Maclin would really complicate things.
Maclin did miss the Steelers game last season, his only game missed, and the Chiefs beat the great Landry Jones in Week 7. It was nice to see Conley and Wilson combine for 9 catches for 134 yards and 1 touchdown on 13 targets in that game. The Chiefs would need significant steps forward from both players to absorb a long-term loss of Maclin.
Appropriate Emotion: No! No, no, no, NO!
Worst-Case Scenario: Travis Kelce lost for the season.
I was surprised at the lack of moves at tight end this offseason. The Chiefs had plenty of mid-round picks with which to grab another strong tight end candidate, which means John Dorsey feels very confident in James O'Shaughnessy and Demetrius Harris to back-up Kelce. Both players, on paper, are supposed to be very athletic pass catching options who could move the chains. If Kelce goes down, that's exactly what will be needed.
The Outcome: No offense to Harris or O'Shaughnessy, but Kelce was paid the big bucks this offseason for a reason. If he were lost for any length of time, the Chiefs offensive formation is basically 11 guys curling up in the fetal position. Otherwise known as the I-Formation.
Appropriate Emotion: Burn a jersey. Light yourself on fire.
Worst-Case Scenario: Everything falls apart. Everything.
When I say everything falls apart, this is what I mean: Eric Fisher officially qualifies as a bust from even the most patient of perspectives. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif starts taking hospital shifts. Mitch Morse gets another concussion and calls it quits. Mitchell Schwartz removes his mask on the field in Week 1 to show he's really Bart Schwartz, the disappointing youngest Schwartz brother who could never earn his Coach / Father's favor. Zach Fulton starts 16 games at any position. The casual fan becomes familiar with the name Reid Fragel.
The Outcome: It won't happen. I actually like what the Chiefs have done here: trust their coaching staff. Last season, they tried a different approach to fix the guard situation. They signed a veteran in Paul Fanaika. They traded a draft pick for another veteran in Ben Grubbs. Neither one worked out. This year, they've allowed Fulton, LDT and others to blossom — even if their ceiling is as versatile back-ups. They've drafted another option in Parker Ehringer. They've re-signed Jah Reid as another capable, versatile body.
Even more, they sunk serious dollars into right tackle to make the outsides as strong as possible. Schwartz is far better than anyone at right tackle the last few seasons. There's every reason to believe that Fisher gets better with another year of conditioning and experience. Morse was already pro-ready early in the season. There are enough moving parts here, especially developmental ones, that if some things don't work out, the rest of them will.
Appropriate Emotion: Fairly chill.