Is it time to hit the panic button yet?
Day three of free agency is in the books, and it has been anything but uneventful so far for Kansas City Chiefs fans — just not for the reasons they expected.
Honestly, we had to have known this was coming at some point. You can only beat up on a division for so long before the front offices of the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders say enough is enough and pour everything they have into making the pain stop. Chiefs fans should take this as a compliment.
https://t.co/3HU1QvEIUQ pic.twitter.com/TxVdAH6FMS— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) March 18, 2022
I'm not going to sugarcoat it, though: the Chiefs have holes on their roster, specifically in the secondary, on the defensive line and at wide receiver.
The rest of the division smells blood in the water — they know that if they don't seize the moment, they might not get another chance to dethrone the Chiefs for a long time.
Additions to the AFC West:— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) March 17, 2022
- Russell Wilson
- Randy Gregory
- DJ Jones
- Khalil Mack
- JC Jackson
- Sebastian Joseph-Day
- Davante Adams
- Chandler Jones
- Rock Ya-Sin
- Justin Reid
So the question is — has the rest of the AFC West done enough to close the gap?
Only time will tell.
A lot can happen between now and next January. Players get injured. Some players won't live up to their contracts. Others will outperform the deals they signed. You never know how it's all going to shake out until you strap your helmet on and get out on the field.
One thing is sure: if the Chiefs win their seventh straight AFC West title, they will be the most battle-tested team in recent memory.
2022 AFC West champion about to look like…. @Broncos @Raiders @chargers @Chiefs #Chiefs #RaiderNation #BroncosCountry #BoltUp #NFLFreeAgency #NFLTwitter #NFL @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/NDlnVMd2zl— NFLOutdated (@NflOutdated) March 17, 2022
We shouldn't be surprised that the Chiefs have been quiet thus far. Last month, when he was asked about his offseason blueprint, Veach said that his first priority was solidifying everything in-house.
“I think our first line of business is to finalize where we are with our guys and our staff. Whether it’s the new contracts, the restructuring, the re-signings, guys moving on, trading. Once we finalize and stabilize what we have, it’s just a matter of filling in the holes and then it comes down to what makes sense from a financial term and a commitment term and marrying that with what we think is available in the draft.”
The Chiefs cut middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens and restructured Frank Clark's contract before the start of free agency. On Wednesday, it was reported that the Chiefs were actively working on an extension for Tyreek Hill.
Does that mean the Chiefs are done in the free-agent market until they resolve Hill's contract?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The Chiefs are trying to remain disciplined about the money they spend.
“We’re not rolling into the offseason with a ton of cap space. We have some moves to make. The cap has grown. I know that there’s number thrown out there and people think that it’s a bigger number, but I think we were hoping for a little bit bigger. The big question is the growth from ’22 to ’23. That also plays a factor into how we structure contracts and how cash flow is different in years. There’s an element of that that’s unknown. The knee jerk reaction is to see TV deals and say the cap’s just going to balloon... but my gut tells me that won’t be the case. It’ll be much more gradual, and we’ll have to also utilize that into our equation in how we approach this offseason.”
If the Chiefs want to ensure sustained success over the entirety of Mahomes' career, showing restraint this offseason might be the smart move to make.
Russell Wilson is 33 years old. Derek Carr is 30.
Both teams have new head coaches, and the Raiders have a new general manager. The Chargers share a stadium with the Super Bowl champs, and Justin Herbert is still on his rookie deal. The pressure is on the rest of the AFC West to win now. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have a future Hall of Fame coach and the best quarterback in the NFL, who is under contract for another decade.
The whole AFC West is in win now mode, and in 3 years they are all going to be in cap hell and Patrick Mahomes still won’t be 30 years old yet.— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) March 18, 2022
So, where do we go from here?
If we look at Brett Veach's previous free agency periods leading up to the draft, we see specific trends.
(Note: All dates and transactions are via Chiefs.com)
March 2018 Highlights
03/22 Damien Williams (RB) signed
03/21 Xavier Williams (DL) signed
03/16 Chad Henne (QB) signed
03/15 Sammy Watkins (WR), Anthony Hitchens (LB), Dustin Colquitt (P), Anthony Sherman (FB) signed
03/14 Marcus Peters (CB) traded to Los Angeles Rams for draft picks
03/14 Alex Smith (QB) traded to Washington for Kendall Fuller (CB) and a draft pick
03/12 Tamba Hali (LB) released
March 2019 Highlights:
03/25 Anthony Sherman (RB) signed
03/14 Alex Okafor (DE) signed
03/14 Damien Wilson (LB) signed
03/14 Tyrann Mathieu (S) signed
03/13 Eric Berry (S) released
03/10 Justin Houston (LB) released
03/09 Carlos Hyde (RB) signed
03/04 Dee Ford (LB) franchise tagged
March 2020 Highlights:
03/22 Antonio Hamilton (CB) signed
03/21 Mike Remmers (OL) signed
03/19 Chad Henne (QB) signed
March 2021 Highlights:
03/31 Jarran Reed (DT) signed. Elijah McGuire (RB) signed.
03/29 Daniel Sorensen (S) signed.
03/26 Demarcus Robinson (WR) signed.
03/25 Mike Remmers (OL) signed.
03/24 Nick Keizer (TE) signed.
03/18 Kyle Long (G) signed. Joe Thuney (G) signed. Blake Bell (TE) signed.
03/16 Darrel Williams (RB) signed. Taco Charlton (DE) signed. Damien Williams (RB) released.
03/11 Eric Fisher (T) released. Mitchell Schwartz (T) released.
February/March 2022 Highlights (so far):
03/18 Andrew Wylie (T) signed.
03/16 Justin Reid (S), Chad Henne (QB) signed.
We got a defensive playmaker in @justinqreid pic.twitter.com/Ph9rJ7T38A— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) March 17, 2022
03/07 Orlando Brown (T) tagged with Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag
02/22 Anthony Hitchens (LB) released
Looking at this, I see at least five takeaways
- The first thing that jumps out is just how inactive Brett Veach was in 2020. Coming off of a Super Bowl victory, the Chiefs decided to run it back with the same squad they had in 2019. The only problem with this plan was that, in the NFL, if you're not actively trying to get better, then all you are doing is letting the rest of the league catch up to you. The result was an embarrassing loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. The Bucs tried to do the same thing in 2021 and were bounced in the NFC Divisional Round by the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Los Angeles Rams.
- Veach is not afraid to cut bait on a bad contract or an injured vet. In four out of his five free agency periods, Veach has released a veteran player to save money. The only time he didn't do this was the previously mentioned ill-fated offseason of 2020.
- In three out of the five years, Veach has made only one splash free-agent signing, preferring to fill out the remainder of the roster through the draft, trades or cheaper deals on players with upside. The only exception was in 2018, when he signed both Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens in the same offseason.
- He's going to sign a running back at some point. In four out of the five free agency periods, Veach signed a veteran running back to serve as backup to his lead back. The only time he didn't do this was in 2020, when he waited until October to sign Le'Veon Bell. I can't be mad at him for it, though. This tactic has served him well: Who knows where the Chiefs would have been in 2019 if they didn't have Damien Williams to step in after the team parted ways with Kareem Hunt?
- Veach says that he values the defensive line over other positions on defense, but this does not translate blockbuster deals in free agency. In his five years as general manager, the largest contract he has given out to a player on the defensive line in March was to Alex Okafor in 2019, when he signed him for three years and 17.9 million dollars. He prefers to either trade or draft players along the defensive line instead.
What does all of this mean?
I think it means the Chiefs may not make another big splash. Reid may be the biggest name the Chiefs land via free agency this year.
This doesn't mean that Veach will not continue to add pieces to the roster. He is very good at turning over every stone and finding veterans to ink to one-year prove-it deals.
This means no Za'Darius Smith in Kansas City.
Report: Vikings trying to trade Danielle Hunter. https://t.co/naXeXpBLWE— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 17, 2022
If history is correct, if the Chiefs want to land an elite edge rusher, then they are most likely going to do it in the draft or — via a trade for an established player.