The Kansas City Chiefs are fresh off an incredible Super Bowl win for the second straight year and the third time in five years. After the champagne is popped and the parade is over, though, it will be time to look to the future. The Chiefs front office will have myriad difficult decisions to make, as many of their most important players, especially on the defensive side of the ball, are primed for a substantial raise.
It will be impossible for Kansas City general manager Brett Veach to keep the entire band together, but the Chiefs will once again be one of the favorites to win it all next year, as Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and Travis Kelce will all be back. While the Chiefs offense has always gotten the spotlight, though, the unsung hero of this team all year has been its defense. That's where the difficulty lies.
Kansas City has about $24 million in cap space available, but it will take a lot more than that to retain everyone on defense. Defensive tackle Chris Jones carries the biggest price tag, and he's almost sure to be one of the most sought-after free agents in the league. Cornerback L'Jarius Sneed evolved into one of the league's best shutdown corners this year, and he's also due to be paid. In addition, linebackers Drue Tranquill and Willie Gay Jr. both enjoyed breakout seasons, meaning it won't be possible to keep them both for the less-than-$4.5 million combined they make now. The same holds true for defensive end Michael Danna, whose rookie contract is now up.
What's a Veach to do? There appear to be two clearly discernible paths. Commit big money to the very best players (Jones and Sneed), and try to fill in the other spots with cheap free agents or rookies, or use the team's cap space to keep more good players (Tranquill, Gay, and Danna) and let Jones and Sneed get their mega-deals elsewhere. I tend to mostly agree with our own Kinnu Singh, who smartly captured what moves the Chiefs could look to make this offseason.
Since it promises to be the trickiest part of the roster to manage, let's start on the defense, before moving around the roster to give a more comprehensive picture of what Kansas City might do. As a bonus, we'll lump two together for our first pick, since their fates seem intertwined.
4) Chiefs can afford to let Drue Tranquill and Willie Gay Jr. walk
If the clash between the Chiefs and 49ers in the Super Bowl showed us anything, it's that there's more than one way to build a team. The Niners are paying Brock Purdy peanuts on his seventh-round rookie contract, and have surrounded him with an All-Star team of playmakers. The Chiefs have the best quarterback in the world in Patrick Mahomes and pay him as such, but as a result, the weapons around him, with the exception of Travis Kelce, are near the bottom of the league.
What Mahomes can make out of the skill position equivalent of shoestring and rubber bands is incredible. He's the MacGyver of the NFL. That's why I believe the Chiefs will continue to keep it cheap on offense, and commit as much money as they can to keeping their biggest defensive stars in town. Jones has been a first-team All-Pro in back-to-back years, and Sneed is on the shortlist for best corners in the league. That will get you far in the NFL, especially with a top defensive coordinator like Steve Spagnuolo calling the shots.
Tranquill, Gay, and Michael Danna are young and very good. Can they keep maturing into stars, though? It's very possible, but now they'll have to be paid that way. The Chiefs know for sure what they're getting from Jones and Sneed, and they've shown the ability to develop young players into meaningful defensive pieces. That's why I think at least two of the Tranquill, Gay, and Danna trio will be allowed to walk in free agency, and with pass-rushers being seen as more impactful pieces of a defense, I think Danna will be the one to stay.
If Jones leaves, that frees money up to keep most of these guys, but as the one player on defense that's truly irreplaceable, Kansas City will do what they can to keep him, which means Tranquill and Gay will wind up elsewhere.