The Chiefs season can be broken into two separate seasons. There are the 1-5 blow it up Chiefs, then there was the 10-0 Super Bowl contender Chiefs. The Chiefs also shocked many by going 10-1 after super star Jamaal Charles went down to injury. One thing to explain that phenomena is the way the schedule played out. Their first four games were all against playoff teams, and five of their first six were in that category. They went 1-4 against those five, but it was a home collapse to the Bears that really threw us off of their scent. The breaks were due to change and it started with their week seven matchup, with yet another playoff team this time the Steelers. The Steelers didn’t have their starting quarterback, making it much easier for them to get to 2-5. They got to 3-5 before facing the final playoff team of the year in a revenge spot against the Broncos. The Chiefs also caught a break here as this will go down as Peyton Manning’s infamous 5 completion, four interception game. Given the tough draw to start the year the Chiefs were happy to take the help, then rattled off seven straight in which they really didn’t seem to have a chance to lose in any of those games down the stretch. The question now will be if the Chiefs were lucky to have that stretch schedule, or if they were good enough to survive a brutal schedule and still get to 11-5. Honestly, they probably sit somewhere between the 1-5 team and the 10-0 team.
Andy Reid will always be one of the better coaches in the league. Reid certainly has his issues, especially when it comes to in game management, but every coach does, and his ability to take a 1-4 team losing their star player and turn it 180 degrees around is extremely impressive no matter what the schedule. Offensive coordinator Doug Pederson took a job to be the head coach of the Eagles, but Reid was the play caller already, and Pederson was seen as his protege. Bob Sutton has been the defensive coordinator for three years now, and while the defense faces major personnel decisions, they have been well coached the past few years.
Alex Smith is the master of game management. He threw the ball deep a lot more this year with Jeremy Maclin installed, but still his ability is derived from not turning it over and making smart decisions. The problem with that is that when his team gets down, his passes become extremely predictable. He isn’t a guy that can spark a big comeback, and he isn’t a guy who can lead you to a quick score, but with most of the league having problems at the position, they can at least say they have their guy. Chase Daniel has gotten talk about being signed by some teams to be a starter, but label me as one that would be very surprised if he wasn’t back in backup role heading into next year.
In Jamaal Charles first five games it was looking like another year of work for the top tier running back. A lot of people can point to Charles and the Chiefs 10-1 record without him to show that he could be cut this year, but that just seems crazy to me. While the record may not have been better with him, the Chiefs surely would have won those games with him and would easily have been a better team with a game changer who can run and catch. Charcandrick West is clearly not a guy who can take over a full season of carries, and while Spencer Ware boasted a 5.6 yard per carry rate, he is specifically a goal line type power back and at any rate is a free agent. They should look to add Ware on the cheap and go into the year with three solid, now experienced backs.
The Chiefs went from a team that didn’t throw a touchdown to a wide out to Jeremy Maclin hauling in eight. The rest of the roster only hauled in a combined four from the WR position, but still that is even more than the zero of the year before. The two guys to get the most help from Maclin is Albert Wilson and Chris Conley. Conley as a rookie only came on late, but is crazy athletic and should take a big step. That would make things a lot easier for Wilson, who isn’t a game breaker as a wide receiver, but is reliable in his hands and led any wide out with over 10 catches with a 12.9 yards per catch rate.
At tight end the extension of Travis Kelce put him up there with the top five tight ends in the league. A lot can be questioned about why Andy Reid doesn’t use his talent to extend the passing game down field, but they have still been effective when getting him the ball on screens. He needs to improve as a blocker to be anywhere near the level of the Gronk type, but in my opinion it would be a good start to use him in the vertical passing more. Behind Kelce, James O’Shaughnessy had a nice rookie year and should move into the number two spot this year.
The Chiefs offensive line was much better in the run than in the pass. For a quarterback like Smith who can move in the pocket, and is a quick decision maker it wasn’t a huge problem, but on offense the first thing to be addressed will probably be the line. The first question is if former number one overall pick Eric Fisher gets extended. Fisher is looking closer to a bust by the game and probably will head into the last year of his deal with a lot to prove. Ben Grubbs in his age 31 season missed the most games of his career and he will have to win his job back at right guard. At left guard Jeff Allen is a free agent who needs signed, and should be as he was arguably their best lineman. Mitch Morse is tied into center and Jah Reid played both tackle positions last year so the line isn’t a major need, but it could be upgraded nonetheless.
Across the defense there are a plethora of questions moving forward. Dontari Poe will need to be extended probably during this off season. He is a mauler on the inside, and him beside end Allen Bailey gives them a strong front that sucks up space. Mike Devito as a free agent may be left to find a cheaper younger option, but also could retained rather cheaply as well. In depth, Jaye Howard is also a free agent, but filled in for Poe who had back problems last year, and may be needed to add depth and familiarity in the position. Therefore, if Howard is brought back only depth on the ends will be needed.
There are probably no pure outside linebackers in the league better than Justin Houston. Not only in the pass rush but against the run this guy is an animal. He makes the need for help around him less of a problem, but the team is in an interesting spot with Tamba Hali due for free agency. Hali was banged up toward the end of this season, like Houston, but Hali really saw his production go down. The Chiefs drafted Dee Ford two years ago with the hope that this year he would take a starting spot, but I wouldn’t necessarily hand him the keys yet, after a four sack season. It will be tough to hang onto Hali though, and may force Ford into that role with the Chiefs looking for cheap depth players to join Ford and Houston. On the inside, Derrick Johnson is a free agent, but having been in Kansas City since 2005, you would think that he is going to be resigned if he does not retire, while undrafted free agent Josh Mauga has been fine, the need to draft depth and replacement players will be on the Chiefs plate.
The majority of the secondary is heading into free agency, which makes the emergence of Marcus Peters that much bigger. Peters as a rookie was a defensive rookie of the year. He is a ball hawk with shutdown skills, and should be a force for time to come. Ron Parker is also signed and is a good tackler, but the rest of the secondary will move to free agency. The thought would be with guys like Hali and Allen also needing signed that between Eric Berry and Sean Smith, two demanded players, one will get away. Both backup safeties are also free agents which would be a crushing blow to lose Berry, with Peters along with Phillip Gaines and Steve Nelson at corner, the thought would be maybe to add another cheap name and to see Smith leave to free up money for positions elsewhere.
Where do they go?
The depth and starting caliber of the defense will be tested. Berry and Hali are key names, but as mentioned guys like Smith, Husain Abdullah, and Devito also may hurt the defense moving forward. Squaring up who you can on defense is step one, step two is to draft around what you could not retain, to add to the offensive line, and then continue to add to the depth of defense.