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The Chiefs excel at building the bottom of their roster

The Lottery Tickets series is returning to Arrowhead Pride this summer.

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Congratulations! Your team has successfully drafted a franchise quarterback and now will be in contention for a Super Bowl for the next fifteen years!

That is, of course, if you can maintain the talent around him once his rookie year is over.

The Chiefs can begin to negotiate an extension for Patrick Mahomes at the end of this upcoming season. The window to win now with a cheap quarterback is basically halfway through, the downside of the redshirt strategy the Chiefs employed with their now-reigning MVP. The cost will only go up to have a quarterback of Mahomes’ ability. General manager Brett Veach and company are going to have to find creative ways to build the roster around him. And the early returns are good.

People associate Veach with a hyper-aggressive approach to talent acquisition. He has shelled out big contracts to players he really wants. That led him to pay $9 million APY deal to linebacker Anthony Hitchens, $16 million APY to wide receiver Sammy Watkins and $14 million APY to safety Tyrann Mathieu. The first two were largely polarizing and have provided mixed reviews for fans.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been critical of the “faces” of Veach’s first two drafts in Kansas City. He moved up to select defensive lineman Breeland Speaks in 2018. This year he followed up with a trade up for wide receiver Mecole Hardman. There are paths to success for both players, but I = didn’t love the value. However, despite some of the questions I and others may have with some of the draft selections or high-profile free agent signings, there is much to like underneath those big moves. Veach has done a fantastic job of identifying cost-controlled talent to fill in the gaps.

You need top-end talent to win championships, but you also need to give coaching staffs the depth necessary to withstand the attrition that happens every year in the NFL. There are several bright spots that are cost-controlled for the Chiefs to take big contractual swings on players like EDGE Frank Clark who the Chiefs traded their first for and then paid handsomely a week before this year’s draft.

Players like offensive linemen Cam Erving and Austin Reiter, safety Jordan Lucas and cornerback Charvarius Ward all played key roles in helping this year’s team reach the AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs signed Erving and Reiter to small extensions after proving their value to the Chiefs along the offensive line. Erving came via trade for a day-three selection and Reiter was acquired off waivers. Small moves to build depth that hit.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Veach made two trades last preseason that netted them solid contributors for 2018 and beyond. He acquired Lucas from Miami for a 2020 seventh-round selection. Lucas would go on to be one of the better safeties on last year’s roster (that isn’t saying much) and a special teams contributor and earned himself another year in KC when the Chiefs elected to pick up his restricted free agent tag. Veach also made a move trading veteran offensive lineman Parker Ehinger to Dallas for cornerback Charvarius Ward. He would show some promise on special teams before starting late in the season. He appeared to have a game-clinching interception of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game before an offsides penalty by Dee Ford called it back.

The Chiefs had built the bottom of this roster with small moves that have mainly hit for them. Getting a prototypical Steve Spagnuolo defensive end in Emmanuel Ogbah for a safety who likely wasn’t going to make the roster and whose salary just rose to $2 million dollars due to a playing time incentive in Eric Murray is a great business that could easily pay dividends.

What’s more, the Chiefs have hit on quality depth from their Lottery Tickets: undrafted free agents, practice squad players and those signed to the 90-man roster for training camp that come with little risk but could pay off if they hit.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Interior offensive lineman Andrew Wylie won the Chiefs’ Mack Lee Hill (rookie of the year) award in 2018 after beings signed to the practice squad in 2017 before earning a roster spot. He would play a key role along the interior of the line, filling in for injuries and playing at a high enough level that he should start in 2019. Darrel Williams signed as an undrafted free agent last season in Kansas City and earned a roster spot, contributing on special teams and getting some season playing time when the running back depth was tested. Linebacker Ben Niemann also earned opportunities both on special teams and defense after breaking camp on the 53-man roster.

These small moves go a long way in building depth and competition, and the Chiefs enter the summer with an excellent group of Lottery Tickets to pull from this year as well.

The Chiefs made only six selections in this year’s draft. None of them were linebackers, but they still were able to build depth and competition with a couple of solid prospects in Gary Johnson from Texas and Darius Harris from Middle Tennessee State. Both have a chance to stick this year if they can provide value on special teams this year. They both have intriguing developmental traits. Harris may have to be placed on injured reserve before the season due to an injury. The Chiefs would smartly still retain the rights of a player they like, even if he can’t play, per Veach. Harris would get to redshirt, but the Chiefs could reap the rewards once he is healthy. They’re taking the same approach with EDGE Tim Ward from Old Dominion. Veach said in a recent press conference that Ward is the prototypical Spagnuolo defensive end.

The Chiefs threw a lot of money and spots at undrafted wide receivers like Cody Thompson, Jamal Custis, Felton Davis and more. All three have traits that will play in this league. Veach has built depth, competition and special teams value in a place where his team needs it moving forward, especially in light of the Tyreek Hill news.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice-South
South defensive back Mark Fields of Clemson (26) catches the ball during the South squad 2019 Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Veach was even able to convince a couple high-profile undrafted prospects like cornerback Mark Fields from Clemson and running back James Williams from Washington State. Both have talent and could make the roster if things go right for them.

Finding value and talent in uncommon places is no accident. They’re good at it. Veach and his staff have done an exceptional job of turning over every rock to find players that can help this team achieve their goals. Not all of the players they’ll bring to St. Joe are going to hit, but I love the sample size they have to pull from.

This is the strongest 90-man roster I’ve seen the Chiefs bring to training camp. They have a chance to find some quality depth and potential contributors, some at positions of major need—for next to nothing.

We’ll be spending the summer talking about some of the most intriguing Lottery Tickets on this roster. Like Williams, Niemann and Wylie, some of these guys will be making contributions in the fall.

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