Ethan Hewett | February 5th, 2020
The Kansas City Chiefs are your Super Bowl LIV champions! It took them 50 years to find their way back to the big game since beating the Minnesota Vikings back in 1970 but they did it spectacularly on their way to a fourth-quarter rally to beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 for the win. The suffering of Chiefs fans is over and Andy Reid has officially locked himself into the Hall of Fame after finally grabbing his first Super Bowl victory as head coach.
Just like the Chiefs’ playoff run that required two huge comebacks, not everything was perfect in the regular season. They launched out to a 4-0 start but sputtered into their week 12 bye sitting at 7-4. Many fans and analysts wondered if the Chiefs had what it took to make a deep playoff run. However, the Chiefs behind the leadership of Patrick Mahomes and a sudden surge on the defensive side of the ball, went on a five-game winning streak to finish the regular season 12-4. They then turned that into an eight-game streak as they would go on to win the Super Bowl.
What Went Right
What didn’t go right for this team? They accomplished the ultimate goal that every NFL team sets out to accomplish by winning a Super Bowl. Of course, nobody is perfect but let’s not talk about that right now. Starting with the obvious positive is Mahomes. While he didn’t have the jaw-dropping 50 touchdowns like in 2018, Mahomes still put up great numbers totaling 4,031 passing yards along with 26 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. Mahomes also came in with a 65.9% completion percentage. While he didn’t have many fourth-quarter comebacks, he helped lead the biggest one against the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs had four pass-catchers above 500 yards which was led by all-pro tight end Travis Kelce with 1,229 yards. Kelce continued to be a matchup nightmare for defenses and was the safety valve that Mahomes needed. Kelce also made some big, key blocks this year which solidifies that he is the best tight end in the NFL. Tyreek Hill continued to be a dominant downfield threat and Sammy Watkins, when healthy, was a solid number two option.
Rookie receiver Mecole Hardman started to become a bigger part of the Chiefs offense as the season progressed. Hardman brought in 26 receptions for 538 yards and 6 touchdowns (second on the team). Starting as more of a gadget player, Hardman impressed with his speed and completed the trio of the “legion of zoom.” Hardman was 10th among rookie pass-catchers in 2019, but it is also important to note that he had nearly half as many receptions as the nine in front of him.
While cumulative stats won’t show you the type of impact that additions Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu made to this defense, it can’t go without recognition. Mathieu racked up four interceptions paired with 12 passes defended and 75 total tackles. He and Clark, who put up eight sacks in the regular season, were the vocal leaders on this defense. Clark also added five sacks in the Chiefs three playoff games. Mathieu was also part of one of the best secondaries down the stretch as the Chiefs ranked 8th in opposing pass offense success rate (43%) and 6th best (40%) when narrowed down to the final six weeks of the regular season.
While most will say that the Chiefs run game belongs in the next category, I beg to differ. Kansas City is a team built around speed. While Reid primarily has utilized this in the passing game as the Chiefs ran pass plays on 61% of their snaps, Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy served as two guys who could get it done out of the backfield.
Williams once again came on late this season as 288 of his 498 rushing yards came in his last five games of the regular season. He also made key plays on the Chiefs final few drives helping to secure the win against the 49ers including a 38-yard sprint to ice the game 31-20. While Williams looks good, the Chiefs would be smart to grab another back this offseason.
What Went Wrong
While it is difficult to pick out the few flaws that the new Super Bowl champion Chiefs had, they are worth mentioning. Throughout the first half of the season, both sides of the ball had injuries left and right. Left tackle Eric Fisher missed eight games, and offensive guard Andrew Wylie missed a few of the same. Tyreek Hill missed a considerable amount of time as well and to top it off Patrick Mahomes also missed two games due to a dislocated knee cap in weeks eight and nine.
Defensively, Chris Jones missed games in the middle of the season and defensive end Alex Okafor missed three games before being moved to the injured reserve in week 16 missing the playoffs. Cornerback Kendall Fuller also missed five weeks due to a thumb injury.
Injuries aside, the Chiefs only struggled in one big area. Run defense. While they improved slightly from last year, the Chiefs still found themselves in 26th in total rushing yards allowed and 29th in yards allowed per carry (4.9). While these are ugly numbers they are inflated by poor performances early on in the season. When looking at opposing team’s success rates, via Sharp Football Stats, the Chiefs run defense sat in 16th in run defense (48%) over their last six games. Which put them in the middle of the road in run defense. While they sat at 29th in success rate throughout the entire season.
Outlook for the Offseason
Andy Reid has already said he isn’t going anywhere after this year, offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy somehow survived the head coaching search, and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took what had been a rather pedestrian defense, and made them into Super Bowl material. Despite coaching staff in place, the Chiefs are very tight in cap space as they are projected at $16.16 million according to Over the Cap. The Chiefs also have some big names to re-sign this year and will need to lock up their franchise quarterback in Mahomes sooner rather than later.
The Team’s Free Agents
Kansas City isn’t going to be very active in the open market this year since they aren’t very high in cap space and they have a big name in Jones who they need to re-sign this offseason. The Chiefs are also very top-heavy as they have eight players holding at least $10 million in cap with two over $20 mil (Clark and Watkins). Watkins is the only name of these eight that would give more space than they would take by being cut as they would save a whopping $14 million by cutting Watkins. Jones’ market value sits right around $19 million a year and cutting Watkins would give them the space that is needed.
Other names that the Chiefs should consider re-signing are defensive back Fuller and safety Dan Sorenson. Fuller should be a bigger priority of the two as he has shown versatility in the latter half of the season. However, injuries have plagued his career in Kansas City so the team may decide to not bring him back. Charvarius Ward is the only starting cornerback under contract in 2020 but thankfully the draft presents a few options in the second and third round.
Outside of Clark, who has a $22 million cap hit, the defensive line needs depth at the EDGE position. Terrell Suggs and Emmanuel Ogbah, who had 5.5 sacks last season, are set to become free agents. Suggs will most likely retire and Ogbah has dealt with a torn pectoral since week 10. The Chiefs would be smart to extend Ogbah and try and pick up a later round EDGE player in the draft.
The Chiefs also need to figure out the backup quarterback position. Mahomes is your guy, but Chad Henne and Matt Moore, who performed well in Mahomes’ absence, are set to become free agents as well. Both are solid backups but the team should lean towards Moore as he has shown an ability to step up and keep this team competitive. Anthony Sherman is also up for free agency and he may take a smaller deal.
Open Market Free Agents
With Jones taking up most of the Chiefs cap for 2020 and a Mahomes extension looming, GM Brett Veach probably won’t be his usual aggressive self this offseason. Depth players in Dorian O’Daniel and Khalen Saunders should be looking to step up into bigger roles this season but this Chiefs team doesn’t need a lot of help anyways from the open market. If there was any position that the Chiefs could target it would be a veteran defensive back who would be willing to come in on the cheap to play for a Super Bowl.
Viable options would be the Denver Broncos’ Chris Harris or the Tennessee Titans’ Tramaine Brock. Harris has made it clear that he will only return to Denver if the price is right but he wants to test the waters in free agency. While he wants the money, Harris won a Super Bowl with the Broncos and would have a realistic chance to do it again with the Chiefs in 2020. However, the Chiefs will still need to address this spot early on in the draft even if they retain a player and go out and pick up a veteran.
Projecting the NFL Draft
The Chiefs don’t have a lot of draft capital this year, but this is sort of what you would expect from a team who just won the Super Bowl. There are a few key spots however that this team still needs to turn the early 2020s into a Chiefs’ dominated decade.
1.32 – Cornerback or Linebacker
Corner and linebacker are the Chiefs two biggest needs and if Veach is smart he will take one of them here. Luckily there are a few names here at corner that the Chiefs could target in Jaylon Johnson, Jeff Gladney, or A.J. Terrell. With Ward as the only starter listed to return in 2020, the only reason they should go anywhere else is if linebackers Kenneth Murray or Patrick Queen slide down the first round.
2.64 – Wide Receiver
If the Chiefs let Watkins and Demarcus Robinson go this offseason, they will need their number three guy behind Hill, and Hardman. Hardman had a great rookie campaign but the depth behind them is not quite as great as players like Byron Pringle and Gehrig Deiter barely saw the field outside of special teams. Gabriel Davis out of UCF would be a solid addition to the Chiefs’ receiving room.
3.96 – Interior Offensive Line
Running back could be another solid option here as Williams needs some help in the backfield. However, a bigger need is to protect their franchise quarterback and they need to address the interior offensive line. Wylie hasn’t lived up to expectations this year and has dealt with injuries. Ben Bredeson out of Michigan would be a great option here in the third-round as he projects as a solid NFL starter for most scouts.
Mahomes has already proven that myths don’t phase this Chiefs team after he beat the “Madden Curse,” so why should we expect a Super Bowl “hangover” from this team in 2020? While we bask in the glory of the 2019 team, this offseason will be interesting to watch for the Chiefs. Veach being the smart man that he is, will make the right calls alongside Reid to keep this team competitive in 2020. This will be a reloading season for the Chiefs as they will look to win their 5th straight AFC West title and make their way back to their 3rd straight AFC Championship Game. Dare I say even their second straight Super Bowl? The expectations are going to be high and I would expect the Chiefs finish around 12-4 or 13-3 most likely securing the number one seed in the AFC.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images