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Why the Chiefs didn’t make a move before the trade deadline

Three o’clock passed, and the Chiefs didn’t make a move. Why didn’t they — and what can we learn from that?

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The NFL trade deadline passed at 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Tuesday — and the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t make a move.

Let’s examine why this might have happened:

The Chiefs talked to teams about several players

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, we should remember that the Chiefs did, in fact, attempt to make some moves.

We learned that the team made a strong play to acquire defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins in mid-September but were outbid by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Reporting at the time suggested that the Chiefs had made an offer similar to the one the Steelers made, but because the Chiefs were seen as a more competitive team, the draft picks they could offer were less valuable.

It was also reported that the Chiefs expressed interest in Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The team faced the same problem with Ramsey they had faced with Fitzpatrick: pick-for-pick, their draft capital was perceived as less valuable. But as it turned out, the Jaguars didn’t even care. After Ramsey was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, we learned Jacksonville just didn’t want to make a deal with the Chiefs.

These are just the high-profile moves we know the Chiefs attempted to make. It’s reasonable to think the team made inquiries about other players with other teams — perhaps even getting as far as negotiating with them — and it was just never reported.

So we know the Chiefs wanted to make at least a couple of deals — but for one reason or another, they didn’t work out. C’est la vie. As my high school science teacher Billy Mudd often observed, “It takes two to tango.”

Why didn’t the Chiefs work harder to make the deals they wanted?

NFL Combine - Day 1

This question boils down to one phrase: all-in — also known as win-now mode.

NFL teams are said to be all-in (or in win-now mode) when they are willing to trade anything (or spend any amount of money) in pursuit of an immediate championship.

Here’s the problem: it’s not as if NFL general managers officially declare this status with the league — or anyone else. Instead, it is conferred upon them by sports-talk hosts, TV talking heads, sportswriters and fans.

And quite honestly... sometimes, the reasons they say this about a particular team aren’t based on any kind of reality. For anyone in the media, there’s a clear incentive to declare that a team is all-in. By saying so, you’re communicating that big news is always just around the corner; something is going to happen today! That’s a ratings booster. Besides, fans tend to like the idea that their favorite team is willing to do anything to get a ring — particularly if the team hasn’t won one in a while.

So if your perception is that the Chiefs are in win-now mode, you’re probably wondering why the team didn’t do whatever it could to make a deal for Fitzpatrick or Ramsey — or for Leonard Williams, Le’Veon Bell, Xavien Howard, Patrick Peterson... etc.

But the fact the Chiefs didn’t move heaven and earth to make those deals is actually a pretty clear indicator that the Chiefs are not all-in — no matter what your favorite media personality says. There is always a way to make a deal with another team; you just have to keep offering more until they finally say yes. That’s what you do when you’re in win-now mode.

So, since the Chiefs didn’t do that, we can conclude they aren’t all-in.

Should the Chiefs be in win-now mode?

NFL: AFC Championship Game-New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Some say they should be — that the team needs to maximize their opportunity with players like Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce on the roster simultaneously.

Others say they shouldn’t be — that with Mahomes on the roster for the foreseeable future, there’s no such thing as a Super Bowl window.

But I always come back to an essential truth about being an NFL general manager: your job is to build a team than can succeed both now and in the future. You have to win now in order to keep your job. You have to win in the future so that you can keep your job in... you know... the future. Going all-in during a particular season satisfies just one of those criteria.

But like they say... your mileage may vary.

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