When the Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl, we’re obviously bullish in every conceivable way. Instead of rehashing the big-game performances, we’ll try to explore the trajectory of certain Chiefs over the 2019 season, with some clear direction and predictions for their outlook in 2020.
The top of the Chiefs’ roster carried them to the title, and most of those players will return next season. In the middle tiers, there were veterans who played roles but aren’t likely to be on next season’s version of the Chiefs. The bottom of the roster is where there could be some cap savings by moving on from under-performing players. But there are also younger players on cheap deals that could step into more significant roles next season, allowing the team to improve without substantial investments at their positions.
Below are the bulls and bears heading into the offseason, with a bonus list of “buy low candidates” who could be impact players without impact salaries:
This offseason’s Bulls
Bashaud Breeland- Sometimes “prove it” deals work out. Breeland signed a relatively low one-year deal last offseason and went on to arguably become the Chiefs’ best cornerback all season. He capped that 2019 season off with big plays throughout the postseason, including an interception in the Super Bowl. Now that he has proved it, he’ll be in much higher demand. The Chiefs likely want him back, but they will have competition. Breeland helped himself this season as much as any player on the roster.
Chris Jones- Just as Breeland increased his value, Jones reaffirmed his. He waited out contract negotiations last offseason, played out the final year on his rookie deal and finished strong. Jones was among the best players on the field in the biggest Chiefs game in the last 50 years. Now, he’s maximized his value to this team, and he did it with a smile on his face. By all accounts, Jones was a model teammate, had high energy and was positive all season. If there’s a guy that deserves to be paid, it’s Chris Jones. The team would, of course, like to have him back, and they have only one bit of leverage left — the franchise tag. Expect Jones to get tagged while they negotiate, but don’t be shocked if he remains a Chief. Everyone wants it to happen, and where there’s a collective will, there’s a salary cap way.
Mike Pennel- One of the real unlikely heroes of the Super Bowl run has already stated he hopes to return to the Chiefs. The big guy turned out to be a great fit on the interior defensive line and deserves much credit for the turnaround in the run defense. He shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive to re-sign and keep the second-half defense closer to intact.
Stefen Wisniewski- Another veteran that came in to patch up a team need late in the season, Wisniewski proved that he’s still a starter in the league. Also a free agent, he’s a guy that the Chiefs should consider re-signing and keeping him in front of Mahomes for another year or two.
Tanoh Kpassagnon- From the roster bubble to a guy who was a significant part of the rotation, Tanoh has exceeded expectations this season. His raw athletic ability was finally put to good use by a fantastic coaching staff, as he racked up four sacks in the regular season and two more in the postseason. Now he’ll enter the final year of his rookie deal as someone the Chiefs should consider extending before his cost goes up too much.
Charvarius Ward- Other than Mahomes, the best value on the team right now might be Charvarius Ward. Ward outplayed his UDFA rookie deal by an insane amount this season. He may enter the 2021 season as the top corner on the roster, and he’s slated to make only $660,000. As Carrington Harrison suggested, a good-will pay raise for Ward may be in order. If he plays out his contract this year, the Chiefs can tender him as a restricted free agent next season. Giving him a raise with two years of control left also means the team has a bit more leverage and could be a smart move to keep him long term. It’s also the right thing to do, given how Ward exceeded even optimistic projections in 2019 on the field.
Mecole Hardman- Hardman was likely drafted as insurance, just in case Tyreek Hill’s offseason drama ended badly. With Hill and Watkins on board, he grew into a dangerous additional weapon for the Chiefs offense and special teams. Hardman’s rookie season was as good as any receiver in recent history, and it’s clear that he still has plenty of room to grow. All eyes will be on whether or not the Chiefs bring back Sammy Watkins. How they handle that situation may tell us something about the development of Hardman. Either way, Mecole will obviously be on the roster, and might be the Chiefs’ No. 2 WR going forward.
Juan Thornhill- Lost in the Super Bowl celebration was perhaps the player with the brightest future of any Chiefs rookie this season. Juan Thornhill was fantastic for this team in 2019 and will be hungry coming off of a knee injury. It’s not unreasonable to predict a return to form and potential Pro Bowl or All-Pro season very soon for Thornhill. He’ll be a huge part of Spagnuolo’s defense for years to come.
Some buy-low opportunities
John Lovett- Anthony Sherman is a potential free agent, and the Chiefs still haven’t settled on a second tight end. Could the former quarterback with hands like glue be a factor at one or both positions in his second season?
Martinas Rankin- Some outside Kansas City might assume the Texans won a trade getting a 1,000-yard running back for a young offensive lineman. But, many Chiefs fans believe that Rankin could be a long-term starter and provides better value, given he’s on a rookie contract. Look for him to compete (or be handed) a job at one of the guard positions in 2020.
Mike Weber- A player that many liked coming out of college might be a long shot to make the 2020 roster. But, running backs can be found anywhere, and there’s a chance that Weber is the next guy to get an opportunity. He and Darrel Williams will be low-cost, in-house options to improve the position group without wasting any draft or free agent capital.
Dorian O’Daniel- Many of us had high hopes for O’Daniel coming into the 2019 season, as a guy who could run and hit at the WILL linebacker position. With a full season of coaching and special teams play under his belt, perhaps there will be a role on defense for him in 2020. In very limited action, O’Daniel appears to pop off of the screen. We’ll see if the team sees it the same way.
This offseason’s Bears
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Austin Reiter, Andrew Wylie, Cameron Erving- Most Chiefs fans and experts would agree that the interior of the offensive line is one group that is in need of an upgrade this offseason. Letting these four players walk clears at least $13 million in cap space and creates opportunities for guys like Rankin, Allegretti and Wisniewski (if re-signed) to help improve the protection and run blocking for the league’s best offense.
Morris Claiborne, LeSean McCoy, Darron Lee- These veteran additions weren’t stellar in 2019, and likely won’t be back for 2020. Each contributed at times, but none were a significant part of the team for the postseason run.
If you want a complete look behind the curtain, here’s a link to the full Market Movers database.