It is possible to worry about something without breaking into a full-blown panic. When a smoke alarm goes off, it’s usually because I chose to cook like Gordon Ramsay, even though I have very few of his skills. Or maybe I hit the wrong “popcorn” button in the microwave and then left the room. In any case, it doesn’t necessarily mean the house is on fire. It just means that something went wrong on some level.
I’ve been there so far with the Kansas City Chiefs off-season. The smoke alarm goes off. The house is almost certainly not on fire and you don’t have to call the fire department, but there is smoke in the kitchen and I’m not exactly sure what’s going on.
We’re deep in the NFL Free Agency now, and the only two sizeable additions to the Chiefs have been guards: former New England Patriots Guard Joe Thuney and former Chicago Bears Guard Kyle Long. Long’s Signing is a low-risk, high-reward game against the malevolence of the veterans, and Thuney’s is a high-risk, high-reward game where a premium is paid and an all-pro game is expected for that price.
These movements both range between understandable and excellent, and they are not my concern at this point. My concern comes from the fact that for a week after Thuney signed, all the Kansas City news was covering how the Chiefs heavily influenced other free agent targets and … well, missed them all. And now there are fewer targets to shoot at.
The Chiefs’ biggest hack after Thuney signed was tracking down the San Francisco 49ers who left Trent Williams. According to Albert Breer of The MMQB, the Chiefs on Williams were “there to the end,” even at a record-breaking price.
Now, almost a week later, the Chiefs still have an absolute vacuum in the left tackle. Two 32-year-old veteran tackles – Alejandro Villanueva and Russell Okung – are both still in the market and could provide a short-term solution to the position while the Chiefs try to develop a young left tackle of the future. But since other tackles like Riley Reiff have found homes elsewhere, the position has become extremely thin extremely quickly.
At this point, the left tackle isn’t even the only point on the offensive line without a starter. Prior to the free agency, the Chiefs reportedly planned to part ways with the Austin Reiter launch center. Despite reports that they were ready to have a big run at Rodney Hudson before the Las Vegas Raiders nearly got him to Arizona, the Chiefs haven’t stepped in the middle and are now reportedly waiting for riders to come back unite the center that they apparently didn’t particularly want 10 days ago.
At Wide Receiver, Chiefs Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson both launched, which made perfect sense for a team looking to upgrade. Kansas City then made a high dollar run at Pittsburgh Steeler’s broad receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who chose to stay in Pittsburgh despite reports that more money was being offered by the Chiefs and Ravens.
After missing out on Smith-Schuster, the Chiefs were reportedly in the mix for former Los Angeles Rams recipient Josh Reynolds who went to the Tennessee Titans instead, despite having “some great options including the Kansas City Chiefs,” according to Dianna Russini had from ESPN.
Smith-Schuster and Reynolds are the two recipients we know the Chiefs allegedly made offers. However, given their price range, it stands to reason that the Chiefs were likely in a similar financial / contractual relationship in the mix for at least some recipients. Length ranges like Will Fuller from Houston to Miami, Marvin Jones from Detroit to Jacksonville and John Brown from Buffalo to Las Vegas.
Regardless of how many top free agent pass-catching goals the Chiefs seriously pursued, the scoreboard is blank and options are sparse. As of March 22, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, and Byron Pringle are the Chiefs’ three biggest recipients. Watkins and Robinson are both still free agents right now, though Watkins will be visiting Baltimore on Monday night and will appear to be playing elsewhere in 2021. Even if they add one of the very, very few veterans on the market (like TY Hilton) and bring back Robinson, it would be a bit of an overwhelming result after targeting bigger and younger names. The Chiefs were clearly keen to improve their reception corps this off-season, not just keep them calm.
Meanwhile, with all of these offensive line and broad receivers talking, the Chiefs’ defense is getting thinner.
Bashaud Breeland is still a free agent, but most signs are pointing to it ending up elsewhere. (I would be more than happy to have Breeland back in KC for 2021, by the way.) The Chiefs also have to replace Damien Wilson at the linebacker, but that doesn’t bother me. What keeps me up at night (literally waiting for news) comes at the EDGE position.
The Chiefs have re-signed Taco Charlton and Mike Danna, who was on the defensive for his sophomore year, back for 2021, and that’s pretty much the opposite of Frank Clark.
Kansas City left Tanoh Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor free to choose this off-season and haven’t found any landing spots yet, but the Chiefs haven’t added any new names to EDGE as of now, leaving a subpar unit in even worse shape than it ended up in 2020.
Fine. So the Chiefs have pursued many of their goals. What now?
The Chiefs could stabilize their rocky free agency time by signing Hilton, adding Okung or Villanueva, and bringing back Reiter and Robinson, but even if they achieved all of those goals, it would be a disappointing couple of weeks for Kansas City.
Replacing Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz with Okung / Villanueva and Lucas Niang / Mike Remmers is a wash at best. Maybe they can bring Breeland back to the corner, or they add a slot corner so L’Jarius Sneed can step back to the outside. Even with that paragraph, the Chiefs still have to add a starting EDGE unless they plan to start the year with nothing but rookie depth behind them with Taco Charlton or Mike Danna starting off across from Frank Clark.
But what about the draft?
While the Chiefs have plenty of draft picks to fill out the list, be careful what to expect from hoisted rookies. Just look at the selection of Chiefs in the first three rounds of the Brett Veach era in Kansas City: Breeland Speaks, Derrick Nnadi, Dorian O’Daniel, Mecole Hardman, Juan Thornhill, Khalen Saunders, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Willie Gay Jr., Lucas Niang.
Within the range where most fans expect starters or major role-players, the Chiefs have three disappointments, two role-players, two starters, and two relative strangers. Take what you can get, but expecting your first three or four picks to produce day 1 starters isn’t exactly good business.
None of this is a particular indictment or endorsement of the work Veach has done in three years – just some raw numbers to recalibrate what to expect from a design class. In the meantime, the Chiefs still have large gaps in their cadre and they’re running out of time to find bumpless agents.
The Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes and money to spend, so don’t reach for the panic button (or call the fire department) on behalf of the 2021 Chiefs. But as the free hand has evolved, the Chiefs have lost more bidding wars than they won, and there’s a little smoke coming out of the kitchen.
For more news and analysis from Chiefs, please visit Twitter @jbbrisco and @SIChiefs.