Every year during the Marty Schottenheimer era, I thought, “This might be the year the Chiefs go all the way and win the Super Bowl.” Spoiler: it wasn’t. What hurt was that it felt like we were missing a rare, fleeting opportunity with each playoff loss. I never knew what was going to happen the next year. Would they get back in? The last Chiefs team to earn back to back playoff berths had Joe Montana and Steve Bono at quarterback.
This team with this coach feels different. If the Chiefs don’t win the Super Bowl this year, I have a good idea what will happen next year: The Chiefs will win 10-plus games, make the playoffs and try again.
That’s because the Chiefs window is still opening.
Derrick Johnson is a key starter whose injury could stop him from playing next year. After DJ the elder statesmen of the defense is Ron Parker at 29 years old.
Alex Smith is 32. That’s getting close to the end for a QB, but he’s probably got another few years of playing at the same level he is now. Dustin Colquitt is 34, but punters can perform well into their late 30s. Tamba Hali is 33, but he’s not a full-time starter anymore.
Who else is up there?
Jamaal Charles is 30, but the Chiefs have done all this without him. If he comes back next year, it would be in a limited role. Frank Zombo is 29 but he’s also a role player. Josh Mauga is also 29 but has been out all year. Eric Berry and Jeremy Maclin are 28. There are a handful of other 28-year-olds, of varying importance: Jaye Howard, Anthony Sherman, Jarvis Jenkins, Jah Reid, and Michael Person.
Most are under contract beyond next season besides Eric Berry and Dontari Poe, two starters who are due new contracts after this season. The Chiefs should be able to keep one or both. That means the only significant loss this year could be Berry or Poe.
To counter that potential loss, however, the Chiefs will have another set of brand new draft picks, rookie free agents, and hidden gems culled from other team’s practice squads and cut-downs. Not to mention the continued development of the Chiefs own young players. I count 21 starters or top backups with two or fewer years experience.
Now add in Derrick Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Philip Gaines, Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard, and Josh Mauga returning from injury. These are all former starters, and with as good as the team is, maybe only DJ has a good chance to win back a starting spot (with a nod to Bailey and Howard). The rest are most likely going to be depth ... if they make the team at all (which some won’t).
So if the Chiefs don’t manage to win it all this year, I can be happy with improvement over last year. Because next year can give them another shot, even with a more difficult schedule.
The Chiefs are a good team. Their window is still opening.