If there’s one thing that Brett Veach has proved during his time as the Kansas City Chiefs’ general manager, it’s that he can overhaul an entire position group in a single offseason. Two years ago it was the offensive line. In 2021, it was cornerbacks and wide receivers.
The team’s wide receivers have undergone some striking changes. Just one player who was with the team in 2021 is now under contract for 2023: Cornell Powell, who spent the 2022 season on the practice squad. Just one wideout who caught a pass for the Chiefs in 2021 also caught one in 2022: Mecole Hardman, who will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 15. Of the 2,653 yards that quarterback Patrick Mahomes gained with wide receivers in the past season, 2,356 of them came from players who were new to the team in 2022.
But despite overhauling the unit in the last year, Kansas City is still set to lose 1,545 yards of wide receiver production to the open market. Along with Hardman, three more of the team’s wideouts will hit free agency: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Watson and Marcus Kemp.
Joining Powell on the team’s current roster are three wideouts who were on the team’s active roster in 2022 — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney — plus practice-squad wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Three other wide receivers now on the roster have never taken a snap in Kansas City: 2022 undrafted free-agent rookie Justyn Ross — who spent the season on the team’s Reserve/Injured (injured reserve) list — and recently-signed wideouts John Ross and Ty Fryfogle.
So what can the Chiefs do to make sure they continue to build their roster and take a step forward in the passing game in 2023? Let’s take a look at some possible options.
Re-sign Smith-Schuster and Watson
In the just-concluded season, Smith-Schuster led the team’s wideouts with 933 yards (and three touchdowns) on 78 receptions. When he was signed to an incentive-laden one-year deal last spring, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout wanted a landing spot where he could win a ring while rehabbing his career — while Kansas City was seeking a reliable pass catcher who could line up across from tight end Travis Kelce and move the chains. Both sides got exactly what they wanted.
Spotrac lists Smith-Schuster’s market value as $58.6 million over four years, which is an annual salary of $14.6 million. While it would take some salary-cap moves to create the space required — the Chiefs currently have just $526,000 in cap space — the team could conceivably afford to re-sign him. But if Kansas City makes that deal, there might be very little additional offensive spending during free agency.
Meanwhile, Watson played under a Veteran Salary Benefit (VSB) contract in 2022, which paid him the $1 million salary he was due as a veteran player, but cost the Chiefs just $895,000 under the salary cap. Should Kansas City decide to bring him back, he could probably be signed to the same deal — which in 2023 would cost the team as little as $940,000 against the cap.
With 315 receiving yards (and two touchdowns) in 2022, Watson ranked fifth among Kansas City pass-catchers. He will be 27 when the season kicks off — and still has more than enough in the tank to stretch the field and connect on an occasional long ball from Mahomes. For the price, Watson brings enough value as a bottom-of-the-roster wideout.
Acquire wide receivers in free agency
If the Chiefs don’t want to open up the checkbook for Smith-Schuster, the remaining free-agent options are a little bleak. That could push Smith-Schuster’s value up even higher, because the only comparable free-agent wide receivers are the Green Bay Packers’ Allen Lazard and the New England Patriots’ Jakobi Meyers. Both are expected to sign deals near $13 million per year.
But if the Chiefs decide to roll the dice on another down-on-their-luck receiver, there are some names to consider.
Parris Campbell is just 25 years old. He’s coming off his first fully-healthy season with the Indianapolis Colts. In 2022, he had 693 yards (and three touchdowns) in one of the league’s worst offenses. Spotrac lists his yearly market value at $2.5 million.
Darius Slayton is another budget player with some possible upside. Spotrac lists his yearly value as $3.5 million. Slayton has stayed relatively healthy while amassing over 700 yards in three out of his four seasons with the New York Giants.
Acquire wide receivers in the draft
The issue with building through the 2023 NFL Draft is that many of the top-end wideouts are smaller slot receivers, rather than larger-bodied chain movers like Smith-Schuster.
One player who fits that bill is TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston — but he is expected to be a top-15 pick. But if you look in the third or fourth rounds, there are some interesting prospects.
Few wide receivers have been more productive than Perry, who has 2,389 yards and 26 touchdowns over the last two seasons. At 6 feet 5 and 205 pounds, size is not a concern. He does a good job utilizing his long body and limbs on contested catches. There is a chance that at the next level, he could be a big slot player — rather than a true X receiver. He does not possess blazing speed , so how fast he runs the 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis will be big for him. If he can run at least in the high 4.4s, expect him to shoot up the boards.