The process the Kansas City Chiefs have taken to build a Super Bowl winning team has not been your typical one. In fact, many have questioned the decisions the team made at times. But if last season is any indication of what’s to come, other teams may want to take notes.
As kids, we have all had the enjoyment of playing with building blocks and legos. There is something genuinely satisfying about taking a pile of pieces and creating a masterpiece. Or at least, that’s what our parents would tell us it was when we proudly showcased our work of art.
Life in the National Football League is in many ways the same. You have to be able to take different pieces and create a masterpiece that can win a Super Bowl.
Sometimes the pieces don’t fit together, so you must break down the project and rebuild.
Other times, you get lucky, and find the right pieces to build with, and create a football Van Gogh.
From owners, all the way down to the players, everyone is an important piece. And there isn’t a right or wrong way to build, as was evidenced by the two teams who took part in last season’s Super Bowl. You had the Los Angeles Rams; a team which added big-name players through free agency and trades like Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh, and Brandin Cooks. And on the other end, you had the New England Patriots; a team that is happy to let free agents leave and build through the NFL Draft, along with low-risk free agents.
What are the Kansas City Chiefs building?
For much of the franchise’s history, the Kansas City Chiefs were a team that could never seem to find the right pieces. Not since 1969, when quarterback Len Dawson played, have the Chiefs played in a Super Bowl. And that’s not a knock on Kansas City, as there are other teams who have never been to the big game. Not going to point any thunderbolts at anyone, but you get the point.
The Chiefs have had many great players and coaches over the years. Some of them would end up in the Hall of Fame. Others will likely make their way to Canton, and become enshrined with other football legends. So what makes this year’s Kansas City Chiefs team different? Considering the level of play from the 2018 squad, why do I believe next year’s team could be hoisting the Lombardi trophy?
First of all, last year’s Chiefs team was hugely unbalanced. They had an offense that could score fast and often. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, Kansas City scored an average of 35 points per game. But on the other side of the ball, the defense couldn’t stop teams from scoring. The Chiefs had the 31st ranked scoring defense, and it showed in the AFC championship game.
This year’s team is being built to look completely different. With the departures of free agent Dee Ford and long-tenured players like Eric Berry and Justin Houston, the team sent a message. Having a great pass rush was not enough. It needed balance on all areas of the field, and they were willing to do whatever it took to get there.
I’m not going to bore you with stats, as players change every year, as do their numbers. But I will show you how much more balanced the team is as the roster currently sits. I’ll start with the defense, as it was the area of concern last season. Not to mention, many so-called “experts” seem to believe they have gotten worse.
Kansas City Chiefs defense
Key departures: Dee Ford, Steve Nelson, Justin Houston, Eric Berry
Key additions: Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, Bashaud Breeland, Juan Thornhill
Last season, while the Kansas City Chiefs had an elite pass rush, their defensive backfield was one of the league’s worst. This year, they have added three key pieces to help fix those holes.
The Chiefs basically swapped Eric Berry for Tyrann Mathieu, and it’s a massive upgrade. Berry hasn’t been the same player since he got injured in the first game of the 2017 season. Add the fact that he didn’t play for much of 2018, and it’s easy to see how it made the team better already.
Since Mathieu entered the league, he has 13 interceptions, four forced fumbles, and seven sacks. In contrast, Berry has 14 interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 5.5 sacks. The difference is Berry did it nine seasons and Mathieu did it in six.
With availability being the best ability, games played by each player is a telling stat. Mathieu has played in 82 games to Berry’s 89. Age is also a significant factor, with Berry being 30 and Mathieu only 26.
If this wasn’t enough to convince you of the Chiefs’ improvement, Kansas City also drafted safety Juan Thornhill. Thornhill was rated one of the top safeties in the 2018 draft. With 13 interceptions of his own in college, Thornhill adds more turnover potential, and the Chiefs’ new safety duo is going to be looking to flip the field.
Kansas City Chiefs pass rush
Moving to the pass rush, one of the biggest knocks to the team’s offseason moves was with the defensive line. After having tied for the most sacks in the NFL, one could see the reasoning behind the criticism. The answer is a simple one, when you look at it as the team did. It was addition by subtraction.
By releasing Houston and not signing Ford long term, the team was able to add more depth and players at positions of need. I’ll leave the numbers to the math nerds, but put it this way: more money means more players.
Let’s take a look at Houston first because, like Berry, his injury history was a concern. In 2013, he missed five games with an elbow injury. After signing a team-high contract of $101 million, he only played 11 games in 2015. A knee injury then carried over to 2016, limiting him to five games. And once again, in his final season with the Chiefs, a hamstring injury kept him to 12 games.
There is no denying that Houston can and will still be productive; it was just a case of the team cutting their losses.
Dee Ford or Frank Clark?
The situation with Dee Ford and the Kansas City Chiefs could be summed up in two words: availability and productivity. Ford has had back problem dating back to his college playing days. That same injury flared up again in 2017 and limited him to six games. While he has not missed as many games as Berry and Houston, one would have to assume it was still a concern for the Chiefs.
So why not just pay Ford instead of trading for Frank Clark and giving him the money they could have just given Ford? That’s where productivity comes in. Like with choosing Mathieu over Berry, Clark is younger and more productive. Why pay for someone you hope will produce when you can have someone who has shown it consistently?
They both had near similar years stat-wise in 2018, but Clark has been more consistent overall in his career and in less time. The big two stats for a pass rusher are sacks, and QB hits, so let’s see how those numbers stack up against each other.
Dee Ford:[table id=47 /]
Frank Clark:[table id=48 /]
It’s clear that Clark is and has been the better of the two players, and Kansas City made a smart move in signing Clark over Ford.
Kansas City Chiefs offense
Key departures: Kareem Hunt, Mitch Morse
Key additions: Who needs them when you got Patrick “MVPat” Mahomes?
The departures of running back Kareem Hunt and center Mitch Morse are notable losses for the Chiefs offense, but neither is a deal breaker. Austin Reiter filled in nicely for Mitch Morse last season when he was out with a concussion, and the Kansas City running game didn’t seem to lose a step when Kareem Hunt was released. And while everyone seems to think Tyreek Hill is gone, he’s a Chief ’till he isn’t. The team thought it did the right thing in releasing Hunt just to see the Cleveland Browns get praised for signing him. My bet is they won’t make the same mistake with Hill.
With that said, they still have quarterback Patrick Mahomes who has made every receiver he has played with better. To see exactly how much better, you can read the article, I wrote on the subject here.
The Kansas City Chiefs still have a solid offensive line featuring Mitchell Schwartz, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Cam Erving, Eric Fisher, and the aforementioned Austin Reiter. They have the best tight end in football in Travis Kelce and a newly-motivated Sammy Watkins. Throw in the mix Demarcus Robinson, who is emerging, plus a buffet of running backs, and you can be sure the offense will still be putting up points.
What’s next for the Kansas City Chiefs?
The Kansas City Chiefs made all the right moves on paper. How that will pan out for them is yet to be seen. In the NFL, winning is not easy, but owner Clark Hunt and general manager Brett Veach were aggressive in giving head coach Andy Reid the missing pieces to build a Super Bowl winning masterpiece.
They can still use another cornerback, and another tight end or receiver wouldn’t hurt. But with plenty of money left in cap space, I doubt we’ve seen the last of the team’s offseason moves.
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