In his low chuckle, Andy Reid brushed off the dynasty talk.
“I don’t know what a dynasty is,” Reid said, speaking from a podium less than an hour after his Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, 25-22, to win Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday. “You guys have the thesaurus, so you can figure it out.”
Kansas City, though, is squarely in the middle of a dynasty. Having won their third Super Bowl in—and their second in a row of—the Patrick Mahomes era, which began when he became the full-time starter in 2018, the Chiefs and their quarterback are chasing Tom Brady and the Patriots and no one else. They know this; that much was obvious Sunday night when Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce started talking about a three-peat before the confetti was even done falling from the Allegiant Stadium rafters.
The thing about dynasties is that they aren’t built, they’re maintained—to win a single championship can be an act of maniacal, condensed, all-in pursuit, but winning several is usually the product of sustained tactical adjustments. In that sense, there was no clearer sign that Kansas City has reached this pinnacle than the fact that the Chiefs were already talking about what’s next.
“I’m going to celebrate tonight, I’m going to celebrate at the parade,” Mahomes said. “Then, I’ll do whatever I can to be back in this game next year and try to go for that three-peat. It’s an ongoing thing in the NFL. Once you win that championship, you have those parades and you get those rings, and then you’re not the champ anymore.”
And so it’s on to next season.
As if they needed more Champagne problems, Kansas City’s offseason needs are fairly obvious. With a free agent class headlined by defensive stars L’Jarius Sneed and Chris Jones, general manager Brett Veach needs to do his best to keep Steve Spagnuolo’s unit together, and then he must improve the wide receivers room.
I’m not sure this was the worst Chiefs team of the Mahomes era—in the postseason, Spagnuolo’s defense beat the NFL’s top four teams by offensive DVOA by holding them to an average of 15.8 points per game—but it was certainly the poorest offense Mahomes has navigated. While it’s a testament to his skill and discipline that they won a championship anyway, Mahomes had his worst season by expected points added per dropback and success rate in 2023. His receivers led the NFL in drops, and high-profile errors like Kadarius Toney’s offside penalty against Buffalo threatened to be defining moments of the season.
In early December, Mahomes ranked 22nd by QBR among starting quarterbacks on throws to wideouts. He was still his typically excellent self when targeting running backs and tight ends, but when throwing to wide receivers, Mahomes was less productive than Desmond Ridder, whose lack of wideout production is the stuff of legend in the fantasy community.
The Chiefs have tried to bring in receivers for Mahomes, but most of the moves haven’t worked out. Neither Toney, who arrived in a trade in 2022, nor 2022 draft pick Skyy Moore played a snap during the Super Bowl. But both Toney and Moore had been low-cost, low-risk additions—bargain shopping, essentially. Perhaps Kansas City will have a different approach this offseason.
Somewhat surprisingly, given Mahomes’s $58 million projected cap hit next season, Kansas City’s salary cap is relatively healthy. Over the Cap estimates that the team will have $23 million in cap room this offseason, which puts it right in the middle of the pack at 16th overall. (As a credit to Veach, Over the Cap currently has the Chiefs with less than $500,000 in dead money on the 2024 books.) The headliner of this free agent receiver class is Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins, but Curtis Samuel, Michael Pittman Jr., Calvin Ridley, Gabriel Davis, and Odell Beckham Jr. will be hitting the market, as well.
The Chiefs need an influx of reliable receiving talent, but they don’t necessarily need to get a new no. 1, especially if they believe that rookie receiver Rashee Rice’s development this season will carry over into 2024. Rice was the rare bright spot at his position for Kansas City in the second half of the season, and he spoke after the Super Bowl about key moments of growth throughout the year, from day one of training camp practice, when he ran so many sprints that he threw up on the sideline, to the touchdown catch against Detroit in Week 1 that gave him confidence he could be a real part of this offense, to the touchdown he scored on a mesh concept play against the Raiders—the same play that Reid turned to again on Sunday when they needed to pick up a critical third-and-6 in overtime.
“Last year I was just watching the Super Bowl and not knowing how much it took to get to this point,” Rice said.
Rice is also evidence that Kansas City can draft and develop at the position. They’ll be picking last in the draft order once again this year and have only six selections total, but those include their first-, second-, third-, and fourth-round choices, plus the Cowboys’ fifth-round pick and a conditional seventh-round pick.
Better receiver play would help them get some deeper passing plays—the type of play that was a staple when Tyreek Hill was the WR1—back into this offense. While Mahomes showed a new level of maturity in taking what defenses gave him with limited support around him this season, it came at a physical cost. As opponents crept in, he faced the most pressure of his career in 2023 and, especially as the season wore on, relied on his legs for key plays.
Historically, the Chiefs are careful with their prized player. Kansas City hasn’t run Mahomes on a quarterback sneak since he dislocated his kneecap on a sneak in 2019, a choice that may have factored into Reid’s decision Sunday to punt on fourth-and-very-short in his own territory in the third quarter. Similarly, after Mahomes suffered a concussion running the option on a play against the Browns in the 2021 playoffs, Reid shied away from designed quarterback runs for a while. In this current version of the offense, though, Mahomes’s legs went from luxury to necessity. On what turned out to be the Chiefs’ game-winning drive in overtime, he ran the ball twice; one of the runs was an RPO, and one was an 8-yard pickup on fourth-and-1 that may have been a game-deciding play.
The Super Bowl is exactly the time to call those plays, but if the Chiefs offense still relies on Mahomes to scramble to avoid pressure and as a factor in the designed run game, they’ll be putting him at unnecessary risk.
There is also the matter of Kelce. Though the future Hall of Fame tight end stopped short of outright confirming he’d be back for next season, his multiple references to wanting a three-peat seemed to imply a return. Still, after the game, Kelce acknowledged that his career is winding down. If he does return, the Chiefs can’t make Kelce, who will turn 35 in October, the focal point of their offense the way they once did.
“I’m closer to not playing than I am to [the beginning],” he said.
Beyond Mahomes, Kelce is the defining player of this first portion of the Chiefs dynasty. Honorable mentions go to Jones and Hill, who has now been gone for two seasons. Though Kansas City would surely like to have Jones back rather than let him leave in free agency, the Chiefs must soon start preparing for life without Jones or Kelce or both. In Rice and second-year running back Isiah Pacheco, the Chiefs seem to have found a couple of the core players of the next wave, but they need more.
From that interview podium in Las Vegas, Reid described the accomplishment of this Super Bowl in terms of the growth it took to get there.
“It’s a great win because I know how hard it is to do and how hard the season was,” Reid said. “The ups and downs of the season, and how proud I am of the guys for just hanging with each other and staying positive with each other. The young guys grew up, and nobody ever pointed fingers at the offense when the offense was growing.”
It’s a fitting way to acknowledge the dynasty, even though Reid wouldn’t do it directly. Now that the Chiefs are in one, staying there means the growing can’t ever stop.