The Chiefs may have lost to the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, but that’s not to say they didn’t still have an amazing year. Patrick Mahomes was the League MVP with 50 touchdown passes, and he was the QB the Chiefs needed, because unlike Alex Smith, he can take control of a game and patch up one of Andy Reid’s bigger weaknesses, clock management. The Chiefs were clearly very close to making it to the Super Bowl, (even forcing overtime against the Patriots) so there are several potential off-season changes they can make to reinforce their roster and make it over the hump next year.
The Chiefs are the best bet to give us the first Super Bowl appearance from an AFC quarterback not named Roethlisberger, Brady, Manning, or Flacco in what will be 17 years. And that starts with managing free agency and keeping defense in mind here. The writing was on the walls for the Chiefs to part ways with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, and it’s tough to say whether or not Steve Spagnuolo will be any better, but assuming he’s at least a slight improvement, the Chiefs can put together a roster fit for winning a Super Bowl.
The first step for the Chiefs is to make a move on one of their two big players in the last year of their rookie contract, the key is picking the right player to extend. The model where the Chiefs are most likely to win the Super Bowl is one where they take an “all-in” sort of approach to the off-season, meaning they could choose to frontload the extension deals of both Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill, or they can take a more cap-conservative approach, and choose to extend only one. They should most likely extend Tyreek Hill, not only because he is a great player, but because he brings such a measure of team morale to the table. His team rallies behind him and Mahomes, and an extension would likely give Hill a confidence boost, as he is a generally somewhat overlooked wide receiver for the caliber of talent that he actually possesses. The Chiefs can prove they believe in Tyreek Hill, and that will tie the offense together as much as is needs to be tied together. It should also be noted that the Chiefs signed fullback Aaron Ripkowski to a future/reserves deal, and they could let free agent fullback Anthony Sherman walk. Sherman made 2 million last year, and after a Pro Bowl year, it can be assumed that he won’t take anything less than that to stay on board, so rolling with Ripkowski is definitely the value option, and for the Chiefs, taking value at a position like that is almost always the best choice. Ripkowski is a talented young Fullback who played well for the Packers, and the veteran minimum for him will be under a million dollars for a one year deal, so the Chiefs could save around a million dollars at that position. Now comes the defensive side of the ball, which is not as simple.
So, as we’ve already established; Chris Jones is going to play out a contract year with no extension, which means he will be prepared to show off why he deserves payment at the conclusion of the year. The exception to the Chiefs “all-in this year” approach is a four-year contract with Landon Collins. This contract will not only add a long term talented player, but it will also show the team that the front-office is in it for the long-haul to win, and put a talented young strong safety under chiefs legendary strong safety, Eric Berry. Obviously a team with a good young talent at QB isn’t going to throw their potential future to the wind in order to go big one year, and a big long term contract with a player like Collins is a move that shows the league that they don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon, and that could keep the team morale up as well. The best-case scenario is that Kansas City can restructure deals with both veterans Eric Berry and Justin Houston, but no aging player would ever just agree to lose out on contract money, so they could potentially restructure both of their deals to push their guaranteed money back a year or two. A more likely approach for the Chiefs is cutting one of these players. If one of these players had to be cut, I’d say Justin Houston is the guy, simply because it’s important for Eric Berry to mentor Landon Collins, because that would create a great defensive dynamic, and it would make it easiest on new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo if they already have that source of passion on the defense. Cutting Justin Houston would save the Chiefs about 14 million in cap space, which would allow them to have some extra room for the Collins deal, and helping to get Dee Ford back on a one or two year deal, which is one of the taller tasks for the Chiefs. The rest of the potential free agents for the Chiefs are not as crucial to making it to the Super Bowl, but they really just need to make one key free agent move in order to rally the team, and show them that they are in it for the championship run, and I believe that key free agent is Landon Collins.
While Tom Brady will likely be gunning for number seven next year, it’s a safe bet that if the Chiefs follow something close to this plan, and draft well enough to fill their roster needs, they can return to the AFC Championship game this year, and win this time.