After the first Super Bowl victory in this era of Kansas City Chiefs football in 2019, the team famously “ran it back” by keeping most of the Super LIV championship team intact heading into the 2020 season.
In the current aftermath of winning a title, the Chiefs have a plan opposite of what it was three years ago. At least seven significant starters have moved on since helping the team win Super Bowl LVII, and the club has signed and drafted players in hopes of replacing them.
Right now, there’s reasonable optimism that the team made the correct decisions — but once the season begins, there’s a possibility certain absences could be felt.
I highlighted three players that could be missed by the team and the fans at some point during 2023:
Defensive end Frank Clark
For the first time in defensive coordinator Steve Spagunolo’s tenure in Kansas City, he won’t have veteran defensive end Frank Clark leading the room. Clark signed with the Denver Broncos for one year and roughly $5.5 million guaranteed.
What will the Chiefs miss more? Clark’s leadership or the impact on the players around him? Last year, training camp attendees saw Clark take time outside of practice to teach rookie defensive end George Karlaftis the tricks of the trade.
Clark has also clearly been the vocal leader of the defensive front — something that may be missing from the current unit. Defensive tackle Chris Jones is more of an energy source than he is a motivator, and the others that make up the group are very young. Defensive end Mike Danna is entering his fourth year but comes across as a mild-mannered workhorse who prefers to lead by example.
The Chiefs have no veteran with Clark’s experience, which may be missed more than we realize right now. On top of that, Clark’s willingness to do the dirty work on run downs and eat up snaps will be missed; both he and defensive end Carlos Dunlap were reliable in that aspect.
Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
The Chiefs boldly moved on from starting left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. without much of a thought. He signed with the Cincinnati Bengals for four years, $64 million — a deal worth much less than he was projected to sign for by many.
I believe the main reason for their decision was Brown’s limitations as a pass protector. With the greatest quarterback in football, the left tackle should have pass blocking as one of his strengths. However, Brown was more of a star in the Chiefs’ run game. The team began to call more traditional runs that had Brown bulldoze defenders on a down block or get into space and pave a run lane down the field.
Veteran left tackle Donovan Smith has some of that ability as well but is not as physically overwhelming. It may impact the dominance of the Chiefs’ run game, but Brown may also be missed for his durability. Brown missed only one game for Kansas City in his two years; Smith is coming off a season in which multiple injuries forced him to miss four games.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman
It’s clear that the Chiefs failed to develop wide receiver Mecole Hardman into more than the gadget weapon with home-run ability.
But what’s less talked about is that quality is a very valuable thing to have in this offense. The Chiefs took advantage of Hardman’s elite speed and acceleration on jet sweeps, quick screens, vertical shots and designed reverses. In theory, that defined role is easier to fill than a more complex role at wide receiver, but they cannot replicate Hardman’s game-breaking speed.
That could lower the ceiling of those plays, and the games where Hardman scores three touchdowns on three jet sweeps — like he did against the San Francisco 49ers last year — may not happen. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore — or whoever fills Hardman’s spot — will get big plays in these scenarios but may not have the same touchdown-on-any-play ability.