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How Chiefs’ offseason can account for big moves made by AFC West foes

Each of Kansas City’s division rivals has gotten off to a fast start in the 2022 offseason.

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach is making his way to the starting line of the race called the NFL offseason, two divisional foes have already jumped out of the starting blocks.

On Tuesday, the Denver Broncos finalized a trade to acquire nine-time Pro Bowler, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The Los Angeles Chargers executed a trade with the Chicago Bears for three-time All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack two days later.

While those teams are celebrated for the significant transactions and early start to the action, Veach is taking notice as he settles into his final position — waiting to explode off the line when free agency starts early next week.

He was going to either way — no one has ever mistaken Veach for conservative in player acquisition — but it’s human nature to be further motivated by the actions of your opponents. Denver and Los Angeles’ moves have increased how significant it is that the Chiefs solidify the following positions.

I’ll explain why:

Right tackle

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The Chiefs have solidified one offensive tackle spot this offseason by franchise tagging left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. — still, the right tackle position will be just as crucial to protecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes — and their job just got much harder.

Not only did the Chargers acquire Mack to give them a daunting edge-rushing duo of him and four-time Pro Bowler Joey Bosa, but the Broncos’ acquisition of Wilson may also have given a future Hall of Fame edge rusher a reason to return home and join a now-healthy Bradley Chubb.

On top of that, the Las Vegas Raiders just signed defensive end Maxx Crosby to a long-term deal, keeping one of 2021’s best edge rushers happy while Yannick Ngakoue comes from the opposite side for another season.

The Chiefs’ Lucas Niang has shown flashes of being a starting-caliber player at right tackle, but the numerous injuries to start his career can’t be ignored — including the torn patellar tendon he suffered on January 2 that he is currently rehabilitating. Relying on him and a potentially re-signed Andrew Wylie to make it work for the starting spot is asking for trouble in the six games they play against the division.

Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs take a bigger swing at offensive tackle than you think — whether that be signing one of the starting-capable veterans I listed earlier this offseason or drafting one of the talented offensive tackles towards the top of this class for further insurance at that spot.

Top-end pass-rush talent

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The addition of Wilson to the division makes the group of starting quarterbacks as impressive as any one division has ever seen. For the Chiefs specifically, no longer do they get the benefit of playing a statue of a pocket passer in Joe Flacco or an inexperienced, turnover machine like Drew Lock when facing Denver — and that makes it that much harder to hide underperforming pass rush.

To match the best quarterback division in football, the Chiefs have to have one of the best four-man pass rush units in football — not just a unit paid like it. There are a few elite players for the Chiefs to think about, mainly because both have ties to current members of the organization.

Edge rusher Chandler Jones

On March 5, Ian Rapaport of NFL Network reported that the Arizona Cardinals were not expected to use the franchise tag on Chandler Jones.

The 32-year old may have the résumé to get top-of-the-market salary for an edge rusher, but that didn’t stop Veach from nearly signing 33-year old Trent Williams last year. Jones would be a sizable upgrade over what the Chiefs have had recently; he has quietly had 10 or more sacks in six of the last seven seasons.

Plus, Jones worked directly under current Chiefs’ linebackers coach Brandon Daly when he was a defensive assistant with the New England Patriots for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, totaling 18.5 sacks and a Pro-Bowl berth in that time.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox

Not every acquisition has to be a free agent, however.

Cox is a one-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowler originally drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round during the last season of head coach Andy Reid’s tenure. According to Reid, Cox was a prospect that then-scout Brett Veach pounded the table for.

If the Chiefs want to affect these talented quarterbacks, they need to have more than Chris Jones as a difference-making pass rusher. That could mean taking giant swings in the free agent and trading markets, and it could also mean making it an absolute priority to re-sign Melvin Ingram.

Deep-field safety

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Last season, Los Angeles Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert, Las Vegas Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr and Wilson took up three of the top 11 spots in completions of 20 or more yards in the air. All three guys love to uncork a deep pass, and the Chiefs are not well equipped to handle them with their current personnel.

The only safeties on the roster for 2022 currently are Juan Thornhill, Zayne Anderson and Devon Key; the latter two were undrafted signings last offseason. For the good snaps Thornhill has, he has some ugly repetitions as a deep safety — including the 75-yard score that went over his head to the Buffalo Bills’ Gabriel Davis in the AFC Divisional Round.

Even with the heavy emphasis on two-high coverages that Steve Spagnuolo has with his defensive scheme, the Chiefs have still given up too many big plays over the top — and it’s because they’ve lacked a deep safety with the athleticism to cover a lot of ground and the instincts to be in the right position consistently. When they look for safety help this offseason, that skill should be a number-one priority.

Some free agents that have spent the majority of their time in the deep-safety role include:

  • Marcus Williams
  • Quandre Diggs
  • Xavier Woods
  • Rodney McLeod

If the Chiefs want to draft a safety high for this responsibility, my first-round target would be Georgia safety Lewis Cine — who you’ll hear much more from me about. Later, Maryland’s Nick Cross could give the Chiefs the range and deep-coverage instincts they need.