It’s hard to avoid looking through the rose-colored glasses that come with being a Super Bowl champion when it comes to team construction. That’s the challenge the Kansas City Chiefs are dealing with, as they evaluate who to retain, who to part ways with — and who to go after in either free agency or the NFL Draft.
The first step is prioritizing their needs as a team. It’s important to understand which positions need the most attention, whether that’s short-term or long-term. Being a young team, the Chiefs have a bright future — but will still be busy securing significant spots this offseason.
I ranked the Chiefs’ positions of need this offseason, starting on offense for the first two:
1. Figure out offensive tackles
Both starting offensive tackles are unrestricted free agents when the calendar turns: left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and right tackle Andrew Wylie. The remaining offensive tackles for the 2023 season are Lucas Niang, Prince Tega Wanogho and last year’s fifth-round pick, Darian Kinnard.
It’s simple: the team will always prioritize protecting quarterback Patrick Mahomes over everything else. Super Bowl LV is all the evidence needed to forever figure that part out first, then worry about the rest. Fortunately, the interior offensive line is set for the next two seasons at a minimum — but the incumbent starting tackles could be facing a fork in the road.
The Chiefs’ offense allowed three sacks in the postseason, riding on steady performances from the book ends of the protection. The continuity between the five players has become an asset and could be hard to justify breaking up. Whether or not they keep the band together, figuring out offensive tackle is the team’s No. 1 priority this offseason.
2. Establish a plan for wide receivers
The wide receiver room’s statistical leader during the 2022 season was JuJu Smith-Schuster, taking advantage of his one-year deal and setting up to explore the free-agent market this offseason. Along with him, wide receivers Mecole Hardman and Justin Watson will be unrestricted free agents.
The free-agent market for wide receivers is very thin, which strengthens the cases of Smith-Schuster and Hardman to get competitive offers elsewhere. The Chiefs’ effort level in re-signing either player will speak to their plan for the position.
Bringing back either player sets the Chiefs up to have a high level of continuity in the pass-catching group — but letting them walk would signal a continued push to get younger and less expensive at the position, following the trend in acquiring wide receivers Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney. There may only be room for one veteran, multi-year contract in the receiver room, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling may have solidified that honor.
No matter their plan, focusing on the wide receiver position should always be one of the top priorities with Mahomes.
3. Add to the defensive line
To orbit around the star that is interior pass rusher Chris Jones, the Chiefs have the following defensive tackles slated to return for the 2023 season: defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton. That’s the list, a list that only contains a player who had to recover from a torn ACL in October of 2022.
They could stand to add to a defensive end room set to be highlighted by Frank Clark, Mike Danna and George Karlaftis — but Kansas City really needs to take the interior seriously. They patched it up by signing Derrick Nnadi back to a one-year deal last year and trusting Khalen Saunders in the last year of his rookie deal, but the patching didn’t hold up at times this season. A stronger solution could bolster a front that already has forward momentum.
They not only need a starting nose tackle that can be stout like Nnadi has in his career; they need quality pass-rushing depth — maybe some that could develop into the primary role Jones plays.
4. Round out the defensive backfield
The Chiefs’ rookie cornerbacks stole the show in 2022, leading to their position not having much movement during the offseason. At safety, the veteran Justin Reid is returning in the second of three contractual seasons — but starter Juan Thornhill is set to be an unrestricted free agent; on a lower level, veteran Deon Bush will also hit the open market.
That naturally leaves an open door for last year’s second-round pick, Bryan Cook, who began to flash in the postseason as he was further relied upon. If they do trust him, they’ll still need a third safety that’s capable in the team’s dime defense. Also, a fourth safety that’s able — but primarily a special teams piece.
If they don’t want to fully trust Cook as a full-time starter, it becomes an even bigger offseason need — one that could be fulfilled with what looks like a loaded free-agent class of safeties.
5. Find the next veteran running back
With running backs Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones II set to become unrestricted free agents, the backfield is left with Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire — limping into the final year of his rookie deal.
It’s not a bad combination to work with, but Kansas City has preferred to have a veteran, pass-down back for the large majority of the Mahomes era. Running back Damien Williams developed into that late in Mahomes’ first year as the starter, then Jerick McKinnon had a similar story in the first year after Williams was released by the Chiefs.
Each back has been an excellent blocker, willing to put their nose into a pass rusher and sacrifice themselves for a cleaner throw by Mahomes. At the same time, they have the ball-carrying ability to be a threat as a pass catcher.
The next veteran back could just be a repeat of McKinnon, who will be 31 next season. If it’s not, watch out for who the Chiefs target for this role; they will play a much more significant role in the offense than the signed-contract figures will tell us.