They wanted to take care of one of their stars entering the final year of his contract — wide receiver Tyreek Hill — while also improving the team’s defense. In early February, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach went as far as to say the defensive line was priority No. 1.
Fast forward about three months, and Hill is no longer a Chief. Kansas City feels it added an underrated impact player in safety Justin Reid, but the defensive line — other than retaining key pieces in Frank Clark and Derrick Nnadi — has remained mostly untouched.
So what happened?
As the Chiefs negotiated with Hill with hopes of keeping him in Kansas City, the price of premium wide receivers exploded. Jacksonville gave Christian Kirk $18 million a year. Tampa Bay’s Chris Godwin and Los Angeles’ Mike Williams signed three-year deals paying them $20 million a year — contracts that included $40 million guaranteed.
Hill had suddenly become way more expensive. The Chiefs had to figure out what to do. Veach admitted the delay with Hill interrupted their initial offseason plans.
“I think it did, to an extent,” said the general manager during his pre-draft press conference on Friday. “When we looked at this offseason, I think on our agenda was to add talent to the defensive side — whether it be defensive line or it be in the secondary — and take care of Tyreek. It became obvious as the free agency started that it was going to be tough to do both. You’re faced with a decision: do you dip into the older, veteran pass rush market? If you do that, how are you going to pay Tyreek? And then how does Tyreek feel about that?
“If you do the Tyreek thing, then you’re limited in regard to your resources being able to be spent on defense — plus the future. With that type of deal, [the future] would be impacted to a great deal. So when we took a step back and we figured, ‘How are we going to get better on both sides?’ That’s why we decided it was best for us (and best for Tyreek) getting that contract. It was kind of a win-win in that situation.”
The Chiefs sent Hill to the Miami Dolphins for five draft picks. He signed a contract that would guarantee him more than $52 million guaranteed at signing, with another $20 million guaranteed in March 2023.
Kansas City moved on — but by then, pass rushers such as Chandler Jones (Raiders), Von Miller (Bills) and even former Chief in Emmanual Ogbah (Dolphins) were off the board. So now, they will look to address the EDGE position in the draft and in the post-draft wave of free agency.
The Chiefs didn’t enter negotiations with Hill believing they would eventually trade him, but in the business of the NFL, they had to consider any possibility.
“I think in this day and age with players — and especially given our cap and the amount of talent we have on our team — it’s always something that we have in the back of my mind,” said Veach. “Like, what if? Right? So I think before we go into any negotiation, there’s always — and I think we do a great job of just going over the what-ifs. I mean, we’ve gone over it, just for the draft in the general, like, what if? There’s so many. So when you talk about free agency and contracts of that magnitude, in the back of your mind, you always have to play that out.”
Deciding to move on from Tyreek was well thought out
Trading Hill wasn’t a decision the Chiefs made overnight but rather a resolution that developed over weeks and weeks.
“I think it’s more of a slower evolution, where it’s — here are the talks, and they’re going in this direction one day and then they slowly start to creep,” Veach explained. “And then by the time you actually get to it, it’s not one of those — as fans or media would see it — it would get dropped on a day. ‘Whoa, that’s a lot.’
“But that was more of weeks of the evolution shifting from an extension, to maybe a trade, to this is going to happen. So it’s a little bit more played out for us, so when it does drop, it’s already been flushed through our system for weeks — if not more.”
Veach knew the decision to trade Hill wouldn’t sit right with many fans or local talking heads, but he playfully noted that he has a newfound strategy for that.
“I think you just turn the radio off,” he said with a smile, as media members laughed. “That’s what you do. My first year, you’d be like looking... you learn quickly whether you do something good or bad, it is what it is — and our job is just to put the blinders on and go to work. Work hard and do the work and communicate with our staff and do whatever we feel is best. Just stick to the plan.”
Entering his fifth draft as Chiefs’ general manager, Veach now realizes the expectation fans have for winning titles on a consistent basis.
“I always thought if you become a GM and win a Super Bowl, it’s like icing on the cake and a stress-free life,” said Veach, who helped construct the team that won Super Bowl LIV. “It’s the complete opposite. Every year, you feel like it’s not good enough. So I think just in general, working in this profession and being in this league, everyone literally forgets what you did the year before. Every year, it’s got to be something brand new and something different.
“It motivates us. We’re certainly fortunate that we have guys that are wired to come in and compete every day. Talking to Pat every day and seeing the way he’s working with those guys out there (more on that here) is certainly another motivating factor. But the pressure and expectations are there. Whether you won a Super Bowl the year before or you stink, there’s still pressure to win. So I think we feel it all the time.”