The NFL preseason is a time of opportunity for young players, including draft picks and UDFAs trying to win their first job as a professional football player. As discussed last week, it’s also a significant opportunity for second and third-year pros to take the next step and earn more meaningful roles for themselves.
Unfortunately, roster spots are limited and there is a salary cap, so the opportunity for some comes at the expense of others.
Which Chiefs veterans have the most to lose going into the 2019 season?
Obviously, every player in a contract year has much riding on the season. Play well and stay healthy and the contract offers will come. But the preseason process presents not only internal competition, but also risk of injury. There is a reason players hold out and stay away from voluntary workouts when they are due for new contracts.
None of the predictions below of bad things to come for the Chiefs season, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. This team has a real opportunity to be a dynasty, and they’ll be among the favorites to win the Super Bowl until further notice. With that opportunity comes pressure, and much of the pressure is on the guys below.
1. S Daniel Sorensen
Certainly a coaches’ favorite and a stalwart on special teams, Sorensen is (remarkably) one of the oldest Chiefs at age 29. Carrying a substantial salary ($4.6 million, would save $2.6 million if cut), we’ve long thought Sorensen could be a release candidate. When Chiefs general manager Brett Veach went into this offseason process, he made it abundantly clear that the safety position was in need of a serious talent infusion. Investing in Tyrann Mathieu and Juan Thornhill and nearly missing out on Earl Thomas meant that Sorensen would again be no higher than the third safety on the depth chart. There will be competition for the remaining roster spots among Jordan Lucas, Armani Watts and Sorensen. If the young players show enough progress in camp, it may cost Dirty Dan a roster spot.
2. QB Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes clearly isn’t at risk of losing his job: coming off of an MVP season, he’s done everything right at this point. Exceeding nearly every expectation for performance, attitude, aptitude and professionalism, Mahomes is on top of the world. All signs point to Mahomes building on last season and bringing multiple trophies back to Kansas City. Potentially the league’s first $200 million player, Mahomes has more to lose than anyone in the league if for some reason his career were to derail. The biggest risk for Mahomes is that expectations have gotten almost irrationally high. Being great and winning another MVP award would be a let down if Mahomes can’t elevate his team to a championship.
3. DL Xavier Williams
Williams has been a solid, albeit unspectacular piece of the Chiefs defensive line since his acquisition. It appears, however, that Derrick Nnadi has earned the starting spot in the rotation and is a potentially improving player. As the team builds in the image of Steve Spagnuolo, they’ll want a deep rotation on the defensive line. However, with the addition of Khalen Saunders and the ability (or necessity) for guys like Breeland Speaks to move inside at times, it might become harder to justify paying Williams $3.6 million when they could save nearly $3 million by moving on.
4. Tyreek Hill
This one should be obvious, given the news (or lack thereof) regarding Hill’s alleged family issues. Hill may have already lost his chance at a nine-figure contract that the team was reportedly considering before the latest news. Even if Hill remains on the team, he might have trouble ever commanding that type of payday again. He could also be facing a league suspension, pending the outcome of the process. The team won’t be completely waiting around for Hill, as they traded up for a dangerous young player (Mecole Hardman) in this year’s draft and aggressively pursued two priority undrafted free agents at the position. Not to be overlooked is the development of Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle, meaning the Chiefs should have plenty of insurance in case Hill isn’t able to regain his standing with the team.
5. Chris Jones
If Hill is on this list because he potentially missed out on his chance at a record payday, Jones is currently doing everything he can to avoid missing his. By staying away during OTAs, he’s trying to avoid an injury prior to the consummation of his deal. Jones’s value might never be higher than it is today, so he might have more to lose than any other Chief not named Mahomes. He and his agents need to balance the leverage and the need to stay healthy with the need to be ready for the season and cement his standing among the very best defenders in the league.
From the upside down: ...and don’t forget the head coach
Andy Reid has a lot to lose this season as well. He’s betting the fate of this team on Steve Spagnuolo’s ability to make a championship defense with Veach’s new wave of talent. Reid handpicked both guys and is the largest figure (sorry, Andy, pun intended) in the organization.
If he can’t win Super Bowls (plural) with Mahomes and the team his people have assembled, his Hall of Fame résumé and legacy may not recover.