Roughly five months ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were ready to shake up their roster after a scarring loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. Their plan was to use free agency, trades and the draft to fix perceived weaknesses — and put the team in a better position than they were at the end of the 2020 season.
They made big-time moves — along with smaller ones — while attempting others that never came to fruition. In total, the Chiefs had a busy offseason — and from their actions, there are specific lessons we can learn about the 2021 team.
1. The Chiefs don’t want to lose the battle in the trenches
We’ve all called it an overcorrection — but we also understand the organization wants to protect their most valuable asset: quarterback Patrick Mahomes. However, there’s a simpler reason why the Chiefs loaded up their offensive line while also strengthening the defensive front: in as many games as possible, they want to have the advantage in the trenches.
It may be a cliché, but football is still won at the line of scrimmage. Look no further than Super Bowl LV, in which two of the game’s best quarterbacks faced each other. One was running for his life, while the other barely had to sweat as he dropped back to pass. It’s not hard to guess which one won in a blowout.
In 2021, the Chiefs will have more talent (and depth) in both their offensive and defensive lines than they’ve had at any time since Mahomes became the starter. They’ll have the quarterback advantage in every game they play — so winning the battle in the trenches should make them nearly unbeatable.
They won’t have the advantage every week — opponents like the Cleveland Browns or Los Angeles Chargers may rival their talent — but on a weekly basis, they should be the superior team in the trenches more often than they ever have been during the Mahomes era.
2. There is a lot of pressure on Mecole Hardman
While the team focused on loading up the trenches, they did try to sign one big name at wide receiver: Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Juju Smith-Schuster.
Smith-Schuster was one of the only receivers available in free agency that fit the Chiefs’ offense — and was also worth pursuing. Once he returned to Pittsburgh, the Chiefs held tight, only re-signing Demarcus Robinson and drafting Cornell Powell in the fifth round.
JuJu Smith-Schuster tells me the Chiefs and Ravens both made strong pushes Friday before he ultimately re-signed with the Steelers. pic.twitter.com/olEhAW8svg— Taylor Bisciotti (@TaylorBisciotti) March 20, 2021
What this should tell us is that the Chiefs believe the offense still needs a proven player as their second wide receiver. For the last three seasons, that player has been Sammy Watkins. Now without Watkins, they apparently targeted Smith-Schuster as the next talented wideout who could complement Tyreek Hill.
But since they couldn’t secure him, Mecole Hardman is now slotted to fill that role.
If Hardman doesn’t establish himself as a difference-maker this year, the Chiefs’ actions tell us that next year, they will again try to add an established receiver. Smith-Schuster will be available — he only re-signed for one year in Pittsburgh — but other players like Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, Chris Godwin, Will Fuller and Robby Anderson will also be free agents.
Hardman needs to show that he can be that kind of player — or next offseason, the Chiefs will look elsewhere.
3. For better or for worse, they trust their group of young cornerbacks
We’ve come to accept that general manager Brett Veach and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo don’t believe they have to invest a lot of capital into their cornerbacks — but this offseason, that’s been taken to another level.
Despite having a group where the most experience comes from two seasons that Charvarius Ward has been a starter, the Chiefs did not sign or draft a cornerback. They eventually traded a sixth-round pick for Mike Hughes, but the 2018 first-round pick has had an injury-plagued career — and more than anything, the move was likely the result of Veach taking a flyer on a player entering the final year of his rookie deal.
In the last two seasons, the Chiefs’ inexperienced cornerback group was at least headed by veteran Bashaud Breeland — who has become one of the most underappreciated players of their consecutive Super Bowl runs. Still, they had a chance to re-sign the 29-year-old Breeland — but he ended up signing with the Minnesota Vikings on a very affordable one-year deal.
A few of Breeland’s tweets made it seem like he would have welcomed the opportunity to stay in Kansas City — yet the Chiefs allowed him to sign elsewhere.
This was a tough decision when heart was sold on kc and the brotherhood that I’ve made over the last two years when one door close another always open it’s been my life story but I will always love the Kansas City chiefs organization. I wanna thank the Hunt family, Coach Reid— Bashaud Breeland (@Bree2Land6) June 4, 2021
To be fair, the Chiefs had San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback K’Waun Williams in for a visit before he re-signed with the 49ers on another affordable, one-year deal. Other veterans like Casey Heyward, Desmond King and Justin Coleman signed one-year deals that the Chiefs had the cap room to offer.
These actions tell us that they believe in the players they have: Ward, L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton, Deandre Baker, Mike Hughes and BoPete Keyes.
For such a volatile position — one in which it is so difficult to succeed — the Chiefs have not given themselves much margin for error. If the individuals in this group don’t play to their ceilings, the defense may have a weakness that will be hard to hide in today’s pass-happy NFL.