There are only two teams left, which means the other 30 NFL teams have already started to look toward next year. As each club is eliminated, The Ringer will examine what went right, what went wrong, and where the franchise could go from here. Today it’s the Chiefs, who fell short to the Pats in the AFC championship game, 37-31.
What Went Right
The Chiefs have the presumptive MVP on their roster, and he’s 23 years old. This season has been one long gravy train for Patrick Mahomes II and Co., and their future couldn’t be much brighter. Kansas City has the NFL’s most exciting offense, led by young players who aren’t going anywhere.
While an overtime defeat to the Patriots in the AFC championship game is crushing for a long-suffering team that earned the no. 1 seed in the AFC, the Chiefs were never really supposed to be here in the first place. The defense was expected to struggle coming into the year, and for all of the hype surrounding Mahomes in the offseason, he was still a second-year player making his debut. No one could have predicted that they’d make it this close to a Super Bowl.
NFL championship windows may be shorter than ever, but the Chiefs have three years left with Mahomes on his rookie deal. Their title window is as wide open as anyone’s entering the offseason.
What Went Wrong
Looking past the bitter disappointment of the loss in the AFC championship, the Chiefs weren’t a complete team this season. While the offense was the most exciting unit in a season jam-packed with amazing offenses, the defense couldn’t hold its own. Somehow the Chiefs had arguably the best pass rush in the league and finished with just the 26th-ranked defense by DVOA. The were 24th in points and 31st in yards, and that showed up on Sunday, with Kansas City giving up 524 yards of offense and 37 points to New England.
It’s not true that defenses win championships, but you at least have to be able to slow your opponents down. Kansas City’s priority this offseason will be figuring out how to get more out of that side of the ball, because unless Mahomes can also start playing defensive back, he’s going to need some help.
Per Over the Cap, the team is projected to have $32.5 million in effective cap space, which is 16th in the league. That gives Kansas City a roughly league-average amount of cash to work with this summer, and there is plenty of work they need to do.
Though the Kansas City defense was nothing to write home about as a whole, the pass rush was fearsome, in part thanks to a career year from outside linebacker Dee Ford. Ford racked up 13.0 sacks, 55 tackles, and a league-leading seven forced fumbles this season, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. The fifth-year pro is a prime candidate for the franchise tag, which would pay him an estimated $14.9 million for one year of work. If the Chiefs pursue a long-term extension with him, they could be shelling out close to $20 million per season.
The franchise will also have a decision to make with center Mitch Morse, who has been as reliable as any interior lineman in the league over the past few seasons:
Mitch Morse hasn't allowed a sack in his last 1,543 snaps in pass protection (since 2015)!— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 4, 2019
Our 32 stats to know following the final week of the regular season:https://t.co/EO1AzVk9XO pic.twitter.com/U2fllnigj7
The problem is that he hasn’t always been on the field, having missed 14 games over the past two seasons with various injuries. That makes his value tough to gauge.
Other key players like defensive end Allen Bailey and wide receiver Chris Conley will hit the market this offseason. The Chiefs may want to use their available money to try to shore up the defense while Mahomes is on a cheap deal, but they have plenty of other decisions to make before they can start to plug holes.
The Chiefs own the Rams’ second-round pick in the 2019 draft thanks to the Marcus Peters trade, and while that pick will be either the 63rd or 64th overall, having a total of three picks in the first 64 selections will give the Chiefs some solid ammo to improve their roster.
It seems likely that the Chiefs will target a running back in the draft. It may not be in the first round, but the team won’t want to go into 2019 with Damien Williams, who has never rushed for more than 300 yards in a season in his five-year career, as their starter. Kansas City could also address its defense. The first round of this draft is projected to be heavy on defenders, and the Chiefs could use players at virtually every level on that side of the ball.