As Kansas City Chiefs free agency continues — unfortunately at a snail’s pace — some themes are emerging. And in this author’s opinion, there are also some narratives that need to die. Let’s take a look at some of both.
1. The offseason isn’t over
Any grade other than “incomplete” is foolish at this point.
Do you really think Martinas Rankin is going to start at left tackle? Is there any scenario where the Chiefs don’t bring in another wide receiver who can help?
There are more free agents out there. There’s a whole draft and undrafted free agent class — plus all the veterans who will be cut or traded before opening day.
After this point last year, the following players were added: free agents Anthony Sherman, Mike Pennel, Bashaud Breeland, Demarcus Robinson, Taco Charlton and Kelechi Osemele. Then UDFA players Tershawn Wharton, Tommy Townsend, Rodney Clemons came along — followed by draft picks Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Willie Gay Jr., Lucas Niang and L’Jarius Sneed. By this point In 2019, the Frank Clark trade hadn’t happened yet!
We don’t know what’s coming — but we can guarantee the the Chiefs aren’t done making moves to build the roster.
2. Saying the Chiefs roster is worse this year disregards all of the potential improvements they’ve already made
This is another narrative that is frustrating — and it’s all based on one position.
Yes... going from Eric Fisher to a new left tackle (who is not on the roster yet) will likely be a downgrade. But we don’t yet know how much difference that will make.
Other than Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz (both of whom the Chiefs wouldn’t have cut without a plan), what “losses” are making this team significantly worse? Three-games-a-season Sammy Watkins? Less-than-half-of-the-snaps Damien Wilson?
The bottom line is that while the Chiefs might be worse at left tackle, they are also a lot better at other positions like left guard and defensive tackle. At positions like wide receiver, EDGE, linebacker and cornerback, the Chiefs can — and likely will — addressed them in the coming weeks.
There are also returning players who were injured (or opted out) last year — including Charlton, Niang, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and DeAndre Baker. They could really help — not to mention in-house improvements from very good 2019 and 2020 draft classes.
There are plenty of reasons to believe the 2021 roster could be even better than last year’s.
3. No... the ‘luster’ hasn’t worn off
The window isn’t closing. Players do want to play here.
Let’s just get this all out of the way: these are silly narratives based on a small sample size. It just feels like a big sample size because we’re all addicted to Twitter.
This team still features one of the league’s most beloved coaches, the best player in the world — who hasn’t even hit his prime yet — two of the best receiving targets in the league, and the best fans in the world.
They’ll be favorites to go to their third straight Super Bowl— and the team is a destination organization.
4. There are many reasons why a free agent might not get a contract done with a new team
Why is it that when the Chiefs go after a free agent and don’t make a deal, it is immediately assumed that the team failed? And maybe they did.
Or... maybe in the case of Melvin Ingram, they stepped away because they had concerns about his medical issues. With Trent Williams, perhaps the Chiefs were simply used as a pawn to drive up the price. Maybe Tanoh Kpassagnon wasn’t excited about the role he would play for the Chiefs in 2021.
These negotiations are always complicated. Besides... this is a very strange year. With the cap reduction — and the expectation that it will go up again next year — things are just... different.
5. Or maybe... it’s just inertia
This might have been important in the case of JuJu Smith-Schuster. When presented only with a one-year contract, it seems much more likely that players in his situation would prefer to stay where they are, rather than start over — only to start over again the following year.
Remember: players have families they have have to move, coaches and players they like in the locker room and ties to communities. A multi-year offer might pry them away — but especially in 2021, a one-year deal just might not be good enough to get it done.
6. And maybe #RunItBack isn’t the way to go anyway
One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies of all time — Tommy Boy: “You’re either growing, or you’re dying. There ain’t no third direction.”
Trying to re-assemble the exact same roster that won a Super Bowl might be a fool’s errand, because the NFL is always changing — and teams are always improving. So if your goal is to stay the same, you’ll fall behind. We shouldn’t be trying to preserve the 2019/2020 versions of the Chiefs. Instead, we should be looking forward to what they can become in 2021 and beyond.
We’ll see if Tampa Bay has any better luck than the Chiefs did — but I suspect they won’t.
7. With the Chiefs’ offseason additions, there seems to be a tendency towards durability and availability
After last season — when injuries were a huge factor in Kansas City’s inability to repeat — it just makes sense.
New Chiefs Joe Thuney, Jarran Reed and Austin Blythe are all projected starters. All have been very durable, reliable players in their careers. While Kyle Long is an exception, the expectation is that he’ll compete with Duvernay-Tardif and provide depth at right guard.
In fact, the Chiefs have a chance to have better depth all across the offensive line — so if injuries do hit, they’ll still have quality players available to step up.
8. There also seems to be a goal of building a better running game
Kansas City is improving the interior of the offensive line, where the team has really struggled to open up running lanes.
In the running game, Blythe represents an upgrade over the previous Austin — and Thuney is an everything-upgrade over the incumbents at left guard. The Chiefs have also added Michael Burton, a fullback who helped clear the way for the last season’s sixth best running team. And the return of Blake Bell would indicate they are going to use that second tight end as a blocker again.
9. This bodes very well for Edwards-Helaire
Going into the season, the second-year running back might be the most underrated part of the Chiefs’ offense; he’ll be healthy and have better blocking.
But given the release of Damien Williams and the apparent lack of interest in returning Le’Veon Bell, he also may have less competition for touches, too.
Edwards-Helaire was great as a rookie — but this season, he’ll have a chance to be a real star.
10. CEH could be the third or fourth receiving target
Remember Kareem Hunt’s first couple of years in Kansas City? He was a huge threat in the passing game — fourth on the team in receiving yards — and the Chiefs offense was nearly unstoppable.
Hunt’s best receiving total was 455 yards. The wide receiver ahead of him was around 550 yards. In his injury-shortened rookie season, Edwards-Helaire had nearly 300 receiving yards; thus far, he’s just scratching the surface of what he could do in the passing game.
There’s a real chance that as a receiver, he could eclipse that 500-yard mark in 2021, carrying more of the offensive load and making the offense both more balanced and tougher to defend. In other words... just like they were with Hunt in 2018.
And from the upside down...
The Chiefs are likely to add a wide receiver in the draft and/or free agency. But there’s an outside chance they already have some deep sleepers on the roster who could make the 53 and take some (or all) of Watkins’ role; he averaged just over 500 yards and about three touchdowns during each of his three seasons with the Chiefs.
Antonio Callaway is a 24-year-old veteran — a former fourth-round pick who had 586 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. He’s had his career derailed after being suspended a couple of times — but if the Chiefs can get it out of him, the talent is there.
Kansas City also has Tajae Sharpe. Now 26, he’s a former fifth-rounder who averaged almost 400 yards a season (and more than two touchdowns) during three years with the Tennessee Titans.
Not saying these guys will make it happen — but it’s good to have players with NFL experience competing for jobs in training camp.