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In 2021, Brett Veach took gambles to repair the defense

Let’s review the Kansas City general manager’s defensive moves in the just-completed season.

NFL: DEC 26 Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2021 season behind us, let’s reflect on the job that Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach did while putting together a team that hosted yet another AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. In our first article of the series, we discussed how Veach completely overhauled and repaired the offensive line.

The broad strokes

  • Major departures: tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, center Austin Reiter, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, linebacker Damien Wilson, defensive end Tanoh Kpassognon and fullback Anthony Sherman.
  • Key free-agent acquisitions: guard Joe Thuney, defensive tackle Jarran Reed, running back Jerick McKinnon, fullback Mike Burton and reserve offensive linemen Kyle Long and Austin Blythe.
  • Trades: tackle Orlando Brown Jr., cornerback Mike Hughes and defensive end Melvin Ingram.
  • Draft acquisitions: linebacker Nick Bolton, center Creed Humphrey, defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, tight end Noah Gray, wide receiver Cornell Powell and guard Trey Smith.

The second test: Defense

After mainly focusing on the offensive line in the opening of free agency, Veach looked to fortify the defense that ranked 22nd in defense in 2020. The offseason plan looked to be, “Do everything you can to protect Patrick Mahomes; anything leftover can be used to fill in the other holes.”

Veach made his first splash move on the defensive side of the ball by drafting Nick Bolton with the Chiefs’ first selection in the 2021 Draft. Bolton was sold as a cerebral playmaker at the University of Missouri — and that’s exactly what he did on the field. Bolton led the linebackers in snaps, although he did see a reduction in snaps in the latter part of the season. Additionally, he led the team in tackles and tackles for loss.

In the final week of the regular season, Bolton scored the game-changing touchdown on a scoop and score in Denver that solidified the Chiefs as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. For his efforts, Bolton earned a spot on the All-Rookie team and was voted Rookie of the Year by his teammates.

Joshua Kaindoh was selected in the fourth round of the draft, but injury derailed his season as a rotational piece along the defensive line. He will have to earn playing time moving forward with new defensive line coach Joe Cullen.

Next, Veach made a trade for former first-round pick Mike Hughes and signed Jarran Reed to compete for starting reps going into the season.

A first-round talent coming into the 2018 draft, Mike Hughes had fallen out of favor with the Minnesota Vikings, and Veach gambled on that talent to play opposite Charvarius Ward. Hughes’ season could be described as an up-and-down year after earning the starting role to start the season to eventually being replaced by Rashad Fenton. Injuries forced Hughes to return to the starter role, and he received all-week honors after scoring a touchdown on the opening play against the Las Vegas Raiders. But the consistency wasn’t there, and he was burned again when thrust into more playing time in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills.

Reed was all the talk in the offseason, but his start to the season was anything but noticeable. Even though he played in every game for the Chiefs this season, Reed didn’t make any large contribution other than a few cleanup sacks.

The most significant impact on the defense was made midseason when Veach made the trade for Melvin Ingram from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a sixth-round pick. After not coming to terms in the offseason, Ingram finally made his way to Kansas City and immediately affected the defense. His counting stats and box scores don’t tell his story on the 2021 Chiefs defense. His penetration and football IQ improved the overall defense and slid Chris Jones to his more impactful position. It can be argued that the Chiefs not signing Ingram in the offseason cost them wins against the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers early in the season when the pass rush was still missing defensive end Frank Clark and defensive tackle Chris Jones primarily lined up on the edge.

Hughes and Clark are more than likely going to another team next season — while there’s a decent chance Ingram returns to Kansas City. Veach did what he could with what resources were left to find role players to boost the defense by making gambles on castoffs, but the overall defense took a step back from the 2020 season.

The bottom line

Veach’s focus entering 2019 was the defense. This offseason, it will be the defense again.

With holes at every level (including the depth reaching free agency), the Chiefs will need to make tough decisions as to which cornerstone players should come back and be built around.

Arrowhead Pride’s Bryan Stewart and Talon Graff have provided some insight on what the Chiefs could do along the defensive line and in the secondary with the safeties and cornerbacks.