Steel sharpens steel — at least, that's how the saying goes.
The Kansas City Chiefs have dominated the AFC West for more than half a decade.
Each year, national pundits do their best to convince themselves that one of the other three teams in the division has a shot at dethroning the Chiefs in the AFC West, and each year, when the dust settles, the Chiefs are still standing.
This is a team who've been accused — at times — of sleepwalking through the regular season, only to turn it on in the postseason.
How many times have we seen the Chiefs jump out to a big lead before halftime and then coast to victory in the second half? Head coach Andy Reid plays things close to his vest, only revealing as much of his arsenal as needed to win the game.
And who could blame him?
Big Red has won a lot of games coaching this way.
But things changed this week when the Denver Broncos made a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks to send Russell Wilson to Denver, and the Los Angeles Chargers traded two draft picks to the Chicago Bears for Khalil Mack.
These moves represent different things in the AFC West's arms race.
Many intelligent football people thought the Broncos were only a quarterback away from being contenders last season. Well, apparently, the Broncos thought the same thing.
Denver sent a king's ransom to Seattle to acquire Wilson, betting on the skill position players they already had in-house.
Trade package:— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 8, 2022
Seattle gets QB Drew Lock, TE Noah Fant, DL Shelby Harris, two first-round picks, two second-round picks and a fifth-round pick.
Denver gets Russell Wilson and a fourth-round pick.
On the surface, this looks like a steal for the Broncos.
They are getting one of the top five best quarterbacks over the last decade — a player who has already won one Super Bowl and wants to win another to cement his legacy. With this move, the Broncos have thrown down the gauntlet and finally challenged the Chiefs' supremacy.
The Chargers, on the other hand, already have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the league on their roster in Justin Herbert.
So with that in mind, they decided that their best course of action would be to bolster their defense by trading a second and a sixth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft for six-time Pro-Bowler Khalil Mack. With the compensation being so low, this move was a no-brainer for the Chargers: it's a move that many fan bases of contenders are going to wish their team made.
The wild thing is that these picks aren’t even for this year's draft. Interesting way for Ryan Poles to decide to start his tenure in the Windy City. https://t.co/lajmq88BFZ— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) March 11, 2022
If you're going to play in a division filled with some of the best quarterbacks in the league, it makes sense to put as much pressure on the opposition as possible. While Mack is not the same player he once was, he is still an All-Pro level talent, who — when teamed up with Joey Bosa — instantly makes the Chargers pass rush one of the best in the AFC.
The teams in the AFC West are very publically challenging the Chiefs, and how they respond will be crucial to their success moving forward.
In a race for weapons like this, you have two options.
The first option is to do what the Chargers have done and bolster your defense. To do this, the Chiefs would ideally be active in the free-agent market and land one of the few marquee edge rushers that will be available.
Last week, our Bryan Stewart outlined some possible free agent edge rushers who the Chiefs could sign, and given the current climate of the AFC West, I have to say that my favorite idea would be to sign Von Miller.
The move to sign Miller doesn't come without its risks, though.
More problematic than Miller’s age (33) for potential buyers is that he does have some significant recent injury history tied to his lower body. Another long-term issue (such as the foot injury that cost him all of 2020) could mean a complete waste of a signing.
This could be the riskiest potential signing of all — if he’s healthy, it could be enough to ensure the Chiefs are playing in the Super Bowl again next season. If he does fall to injury — which the likelihood seems higher than it would with other options — it will be a ton of cap dollars left on the sideline.
Despite the red flags (his age and injury history), wouldn't it be wonderful to see Miller line up across from his old team and sack Russell Wilson?
Miller lamented the fact that the Broncos have been unable to beat the Chiefs in their last 13 matchups.
“I’m sorry, I don’t even know what to say,” Miller said. “I don’t know how we got to this point, I don’t know how we win like this, I really don’t know what to say. ... Whenever we play hard and come up short, it’s definitely defeating. ... It just defeats my soul to go out there and play the way we play and lose the way we lose.”
And he wears number 58 because Derrick Thomas was his favorite player growing up.
This one is too easy: if you can't beat them, join them.
If the Chiefs were to take this load-up-on-defense strategy, signing Miller alone would not get the job done. They would also have to invest significant draft capital and money in free agency to add edge rusher and multiple people in the secondary.
But there is another way to prepare battle— as the great Sun Tzu once wrote in "The Art of War."
Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack.
Or, to frame it for the Chiefs, why wait for your opponent to come to you, especially when you have Patrick Mahomes as your quarterback?
It doesn't matter who other teams add to their roster; they can't add Mahomes to their team. When you have the greatest offensive weapon in the league, you don't spend all of your resources to stop the other team; you double down on the thing that makes you special.
This means chasing a big-name receiver in free agency to pair with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill — and also taking a swing at an additional receiver or two in the draft. This is not the time to go halfway; if you are going on the offensive, then go on on the offensive.
There will be some who will say that the Chiefs need to do both: address the offense and the defense equally, and I think that, to an extent, that opinion is correct.
But the Chiefs have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, and the simple fact is, the salary cap rarely allows for a team to be special on offense and defense simultaneously. You can be good at both, but only great at one.
If you're already special in one category, why not be exceedingly more special in that same category? Build to your strengths.
Steel sharpens steel
As I said in the beginning, steel sharpens steel.
I'm excited that the rest of the AFC West has decided to wake up and try to win the division for a change. But, even with these moves, this is still the Chiefs' division to lose.
I think the moves we've seen over the last week are going to do nothing more than awake a sleeping giant who has not been truly tested for a long time. I predict that this brings out the best in this team, and they step up to the challenge and defend their title.
If it's one thing we've learned about the Chiefs under Reid and Mahomes, it's that when they get punched in the mouth, they spit out the blood and start swinging back.