TAKING STOCK: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Of all the possibilities heading into Super Bowl LV, the final result seemed the most improbable. A Chiefs blowout win? Absolutely on the table, as was a close victory either way. But to be crushed and embarrassed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when the Chiefs could have laid claim to early dynasty status, I defy anyone to have thought that was going to happen.
Of course, looking back now, the reasons behind the final result were obvious. Kansas City was able to cover up its offensive line injuries and woes most of the season, but losing starting left tackle Erik Fisher in the AFC Championship was just one too many. KC took the field in Tampa without its two starting tackles and that turned out to be a real problem against a next-level Buccaneers pass rush.
There is no bright side from losing a Super Bowl, but the Chiefs know exactly what they must do and focus on this offseason to return to the big game and get back on that dynastic path. We’ll help them take a look at it.
In the Taking Stock series, we’re looking at each playoff team, going from worst to first, and outlining exactly what they must do to avoid being one of the five or so franchises who miss the postseason the year after making it.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
2020-21 Record: 14-2, AFC North Champion, AFC Champion
Playoffs: Defeated the Cleveland Browns 22-17 in the AFC Divisional Round, defeated the Buffalo Bills 38-24 in the AFC Championship, lost 31-9 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV
Previously: Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Washington Football Team
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
To no one’s surprise, the Chiefs hit free agency with a purpose. First, they brought back right tackle Mike Remmers, then signed former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney and added former Los Angeles Rams center Aystin Blythe. While that might be the end of the early action pre-draft, don’t expect Kansas City to stand pat there. This is a team that must bring bodies into the fold, and considering they offer a chance to play for a ring, it’s entirely likely they could land a surprise and bargain priced veteran before the season opens.
Fisher is a free agent and there’s a good chance they’ll bring him back, but they have options like Russell Okung and Jason Peters. Fisher boasted a better PFF grade than both of them in 2020-21, but, talent-wise, KC would be fine with any of the three.
CONTINUITY ON OFFENSE
While it might be bad for the NFL, it’s certainly good for the Chiefs that offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy remains in the fold. Losing Sammy Watkins hurts, but Demarcus Robinson put up similar numbers, especially when playing while Watkins was sidelined. What they really need, and they’ll have to look for it in the later rounds, cheap free agency or a UDFA, is a solid possession receiver outside of tight end Travis Kelce. Another big red zone target wouldn’t hurt.
While the offensive line was the priority, Kansas City has not neglected some defensive upgrades, adding defensive tackle Jarren Reed from the Seattle Seahawks and re-upping their flyer on former Dallas Cowboys first round pick Taco Charlton. Like their O-line, they’re likely done with any major moves until after the draft, but edge rushers and corners should be high on their list. A guy like Richard Sherman would be an excellent, and not super pricey addition, as would Josh Norman. A reclamation project for A.J. Bouye in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme would not be the worst idea.
As for their offense, as mentioned above, a possession guy like former San Francisco 49er Trent Taylor would be an asset. Even Danny Amendola, who has played for 1,000 or so years, could take some pressure off Kelce on third downs.
Regardless of what Kansas City does in free agency up until the annual player selection meeting kicks off, they need to remain on the same track – OL, DL and corner. They’re fine at every offensive skill position. They could obviously look at some linebackers, but that would probably be late unless someone drops into their laps that shouldn’t be there. As they sit at No. 31, they could be looking at Michigan offensive lineman Jalen Mayfield or Clemson’s Jackson Carman. If they go defense, there’s Gregory Rousseau form Miami, Levi Oneuzurike out of Washington, Christian Barmore from Alabama or Jaycee Horn from South Carolina.
I would keep the same strategy for the first three rounds of the draft, as guys like Trey Smith from Tennessee or Landon Dickerson from Alabama could be sitting there when KC picks in Round Two.
Outside of the Chiefs, the AFC West is a mystery. The Las Vegas Raiders are coming off an 8-8 season and they’ve been inserted in every trade conversation on the planet without pulling the trigger on a major deal. There’s no reason to believe they’ll field a significantly better team than they did in 2020. The Denver Broncos will be considerably more healthy than they were last season, but still have issues at quarterback that they probably draft too late to solve.
The real problem could be the Los Angeles Chargers, a good team hampered by a bad coach in recent years. The organization brought in former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to take over and that should be a significant boost. They have arguably (though I don’t know who would argue with you… Derek Carr’s mom, maybe?) the second best QB in the division and real talent on both sides of the ball. I still don’t think they can catch Kansas City, but they could make it interesting.
Projected 2021-22 Record: 13-4, AFC West Champion