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Amidst a franchise-altering trade, let’s not forget who plays quarterback for the Chiefs

There is no doubt the Chiefs will miss the impact of Tyreek Hill, but the most important pieces to the franchise’s most successful stretch are still very much intact.

Kansas City Chiefs v Washington Football Team Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs made a franchise-altering decision on Wednesday, moving on from a 28-year-old, top-five wide receiver in his prime — and inarguably the greatest to ever play the position for their organization.

Tyreek Hill is a Miami Dolphin, which, in itself, still feels abnormal to put in print.

A week after the Las Vegas Raiders only needed to spend two draft picks to acquire Davante Adams, the Chiefs secured five selections for Hill's services, saying goodbye to a key cog of their AFC dominance of the past half-decade while also adding bullets to the chamber to make up for his absence. It was a trade so big that some said it was in the same realm as the 1989 Herschel Walker deal.

The reality

Let's begin with the hard truth of the trade.

Saying that it will be a manageable task for the Chiefs to replace everything Hill does would be outright wrong. His connection with the quarterback, his zero-to-100 gear, his tracking ability and his capacity to hit a home run no matter the count will be sorely missed — and again, staying frank, that package really cannot be replicated by anybody in the National Football League.

Hill's opening press conference with the Dolphins happened on Thursday. Asked about the difficulty of choosing to leave Kansas City, as is Hill's signature, he began in jest.

"It's tough, but (when) somebody comes to you with a lot of money, it changes," smiled Hill, who the Dolphins agreed to pay $72.2 million guaranteed. "Feelings start to change a little bit. ... It definitely was tough.

"I definitely had one of those moments where like I just had to get in my car and just drive and just really think about those moments that I had in K.C. with my family, with my coaches, players."

Hill may have been joking to start, but as we all know, there is always a little truth in every, "I'm kidding." Hill wanted that title of the highest-annually-paid receiver in the National Football League. And he got it — as is his right as a world-class athlete. The Chiefs made him a lucrative offer — but in order to keep the team's flexibility and competitiveness intact, they could only go so far.

So with all that information, general manager Brett Veach made a decision for which he had no other choice: trade the receiver at his maximum value, avoid the holdout and distraction and turn to his veteran players such as Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones to keep this thing rolling — the same Mahomes who agreed to guarantee mechanisms in the most unique and flexible long-term contract in NFL history, the same Kelce who took significantly less than he could on the open market and the same Jones who decided to forgo his signing bonus for the sake of the team staying competitive.

Life after Hill

On Thursday, the Chiefs began to embrace their whole new world.

And here’s the key: As they enter life after Hill, it won't be leaning into the energy of replacement — but rather reinvention. When viewed from that standpoint, there is almost something to be a little excited about.

From 2018 on, the Chiefs have relied on Hill stretching the field, opening things up for Kelce in the middle and intermediate and doing their best to run enough to keep an opposing defense honest. The system worked — and it worked well until the league as a whole made its 2021 adjustment: heavy doses of two-high coverage shells and a hard commitment that Hill, despite being the fastest player the league has to offer, would not get behind the last defender.

Mahomes had to learn how to adjust, as did the pass-catchers. Instead of taking, say, seven to 10 deep shots a game, he would have to connect on two or three opportunities. Sometimes that happened, and sometimes that didn't — but there was enough of a midseason adjustment by Mahomes and company to rip off eight wins in a row and nine of 10, thereby clinching the AFC's No. 2 seed.

Through 10 quarters of the NFL playoffs, the Chiefs looked destined to win their second Lombardi Trophy in three years. We understand what happened after that.

The 2022 outlook

By choosing five draft picks (and more than $70 million worth of cap space) rather than Hill's services, the Chiefs are betting on a few things — three, to be exact.

First, Veach is betting on himself — and his staff. Three of the five picks acquired in the trade for Hill will happen in this year's NFL Draft. The Chiefs' league-leading 12 picks include two in the first round, two in the second round, two in the third and two in the fourth. Veach has never been shy about trading up — and should the personnel staff complete its due diligence on other teams' intentions, this should allow the Chiefs to get their guys for maximum value.

The Chiefs desperately need an impact EDGE player, and the draft is pass-rush rich. They also need a premium wide receiver to go along with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Don't be surprised for trade-ups to get both the EDGE and receiver they covet.

With 12 picks, that’s a legitimate option, while also having a number of choices to address their lesser needs — namely at right tackle and defensive back.

Second, the Chiefs are trusting head coach Andy Reid. Reid has been doing this NFL head coaching thing for 23 seasons. He's been doing this football coaching thing for much longer than that. In those 23 chances, Reid has made the playoffs on 17 occasions (11 of those times were before Hill). In Kansas City, he has missed the postseason once in nine tries.

How does Reid do it with such consistency? By building his offense around the weapons in the building.

The Chiefs traded for Alex Smith in 2013, knowing they needed stability at the position. Each year during Smith's tenure, he got a little bit better — all the way up to 2017, which was the greatest statistical season of his career. How did that happen? Reid dug up and emphasized the stuff that worked for Smith in Utah — and in the process, began a multi-year, league-wide heavy-RPO trend that still has its impact on every game we watch today.

Smith threw for more than 4,000 yards for the only time in his 14-year career and earned $72 million from the Washington franchise after the trade. Reid went on to build the "Legion of Zoom" with Mahomes and Hill — resulting in two overtime AFC title losses, a Super Bowl trip and a Super Bowl championship.

Hill's departure offers the Chiefs room for a more balanced attack. When they were balanced in 2021, they were at their best. It’s hard to believe right this instant, but there is a scenario that exists in which the offense is better and more unpredictable in 2022 than in 2021.

Third, has one bad half of football made folks across the country forget about Mahomes? This is still very much the quarterback who has had a better start to his career than any in NFL history. And through his talents, he has made several different pass-catchers a good chunk of change.

We know what Mahomes, who has been described as the "perfect match" for Hill (and vice versa), did for Hill's bank account. But what about Albert Wilson (Dolphins)? Sammy Watkins (Ravens)? Byron Pringle (Bears)? And Demarcus Robinson (Raiders)?

In a throwaway game in 2017 — the first start of his NFL career — Mahomes made Wilson look like a legitimate No. 2 receiver, hitting him 10 times for 147 yards. That single game boosted Wilson's free-agent stock and landed him a lucrative deal in Miami.

When Watkins was on the field, Mahomes found ways to get him the football, and for a player drafted by Buffalo at No. 4 overall (and later played in Los Angeles for wunderkind Sean McVay), Watkins' greatest stretch came during the 2019 postseason, when Mahomes featured him while Hill and Kelce were occupied. The throw to Watkins in Super Bowl LIV to beat Richard Sherman was a fantastic catch, but the ball was on him.

And most recently... Pringle and Robinson. If Justin Fields finds Pringle for more than 568 yards (2021) or Derek Carr can get Robinson to over 450 (which Robinson did twice with Mahomes), that would be quite the surprise.

A few Mahomes critics will say that his success is a product of Hill and Kelce. In 2022, Mahomes will have his first opportunity to prove otherwise with a new cast.

I, for one, wouldn't bet against him — and would go as far to say, he's easily the best pick for this season's MVP. This is the year of Patrick Mahomes' reestablishment.

Sticking with Vegas odds, there is a reason the Chiefs are still favored to win the division and remain among the favorites to win the conference — and it is not because of one skill player.

It is because of Veach and his picks, because of Mahomes and his skill set and because of Reid and what he has done and will do. Football is the ultimate team sport — and since 2013 (and especially 2018), the Chiefs have been the league's most consistent club.

There is a long way to go this offseason — and regardless of the change the Chiefs just made, the most important factors won't in 2022.

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