With the final game approaching the Chiefs will be moving on to work through another offseason plan and building for another attempt to get back to the Super Bowl.
If the Chiefs do not sign any of their pending unrestricted free agents, or release any players with contracts for next year, here is where they will stand on offense:
QB: Patrick Mahomes
RB: Isaiah Pacheco
WR: Marquez Valdez Scantling
WR: Rashee Rice
WR: Someone in the combination of Sky Moore, Kadarius Toney, and Justin Watson
TE: Travis Kielce
LT: Wanya Morris
LG: Joe Thuney
C: Creed Humphrey
RG: Trey Smith
RT: Jawaan Taylor
This is pretty much the exact same offense that made it to the Super Bowl this year. The only loss being Donovan Smith at left tackle, which many would have seen as equal to Wanya Morris so not a big loss.
Many will want to cut MVS, which I am in agreement with, but if they started next season with the same group you it couldn’t be much worse than the 2023 season. Statistically, many would expect that the drop percentage would have to improve from a historically high rate. I’m more optimistic about a bounce back year for a lot of these players than most.
Depth will need to be addressed as most of the experienced backups will be free agents, but Brett Veach has done an excellent job of filling in the lower quarter of the roster with valuable players who can be coached up to step in when needed.
Notable Free Agents on Offense:
QB Blaine Gabbert
RB Jerick McKinnon
RB Clyde Edwards-Elaire
OL Donovan Smith
OL Nick Allegretti
WR Richie James
WR Mecole Hardman
Depth is the area that would be lost here. The Chiefs seem to like the veteran backup QB so if it is Gabbert or someone else, I am guessing they will stick with that trend. Keeping Allegretti would be a good move unless his playoff run earns him a larger contract with another team. James and Hardman seem replaceable by a late round punt returner draft pick. The running backs may be welcomed back on minimum deals, but it seems like a late draft pick may have better upside and injury outlook. No one here is irreplaceable.
DE: George Karlaftis
DT: Neil Farrell
DE: Felix Anudike Uzomah
(Charles Omenihu would be here but recently tore his ACL and will once again miss the start of the season)
LB: Nick Bolton
LB: Leo Chenal
DB: Trent McDuffie
DB: Jaylen Watson
DB: Joshua Williams
DB: Justin Reid
DB: Bryan Cook
The defense looks a lot different with potential changes coming from free agency. The interior defensive line will need some serious attention and the Omenihu Injury is a big blow to the depth of that unit. LB will be okay but would certainly have some liability in coverage situations. The DB group remains a strength with the great class of the 2022 draft.
Notable Free Agents on Defense:
DL Chris Jones
DL Derrick Nnadi
DL Mike Danna
DL Mike Pennel
DL Tershawn Wharton
DL Malik Herring
LB Willie Gay Jr.
LB Drue Tranquill
DB L’Jarius Sneed
DB Mike Edwards
DB Deon Bush
This group has some stalwarts from this Chiefs era, but most have earned paydays that are likely more than the Chiefs can match. Chris Jones leaves the biggest hole in the biggest question mark of next year’s roster, but unless he and Sneed are willing to give a discount to stay with the Chiefs, they will likely be too expensive. If Gay or Tranquill do not see a great maker in free agency, keeping one of them would keep the athleticism in the LB room. Edwards has made big plays this year but has also likely improved his market beyond the Chiefs budget. Keeping some of the depth pieces on vet minimums would be a good move for consistency and knowledge of the Spags system.
Current Special Teams
K: Harrison Butker
KR: Kadarius Toney
PR: Kadarius Toney
Notable Free Agents on Special Teams
P Tommy Townsend
LS James Winchester
KR/PR Richie James
KR/PR Mecole Hardman
Tommy Townsend is a good punter but I don’t see this as an area of need to spend big money. When the offense is working efficiently he doesn’t get much work, and there are others that could do 90% of the job for the minimum salary. Winchester is good as well and I would keep him for the minimum if that is what he would cost. Kadarius Toney seems at his best as a gadget/returner so give him a chance to shine in those opportunities.
Current Salary Cap Space Projected for 2024
Candidates for Release
WR Marquez Valdez Scantling - $12 Million
DB Justin Reid - $10.75 Million
DL Charles Omenihu - $7 Million
WR Justin Watson - $2 Million
OL Lucas Niang - $1 Million
MVS seems like an almost guarantee to be released, unless he were to significantly reduce his salary for next year. Reid has been a good player for the Chiefs so I do not think he will be released, but is the only other area that they can see significant cap relief. Omenihu is included in case his injury is more substantial and a settlement of some kind were reached due to not being expected to play next year (I honestly do not know how that all works when it comes to injury). Watson and Niang would save some money if they aren’t going to play due to others on the roster, but I would like them to keep Watson in the mix. Niang hasn’t played when opportunities have been there so a younger project player may be a good idea for his role.
If I were Brett Veach, I would…
Release MVS and Niang to free up a little more cap space ($37 million after the releases)
If Kadarius Toney isn’t willing to accept the role of returner/gadget player, cut your losses.
Do not re-sign Chris Jones or L’Jarius Sneed. I love both of these players, but unless there is a significant discount, I don’t see how they can fit. A tag and trade would be nice for either but I’m not sure that the market is there. Signing Jawaan Taylor last year makes this much more difficult.
Keep Drue Tranquill for $7 Million
Keep Nick Allegretti for $3 Million
Keep Tershawn Wharton for $2 Million
Keep Deon Bush, Clyde Edwards-Elaire, Mike Pennel, Prince Tega Wanogho, and Malik Herring at vet minimums.
Use my Brett Veach special splash free agent signing on a legitimate wide receiver, but not a $20 million dollar Tee Higgins or Mike Evans. A tier 2 free agent like a Calvin Ridley would be a great add.
Target an explosive defensive tackle in the 1st round. Go best player available the rest of the draft with an eye toward offensive tackle.
Pick up a tier 2 tight end free agent like Noah Fant or Austin Hooper to help supplement Travis Kelce’s workload. I like Jody Fortson but injuries are an issue with him.
With these moves the Chiefs should remain in Super Bowl contention for another year.
The defense will take a step back with the loss of Jones and Sneed along with key role players, but Steve Spagnuolo will get very creative with all of the DB blitzes to make up some of the pass rush lost in Jones.
the offense should also improve with the added receiver resetting the depth chart. It looks a lot better with Calvin Ridley and Rashee Rice as your starters and Watson, Moore, and Toney as your 3-5. Jawaan Taylor will settle in and avoid as many penalties, Wanya Morris should improve, and Pacheco should continue to grow without an off-season full of surgeries. Kelce will continue to play well with more rest worked in, and Patrick Mahomes will continue to get better while enjoying better play from his wide receivers.
Extending Nick Bolton, Creed Humphrey, and/or Trey Smith can be considered, as they enter their final contract year, but Creed needs to get his snaps in a better place, and Trey could still be more consistent. Bolton is a good player but not a top of the market player if that is what he is asking for. The draft may be a good place to work on alternatives if extension conversations do not go well.
The Chiefs add back Eric Bienemy as running back/assist a head coach after he is somehow not considered for any offensive coordinator positions.
All this adds up to an attempt at being the first Back to Back to Back Super Bowl champs in the history of the NFL and keeps the Chiefs in a good cap situation moving forward.