We don’t need to re-live it, talk about it or acknowledge it.
There are two options: dwell on the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and dig into the why and how it happened — or join me on this journey as we transition our focus to a new slogan for 2021: Take It Back.
The path to ‘Taking It Back’
Acknowledging room for improvement
This is the most we will look to the past in this article, and it has nothing to do with any specific game. Instead, let’s start with the last offseason, in which the entire philosophy seemed to be to “Run It Back.”
That translated to this: “field the exact same team that just won the Super Bowl and try to do it again.” It was a good idea theoretically, but in practice, it never should have worked as well as it did. To see why, we have to go into the past to five years ago.
Over the last five years, the Super Bowl-winning team has made significant improvements to their team compared to the previous year.
2016 Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, Chris Long, Martellus Bennett
2017 Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Chris Long
2018 Patriots: Jason McCourty, Trent Brown, Danny Shelton
2019 Chiefs: Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, Terrell Suggs
2020 Buccaneers: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown
2020 Bucs over Chiefs— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 8, 2021
Bucs added: Tom Brady, Gronk, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette,
Drafted: Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield, Tyler Johnson
Drafted: CEH, L’Jarius Sneed
There is a more comprehensive list in the thread of tweets.
In recent history, teams that win the Super Bowl are always getting new help from free-agent additions. Oftentimes, they get significant play from draft picks as well.
This brings us to the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs — whose most significant additions to the team in free agency would have to be Keleche Osemele and Taco Charlton. Both players were injured early in the year, but still, they aren’t quite to the same level as most other names on this list.
Now, it may sound unfair to claim the reigning Super Bowl champions should have to improve their team in free agency. I get the logic, but I also follow the ideology of, “If you aren’t improving, you are getting worse.” The New England Patriots also must agree with that concept, because in 2017 — as the reigning Super Bowl champions — they went out and acquired Stephon Gilmore, Lawrence Guy and Brandin Cooks.
Maybe this just goes to credit how good Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are — to make it back to the Super Bowl without really adjusting the roster. Historically speaking, they had no business winning the Super Bowl let alone making it back there. If the Chiefs are going to continue this string of years as a dominant team, they will have to take a page out of the New England Patriots playbook and start looking for ways to improve through free agency year after year.
How to handle the offseason
We are now to the portion in which we have to find a way to manufacture some money for the Chiefs to improve their team in free agency. The Chiefs are currently sitting about $17 million over the projected cap for the 2021 season but, general manager Brett Veach has said that as long as the cap comes in around $180 million, the Chiefs are in a good spot.
How could that be?
First, Mahomes’ contract is structured in a way that the Chiefs can convert roster bonus money to signing bonus money, which will net them $17 million in cap relief for 2021. There is no downside for Mahomes simply reworking when the money hits. There is even a chance that the Chiefs worked in the right to do that, which wouldn’t even require Mahomes’ permission — and again, it affects his bottom line none, so it shouldn’t be a problem. That move alone gets the Chiefs right near the projected cap, which is $185 million as of now.
Now you have to find extra money to spend so to improve in free agency.
The most obvious move is dealing with Tyrann Mathieu’s contract, which has him set at a $19 million cap hit for 2021. The Chiefs could cut Mathieu, leading to significant savings (less than $5 million in dead cap), but more responsibly, given his play and leadership, would be extending him.
Another individual that needs consideration is Eric Fisher. He is due $15 million with only a hair over $3 million in dead cap, so it’s another very flexible contract for a quality player who is a leader on a team. Fisher also tore his Achilles in the AFC title game, which only complicates matters.
Whether you want to move on from or lock yourself up with these guys, they have the most and clearest path to saving money in 2021. Now, let’s look at who the Chiefs may part ways with to save money.
Mitchell Schwartz is the clear and obvious first name to show up, but that’s not really in the Chiefs’ hands. They could move on from him and save over $6 million in cap space, but if he is willing (and able) to play, you would rather keep him around for that amount. The question entirely comes down to whether he would retire, which would net the Chiefs over $10 million in cap relief. The only other player that saves a noticeable amount of money — and it’s still only $2 million — is Damien Williams.
At the end of the day, the Chiefs have more cap flexibility than it looks like on the surface, but they do have rather significant decisions to make regarding high-end players. They don’t have much dead weight they can move on from. However, there are ways to make space for new additions, as well as bring back role players that are due to hit free agency.
I don’t want to dig too far into the free-agent market just yet, as we have all offseason for that. I just want to note that the wide receiver market and offensive guard market look plenty healthy, while the offensive tackle and linebacker markets are top-heavy and then empty.
The Chiefs should be able to clear enough space to work themselves into the high teens in terms of cap space for 2021 which — given their creative contract structuring — probably gives them enough space to sign at least one high-tier and one mid-tier free agent, along with rounding out the roster.
The final building block
This is where I get to officially wish everyone a Merry Draftmas, as we start to turn our eye from the NFL field to the NFL Draft stage. The Chiefs are currently set with picks 31, 63, 93, 127, 159, and 223. They should receive two compensatory draft picks — a fourth-round pick for Kendall Fuller and a fifth for Emannuel Ogbah, meaning eight total picks.
I’ll have the first official edition of my mock draft later this week, but for now, I just wanted to touch on some general draft thoughts as it pertains to the Chiefs’ needs:
- The offensive tackle class is very, very good.
- The interior offensive line class is great at the top but does level out quickly.
- The wide receiver class is similar to the interior OL class — although more scheme-specific in the mid-tiers.
- The outside pass-rushing class lacks elite talent at the top but has a lot of intriguing late day one to early day two players.
- This is one of the better linebacker classes top to bottom in a while.
- The cornerback class is weak from a top-end to a depth perspective.
Draft theory will also come as the offseason does, but the early thoughts have to center around bolstering the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs will be in a good spot to catch a tier-two tackle or tier-one interior lineman at the end of round one and could even be in a position to move back and snag a similar player in the mid-second round.
The real challenge comes with how to navigate the EDGE and wide receiver position while adding to the line. Rarely do non-first-round EDGEs turn into major game-changers, while ranking the receivers feels like splitting hairs to about 10 deep. We know the Chiefs utilize a tiered system — like a horizontal draft board — to assess the options at their pick. The odds are that they could get very good value by trading back, and this year, it could be more important than ever.
The bottom line
Take a deep breath, Chiefs fans. It was a difficult end to an otherwise fun year.
The Chiefs hopefully learned from some mistakes along the way, and we should have zero doubts they come back even better in 2021. There is absolutely no way this year’s offseason is as quiet as last year’s.