The 2021 season was a difficult one for the Kansas City Chiefs — with high highs and low lows.
This offseason is going to be one of change. General manager Brett Veach and his team will attempt to rebuild the defensive front with the same type of success they had in building the offensive line in 2021. Some familiar faces will be gone — which will create a leadership void — but hopefully, we’ll see some new energy in the team’s depth.
On Monday, we covered the team’s Bulls — the Kansas City players who are on the rise. Today we’ll look at the Bears — the players who are on the decline.
Frank Clark: Veach has made it clear that there are some significant decisions to make on the defensive line. This can be seen as a thinly-veiled reference to Clark — the team’s highest-paid defender — who might be released this offseason. At this point, you’ve heard all the arguments in both directions. On one hand, Clark is a big reason the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV — and was part of the culture shift that changed the defense. On the other hand, he never reached the DPOY-level play for which Kansas City paid — and his sack production (only 4.5 in 2021) has decreased each season he’s been with the team. As his age and cap hit grow, the reasons for the Chiefs to retain Clark are waning. By dramatically lowering his salary-cap number, it’s possible that he and the team could work out a way for him to stick around. But you have to wonder if Kansas City would rather go with a fresh start and a clean break, eating $12.9 million in dead cap instead of throwing more money at Clark in the hope that his production will improve.
Mike Hughes and DeAndre Baker: In 2021, the Chiefs traded for Hughes and signed Baker — both of whom were former first-round picks who had not done well with their former teams. Hughes saw a lot more action — but with very mixed results. Neither of them likely did enough to make the team believe they must be re-signed. Given that he can be an effective returner — and did create some turnovers in 2021 — the Chiefs could offer Hughes a contract. But there’s a real chance that both of these guys end up moving on, leaving Veach to go looking for new cornerback projects.
Ben Niemann and Daniel Sorensen: It’s time. Both of these players have sometimes made big plays in limited roles — but both have struggled in expanded roles. For Kansas City to step forward, the team will have to update its depth. That means the middle and bottom of the roster has young players who have upside — along with veterans who can step up and make plays when called upon. But if opposing quarterbacks can find success by picking on these players, they no longer represent good depth. Both Niemann and Sorensen are the kinds of players who are good on special teams, but are often a liability on defense. Even if they were to return on cheap contracts, they’d still represent poor value.
Demarcus Robinson: The need to upgrade depth also extends to the Chiefs’ offense. We’ve seen the floor of this unit — and unfortunately, it’s too low. When quarterback Patrick Mahomes struggled — or when tight end Travis Kelce or wide receiver Tyreek Hill were covered — there haven’t been enough players who could step up and make plays. In order for the Chiefs to get back to having an offense for which defenses have no answers, they must find upgrades for guys like Robinson, who has been hanging around Kansas City’s receiver room for six seasons, averaging about 300 yards and three touchdowns per year. He’s best known for his ability (and apparently, desire) to run backwards from the first-down marker — and to carry the football in a way that should have led to more fumbles than it has. He’s taken a ton of snaps, worked hard as a blocker and been an occasional playmaker when Mahomes has improvised. But with Robinson on the field, there often wasn’t anyone open. When Mahomes forced the ball his way in overtime against the Bengals, the results were disastrous. Expect the Chiefs to be aggressive in both free agency and the draft — not only to add a No. 2 wideout, but also to upgrade the bottom of the roster.
Others trending in the wrong direction this offseason: Jarran Reed, Josh Gordon, Kyle Long, Armani Watts and Austin Blythe
On Wednesday, we’ll take a closer look at the Chiefs’ sleepers heading into the offseason.