In this weekly series for Arrowhead Pride, I’ll ask one big question about the Kansas City Chiefs’ season. Last week, I wrote about what defensive end Charles Omenihu’s return meant for the team. This week, we’re looking ahead to a critical juncture of the NFL season.
Should the Chiefs make a trade deadline acquisition?
One of my favorite things to do when thinking about football is analyzing roster construction. I have always loved the process and the thought behind how certain teams come together.
It’s ultimately why I love free agency and the NFL Draft. When I look back at the identity of teams in the past, present, or future, my mind will turn a lot to roster construction.
With the Chiefs having a dynasty in the making, the way this roster is built has ramifications for the rest of the NFL. Every NFL team is looking at the Chiefs and trying to glean how they have consistent success. Plenty of NFL franchises can build a successful team for a year or two, but having sustained success is incredibly difficult. The Chiefs are now on a six-year run of being the best team in the NFL, and teams are desperately trying to steal that formula.
In that six-year window, we’ve seen multiple versions of the Chiefs. When Patrick Mahomes first took over as starter in 2018, the Chiefs had arguably the best situation of all time. Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones were all on rookie contracts for two full seasons. All three will go down as some of the best players to ever play at their positions... ever. They also were paying Travis Kelce a fraction of what top wide receivers get paid, and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was criminally underpaid based on how good he was. The Chiefs had the luxury of having five top players at their positions, putting a tiny dent into their cap space.
Since they had all these Hall of Famers on cheap contracts, the Chiefs were afforded the luxury of spending on other players. They were able to sign wide receiver Sammy Watkins, linebacker Anthony Hitchens, safety Tyrann Mathieu and acquire defensive end Frank Clark to add to their core. For the first two years of the Mahomes Era, the Chiefs could push all their chips forward since they were in such a healthy cap position.
The second version of this era’s Chiefs was between 2020-21. By this point, Mahomes, Hill and Jones had all been paid. They were still on the cheaper side of their extensions but accounting for a higher cap percentage. During this stage, the Chiefs did a lot of work to keep the veterans that led them to the Super Bowl in 2019.
The whole point of the “Run It Back” campaign in 2020 was to keep the entire core together for another shot at the Super Bowl. The Chiefs sacrificed cap flexibility and depth to keep expensive veterans together, which made sense at the time. The Chiefs were as dominant as any team in the league, so being aggressive with your decision-making made sense.
This aggressiveness peaked in 2021. After getting bludgeoned in the Super Bowl because they had to start a backup offensive line, the Chiefs were super aggressive in fixing it. They paid left guard Joe Thuney $80 million and acquired left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to add experience. The Chiefs also invested in right guard Kyle Long and drafted center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith. That entire offseason was built around solidifying the trenches, which caused other parts of the roster to decline.
Unfortunately, that decline hit a head by the end of 2021. While the offensive line was better, everything else about the roster was getting worse. Outside of Hill and Kelce, the Chiefs’ weapons were lacking. The defense was aging — with Mathieu, Hitchens and Clark all well past their primes. The roster was expensive and lacked many pivot points for adding talent.
The Chiefs had to make a move, which manifested in the Hill trade. They needed cap flexibility and draft picks to replenish the roster, and Hill was their only real trade option. By moving Hill, the Chiefs had a boatload of draft picks and extra cap space to fix the defense and build a more complementary offense around Mahomes and Kelce. That strategy couldn’t have worked any better immediately, with the Chiefs winning a Super Bowl one year after trading a truly game-changing talent in Hill.
Now, we’re in Year 6 of this budding dynasty. The Chiefs are 6-1 and fully emersed in this third version of this roster.
Nowadays, the team is built around Mahomes, Kelce and the offensive line — but also with an elite young defense. The Chiefs still have Jones as their centerpiece, but the depth and talent on defense has never been better in the Mahomes Era. The Chiefs have built this fast, versatile, aggressive defense that has found ways to limit every opponent so far. They’ve been one of the best passing defenses in the league through seven weeks. From my vantage point, there is no reason this Chiefs defense shouldn’t be this good for the rest of this season and the postseason.
This roster is as complete as ever. While I still have my concerns about the team — the wide receiver position, in particular — there’s no doubt that this team has achieved a level of complementary football that hasn’t been there in the Mahomes Era. The Chiefs can find different ways to win whenever needed, relying on either side of the ball to pick up the weight when the other is struggling.
Still, one more opportunity exists to add significant talent before the playoffs. The NFL trade deadline is on Tuesday, October 31, which gives every team one last chance to add a significant talent that can bolster their Super Bowl odds. For the Chiefs, they have to ask the tough question that every contender asks:
Should we go all in on this team?
In terms of the quality of this roster, the answer is yes. This team has as good of a shot as anyone to win, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t add talent. Still, there is opportunity cost to making trades. If you move significant draft capital to acquire a player, how much does that hurt your long-term outlook? Will it be harder to keep this core together if we’re trading draft picks? How much can you improve your Super Bowl odds with one trade vs. the cost of hurting your team beyond this season?
Every contender wrestles with this question. It’s easy to look at the present and go all-in, but that rarely works (see the Los Angeles Chargers). The Chiefs can be complacent and act like their roster is without issues, but they also can’t afford to be reckless and ignore the future.
Last year, the Chiefs made a move for wide receiver Kadarius Toney. They didn’t give up significant draft capital to acquire him, but he was a massive part of their Super Bowl victory.
Should the Chiefs look to acquire this year’s version of Toney for this team? We’ll know this answer by early next week.