With their 53-man roster now set, the Kansas City Chiefs turn their focus to the Arizona Cardinals, who they will play in the season opener on September 11. This roster reflects an offseason of change that saw the team say goodbye to some longtime favorites and almost completely rebuild the wide receiver room.
In all, 21 players on the current roster were not on the initial 53-man roster for the 2021 season.
The Chiefs likely hope for more roster continuity after this season. Let’s look at some key questions that will determine if the core of the 2022 Chiefs is what we will see for the foreseeable future.
5. Will an in-house improvement surface at right tackle?
While the Chiefs performed a minor miracle a year ago with the total remake of the offensive line, right tackle remains an issue. Andrew Wylie — though a capable and versatile player — is not on the level of the other four starters. 2022 fifth-round selection Darian Kinnard made the initial roster, though, in the preseason, he seemed far from ready to contribute on Sundays.
2020 third-round selection Lucas Niang will begin the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list — not surprising only nine months removed from a major knee injury. Niang will miss at least the first four games. The Chiefs also continue to roster Prince Tega Wanogho, who made his case even after missing much of camp with a leg injury.
If the Chiefs are not confident that any of these three can start in 2023 (or sooner), right tackle likely becomes a 2023 offseason priority.
4. Will L’Jarius Sneed and/or Willie Gay Jr. be extended after the season?
Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the 2020 draft class enters its third season — and its players can negotiate extensions at its conclusion. While running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire likely is not a candidate, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and cornerback L’Jarius Sneed may be.
Sneed became a starter from his first regular season game, and he has arguably been the best player in the Chiefs secondary for two seasons. Gay’s career started slowly — but he delivered strong play over the second half of last season and seems in line for a monster year. Should they follow through on their promise, the Chiefs may have to consider beginning extension talks when the season ends in order to control future costs.
It will be interesting to monitor the front office’s overtures as these players approach free agency. The team has used day-two draft selections on fellow linebackers Nick Bolton and Leo Chenal since drafting Gay — and three rookie cornerbacks cracking the 2022 roster could make extending Sneed less of a priority.
3. Will JuJu Smith-Schuster be paid as a top wideout?
As a second-year player in 2018, JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the best receivers in football for the Pittsburgh Steelers, finishing with 1,426 yards on 111 catches. A combination of injury and middling quarterback play, however, has prevented him from returning to that level in the last four seasons. After seeing multiple receivers with lesser pedigrees sign unexpectedly large contracts this offseason, Smith-Schuster signed a one-year incentive-laden deal in Kansas City.
By most accounts, Smith-Schuster has been quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ preferred wide receiver throughout camp. Resembling his 2018 form would be huge, as he will re-enter free agency next offseason at the still-young age of 26. If their connection looks on point, the Chiefs may want to work something out with Smith-Schuster, rather than replace their No. 1 receiver in consecutive seasons. While he may ultimately play himself into a top contract, the Chiefs appear to have already made a goodwill gesture to their new receiver.
2. Will Chris Jones stay in Kansas City past 2022?
The Chiefs may have a difficult decision to make after the season with their longest-tenured defensive player. Per Spotrac, Jones is scheduled to count $27,041,666 against the 2023 salary cap in what would be his age 29 season. The Chiefs could created $20 million in cap space by cutting or trading Jones following the season. Another option would be to sign him to an extension — though Chiefs general manager Brett Veach has rarely shown interest in committing to aging players.
What Jones does this season may determine the seriousness of the question. If he has the career year new defensive line coach Joe Cullen expects, he is unlikely to be satisfied simply playing out the final year of his contract — and Chiefs fans have recent experience with how unpredictable negotiations can be.
While it is hard to imagine 2022 being Jones’ last in Kansas City, no one expected 2021 to be wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s.
1. Will Orlando Brown Jr. be more receptive to the Chiefs’ next contract offer?
The Chiefs will enter next offseason with the same looming question they faced this year: what to do with — and how much to pay — left tackle Orlando Brown. Brown will play 2022 on the franchise tag, and the two sides will not be able to reopen contract talks until after the season. He stayed away from the first part of training camp but reported soon after padded practices began.
The Chiefs’ offer to Brown before the July deadline appears to have fallen well short of top left tackle money. The team will again need to weigh his demands against the difficulty (and high cost) of acquiring a comparable talent, let alone seeking a perceived upgrade.
Brown has bet on himself to prove worthy of a true long-term commitment after this season. Many future personnel decisions likely depend on whether both parties can reach an agreement next time around.