When the Kansas City Chiefs look up from their sideline on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium prior to the NFL’s season opener against the Detroit Lions on Thursday, September 7, they’ll see a banner celebrating the team’s Super Bowl LVII victory. But quite a few of the players who won it will be wearing another uniform in 2023.
To be exact, 27% of the 2022 Chiefs’ regular-season offensive snaps (and 25% of the defensive snaps) were vacated by offseason departures. Four legitimate starters signed with new teams, while six other players who had key roles did not return.
To replace them, Kansas City signed seven free agents and drafted seven other players — and still remain at the top of DraftKings Sportsbook’s list of betting favorites to win Super Bowl LVIII. The Chiefs stand alone at +600, holding off the Philadelphia Eagles at +650.
The perennial Super Bowl contenders will be in the thick of it again — but how will the team look different than it did a year ago?
Offensive tackles, wide receivers see bulk of turnover
Both of Kansas City’s starting offensive tackles left in free agency. Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, while right tackle Andrew Wylie got a deal from the Washington Commanders. Over the last two seasons, the two had accounted for 86% of the Chiefs’ offensive tackle snaps.
The team also chose not to match the three-year deal wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster got from the New England Patriots. While missing only one game, Smith-Schuster led Kansas City’s wide receivers in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Even though he played in just nine games due to injury, Mecole Hardman led the group in touchdowns — but found a new home with the New York Jets.
A handful of defenders move on
Safety Juan Thornhill ranked fourth in defensive snaps last season before signing a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs will also miss the contributions of defensive ends Frank Clark and Carlos Dunlap, along with defensive tackle Khalen Saunders. Clark and Saunders have joined the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints, respectively — while the unsigned Dunlap still has an opportunity to rejoin the team.
Other key departures this offseason included fullback Michael Burton and backup quarterback Chad Henne, who retired right after the Super Bowl. The team also didn’t retain cornerback Chris Lammons, who led the special teams unit in snaps during 2022.
Filling in the cracks of the depth chart
Kansas City’s first offseason acquisition was former Jacksonville Jaguars’ right tackle Jawaan Taylor. The 25-year-old’s four-year deal gave the team a strong start in replacing its missing offensive tackles — but we didn’t see another move until the NFL Draft, when the team selected Oklahoma tackle Wanya Morris in the third round.
We can speculate that the Chiefs might have missed out on a left tackle they liked in Round 1 — which led to the team’s post-draft signing of veteran Donovan Smith to a one-year deal worth up to $3 million. Smith’s eight years as the starting left tackle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gives Kansas City a reasonable performance floor at the position in 2023 — but it’s unclear whether Smith will be an improvement over Brown.
At right tackle, Taylor is likely an upgrade over Wylie — but in every respect? Taylor’s pass-protection skills have been one of his most impressive assets, but his run blocking will need refinement. Last season, the Chiefs’ running game became a weapon — and the play of their offensive tackles was a part of that.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas City’s March signing of former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive lineman Charles Omenihu gave the unit another versatile pass rusher. Then in the draft, the team used its first-round pick on a long-term solution at defensive end: Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
While this gives the team more pass-rushing juice than the two departed defensive ends provided, the two new players may lack the sound fundamentals that made Clark and Dunlap so reliable on a down-to-down basis.
The Chiefs also made an attempt to shore up the inside of the defensive line against the run by drafting Keondre Coburn. The former Texas defensive tackle may prove to be a sixth-round steal.
Kansas City made two underrated defensive signings in free agency: former Los Angeles Chargers’ linebacker Drue Tranquill and former Buccaneers’ safety Mike Edwards. Tranquill immediately became the team’s most experienced linebacker, while Edwards has already been a playmaker in an elite defense. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could use them situationally — perhaps in dime packages — but each could also become a key player in their position group.
While the Chiefs didn’t make any splash acquisitions on offense, they did sign sixth-year wide receiver Richie James, who is likely to become the team’s primary punt returner — and provide quality depth in the receiver corps. He put up 569 receiving yards and four scores for the New York Giants last year.
This could lead to the team’s second-round pick — former SMU wideout Rashee Rice — having his first-year production be suppressed; the team has many sound options at the position. He’ll have to earn his way onto the field.
But undrafted rookie running back Deneric Prince has a clearer path to playing time. With starting running back Isiah Pacheco still working to fully recover from his offseason surgery, Prince should have opportunities to prove he can play.
Finally, Kansas City signed veteran backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Over the last three seasons, the former Missouri Tiger had been with the Buccaneers, backing up now-retired Tom Brady.