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Stagner Things: Don’t call it a rebuild

In the midst of a wild Chiefs offseason, I felt the need to inject some optimism into the narrative, and apparently Chiefs general manager Brett Veach agreed.

“We kind of knew where this thing was going, both in the short and long-term,” Veach explained. “I think as we continue to progress through the month of March and to the draft, I think more of our ideas will get out there and the fans will be excited about it.

“We believe in what we’re doing. We know what we’re looking for in players and our roster and our culture. We believe in ourselves and we believe in our ability to evaluate talent and put people in positions to succeed.”

Here are a few thoughts I’ve been stewing on when it comes to the state of the Chiefs:

1) Rebuilding, Schmebuilding. We’ve seen the dreaded “rebuild” term thrown around this offseason as individual moves come to light. It’s a term that is like fingernails on a chalkboard for optimistic fans.

Yes, the team is clearly trying to get younger by jettisoning veterans like Derrick Johnson, Darrelle Revis and Ron Parker so far. Tamba Hali, Frank Zombo, Allen Bailey could be next. But, those objectively watching the Chiefs over the past couple of seasons would probably agree that those moves were needed, or even past due in some cases.

“We never get into the mindset that we’re going to be a rebuilding team,” Veach explained. “I mean we’re going to be aggressive—we’ve got young players we believe in and we’ve got a nice mix of veterans who will provide stability. We have a plan we believe in and I think we’re set up for the short and long term.”

2) Young doesn’t equal worse. Some franchises do have to rebuild—they hit rock bottom, fire everyone, cut or trade all of their highly paid veterans, stockpile draft picks, and give starting jobs to young guys hoping they can field a full team. The Chiefs are NOT one of those teams, contrary to some popular opinions. The NFL is, however, a young man’s league, and there is something to be said for guys on their rookie contracts flying around the field looking to make a name for themselves and earn a second payday. Getting younger doesn’t mean the Chiefs are getting worse.

They might not be better on a player-by-player basis, but they could be better as a unit. We can’t expect the Chiefs to find a corner better than Marcus Peters or a linebacker that knows the game better than Derrick Johnson. But they just might find that a combination of the core talent on this team and a new wave of talent can produce better results.

3) New GM = remake of the roster. When the Chiefs and John Dorsey parted ways, we debated about whether or not the new general manager was a good or desirable spot for aspiring front office executives in the league. The main point against it being attractive was that the roster was pretty much “set,” and that a new GM would prefer to have a place where he could leave his mark. GMs want to be able to remake the roster in their own image and not be seen as “winning with someone else’s roster.”

When Brett Veach was hired, we assumed that the reason was continuity. Veach, we thought, wouldn’t feel the need to overhaul the roster, because he helped Dorsey and Reid build it. Fast forward to 2018: It’s Veach’s first offseason, and maybe we missed the point a bit. Veach is clearly trying to leave his mark on this team and isn’t shy about shaking things up along the way. Perhaps this level of turnover would’ve happened anyway. But, it’s obvious now that the young GM is remaking the Chiefs in his own image. Maybe we should have seen it coming.

Listen to Veach talk here. He’s relaxed, but confident and clearly knows what he’s doing. He seems to be trying to contain his enthusiasm, but it’s hard to watch him and not come away excited about this team’s future.

4) The Marcus Peters trade wasn’t about rebuilding. Peters wasn’t highly paid, or old, or even declining. He is an elite talent on a rookie contract. An aggressive player who, on the surface, fits everything you’d want in a team loaded with young talent. It’s safe to say that Peters’s case was an unfortunate exception. Whatever the cause, the team felt they had no choice but to move on. Once the decision was made, the Chiefs got the best return they could get under the circumstances, and it was done.

In retrospect, I do believe there was a connection with the Alex Smith trade, in that Kendall Fuller was the key to the makeover that was coming to the Chiefs secondary. Veach had a plan, and he’s executing on it. The least we can do is see the rest of the plan play out before assuming they’ll be worse, right?

5) It was just one of the bold, decisive moves that will define the new Chiefs. Fuller and David Amerson will join the new look defense and attack the football from the cornerback position. Reggie Ragland and Cam Erving are young, talented players that many in the league had given up on, but the Chiefs were willing to take a chance. The Chiefs have made two blockbuster trades and signed another recently cut player to a team-friendly deal, and the league year hasn’t even started yet. Just watch the flurry of moves that are coming once the league year starts. I have a feeling they will all fit a similar pattern. Young, aggressive, fast, bold.

6) Mahomes changes everything. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs tried to surround him with veterans who fit his style of play. They didn’t ask him to do too much, tried to protect the football and “bend, don’t break” on defense. Many expected the Chiefs to eventually draft his successor, but most assumed it’d be a guy who plays the game in a similar fashion. It seemed out of character that this franchise would trade up in the draft for a guy who was considered high-upside, high-risk like Mahomes.

Now that he’s been given the keys to the team, expect to have a different experience watching Chiefs games. No play is ever dead, no deficit out of reach, no throw impossible with this kid under center. Wide receivers suddenly are capable of breaking out on any given week. The same basic plays we saw in 2017 will turn into big plays more often when Mahomes executes in his own way. Expect the defense and special teams to feed off of the offense, and to have more opportunities to make big plays of their own. The move to draft Mahomes changed the direction of the franchise and set the ball rolling for everything else Veach has done and will do. With a dynamic franchise QB on a rookie deal, anything is possible.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

7) This offense is predicated on speed. There’s no faster player in the NFL than Tyreek Hill. There’s no more dynamic down-field tight end than Travis Kelce. There aren’t many running backs that can break off a big play in the air or on the ground better than Kareem Hunt. Demarcus Robinson and Chris Conley can both run. The offensive line is built with guys that can get out and move in space. This offense is going to be exciting to watch, and it might not be done adding weapons just yet. For the first time in many of our lifetimes, the Chiefs are building around a quarterback they drafted and putting him in a position where he’s destined to make plays.

8) So, why would you want an old, slow defense? A change was needed on the Chiefs defense. Too often it felt like Bob Sutton’s unit was helpless against opposing offenses. The pass rush couldn’t get home, the linebackers were a step slow, and the secondary couldn’t stop the quick passing game. Many blamed the defensive coordinator for not being aggressive enough, and not adjusting. Clearly, the Chiefs disagreed. It’s reasonable to assume that they found the players unable to execute their assignments, or unable to execute the scheme they’d prefer to call. Will the defense be instantly better after replacing DJ, Peters, Hali and others? Perhaps not. But, they’ll likely be faster, and hungrier, and that just might be exactly what they needed.

9) The Chiefs are even taking a fresh approach when it comes to coaching. Maybe we haven’t talked enough about the shakeup on the coaching staff. Gone are Gary Gibbs, Brad Childress and Tommy Brasher, who were among the oldest and longest-tenured on the staff. Most of the new hires were promotions, with new young coaches added at the quality control level. The youngest addition was a draft-eligible,coach’s son that played for Utah in 2017. Mike Kafka might be the most notable of the youth movement, as he’ll work with Mahomes and build his resume as an up-and-coming offensive coach. The Chiefs added one of the best running backs coaches in college football after promoting their own vocal energetic running backs coach to offensive coordinator. This won’t be the same old staff surrounding Reid. Perhaps some of these new coaches will change the trajectory of the players and plays we’ll see on the field starting this season.

10) Even the coach that isn’t changing may be changing. Andy Reid seems to indicate that they’ve tailored the offense around what Mahomes did in college.

“Patrick comes from the system there at (Texas) Tech and they do a great job offensively there of throwing the football,” Reid has said. “We’ve incorporated a little bit of that stuff because Alex had done a little bit in college also. So we went back and pulled some of that out for Alex. Once he had the chance to get in the offense for that Denver game we kind of did the same thing there. We’ll just see how everything rolls down the road here.”

So, perhaps we’ll see another new version of Andy Reid and his offense. He’s credited with some serious innovations in the last couple of seasons that members of his coaching tree have taken with them to Philly and now Chicago. He’ll need to keep innovating to stay ahead of the curve, and Mahomes is the perfect quarterback to get creative with.

11) Nothing here points to a team that doesn’t expect to win this season. They aren’t giving themselves a pass on 2018 just to hope they can win in 2019. That’s not where this franchise is. They have a young GM and an innovative head coach, a franchise QB, exciting weapons on offense and some defensive players to build around. They have some positions to fill, but plenty of resources to fill them with. I have a feeling that many of those worried about the roster holes, or anyone thinking the Chiefs don’t care about winning this season will be surprised by the team that takes the field this fall.

From the upside down:

The Super Bowl window for this franchise is not closed. In fact, it’s just starting to open. They’ll be closer to winning it all in 2018 than they were in 2017.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be where you’ve always been.”

Chiefs fans have long been frustrated with a franchise unwilling to take risks, one that can never seem to get themselves over the hump. Well, the Chiefs of this season won’t look much like the Chiefs of last season, and it just might be a very good thing.

Just don’t call it a rebuild.

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