After the Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV after the 2019 season, there was speculation that the victory would start a new trend: free-agent players coming to Kansas City to play with Patrick Mahomes, sacrificing financial upside for a greater opportunity to win a championship ring.
But in the years since then, it appears that money has continued to be the top priority for most free agents — which is probably as it should be in a game as physical as football. Even as the Chiefs are coming off another Super Bowl title, money will likely continue to be a free agent’s primary motivating factor.
But with Mahomes (and head coach Andy Reid), the Chiefs are officially in a different class. With two Super Bowl wins (and a third appearance) over the past four years, there’s no disputing it: Kansas City is the franchise where ring chasers will want to sign.
In particular, the chance for an offensive player to boost his value by working with Mahomes is especially tantalizing. Just ask wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who could be days away from signing the biggest contract of his career.
So let’s take a look at some other offensive free agents who might be interested in following in his footsteps this season.
1. Wide receiver Darius Slayton
The former Auburn Tigers wideout just completed his fourth NFL season — all with the New York Giants, who selected Slayton in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. In the three seasons in which Slayton started at least nine games, he always recorded at least 700 receiving yards.
He’s a big-play threat who produced a career-best 15.7 yards per catch (and 10.2 yards per target) in 2022. Considering this was his first season playing in a well-coached offensive scheme, these are telling statistics. Slayton is now 26, so his prime years likely remain ahead of him — something Chiefs general manager Brett Veach always covets in free agency.
But if Kansas City can retain Smith-Schuster, a signing like this one will probably be unnecessary. Compared to him, Slayton’s career production is a little behind schedule, so playing with Mahomes on a one-year incentive-laden deal could be just what he needs to maximize his market value in 2024. While Slayton would not be a one-for-one replacement for Smith-Schuster’s skill set, he is a good football player that Reid could use to generate explosive plays.
2. Wide receiver Parris Campbell
Another player taken in the 2019 draft, Campbell came into the league with plenty of hype as a second-round selection of the Indianapolis Colts — just three picks after Kansas City took wide receiver Mecole Hardman. So we know that in that moment, the front office preferred Hardman over Campbell.
But despite his injury-riddled 2022 season, there’s a chance Hardman could get more money than the Chiefs are willing to pay.
Should he land elsewhere, Kansas City could pivot to Campbell, who provides a similar speed-based skill set. Yes... Kadarius Toney would be Hardman’s natural replacement for many of the offense’s horizontal motions and routes — but as we saw last season, having multiple players who can do those things is a big positive.
Injuries during his first three seasons — in which he started just eight games — crushed Campbell’s development. But in 2022, he played all 17 games, flashing the ability that made him a top-60 draft choice. He finished with 63 receptions for 623 receiving yards and three touchdowns — plus 58 rushing yards.
Campbell might see Kansas City as a place where he could be caught in a depth-chart logjam. But he’s almost certain to be looking for a one-year deal where can show he is continuing to ascend. He might consider playing with Mahomes to be his best opportunity.
3. Tackle Taylor Lewan
The most popular, well-known name on this list might also be the least likely to come to the Chiefs — because signing this veteran tackle isn’t likely to happen unless Kansas City moves on from left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. A well-respected veteran of the Tennessee Titans, Lewan is a three-time Pro Bowler who has played left tackle exclusively.
Now 31, he entered the league as a first-round pick in 2014 — and given the success of his podcast, he isn’t likely to play for a non-contending team. Quicker on his feet than Brown, he’s a better natural fit for the Chiefs’ offense. At his peak, Lewan was a better version of former Kansas City left tackle Eric Fisher: an explosive athlete who was physical as a run blocker — and was a darned good, explosive pass blocker.
The Titans released Lewan because he’s recently had trouble staying healthy; a long-term knee issue kept him out for nearly all of the 2022 season. Given this issue, signing him would require the team to have a good developmental tackle behind him.
The bottom line
2023’s free-agent class is comparatively weak, so there’s a solid chance the best talents to hit the market will be players who are released during the coming weeks. Still, it’s not a matter of if a few veteran players will sign with the Chiefs to further their individual careers and pursue a world championship. Instead, it’s when.