While the Chiefs may not be knocking on the door of the Super Bowl, they’ve been loitering on the porch. For 2017, the question is whether they’re deliberately taking a few steps down toward the sidewalk in order to getting a running start that will knock it down.
In three of coach Andy Reid’s four seasons with the team, the Chiefs have made it to the postseason. But a bye in 2016, their first first-round bye since 2003, led to the same outcome as each of the other three times they skipped wild card weekend and hosted a game in the round of eight: The Chiefs lost.
They last made it to the AFC title game in 1993, and most perceive a gap between Kansas City and Oakland even though Kansas City, not Oakland, most recently won the AFC West. Contributing to the confusion regarding the Chiefs was the curious decision to invest two first-round pick in a work-in-progress quarterback when Alex Smith still has gas in the tank. The move became an obvious admission that they believe Alex Smith is a guy who can keep them on the porch, but not much more than that.
Biggest positive change: In an offseason that didn’t feature much in the way of veteran player acquisition or departure, the effort by the franchise to get a franchise quarterback stands out — if they’re right about Patrick Mahomes. For now, it’s a coin-flip proposition at best, especially with Mahomes making the difficult transition from the college spread to Reid’s version of the West Coast offense. Given that the league has three types of teams — teams with franchise quarterbacks, teams trying to find franchise quarterbacks, and teams who aren’t quite sure whether their quarterback is a franchise quarterback — the Chiefs have decided after four years with Alex Smith that he isn’t. While the move may not bear much fruit in 2016, it sets the stage for filling the void that will emerge in the conference if Tom Brady is in the final year or two of his career.
Biggest negative change: The sudden, abrupt decision to dump receiver Jeremy Maclin surprised many and reinforced the idea that the Chiefs are focused more on developing for the future than pushing their chips to the middle of the table right now. And while Reid knows Maclin well enough to know when to get out from under an eight-figure salary, the fact that the Chiefs didn’t try to get him to take less and stick around means that they simply wanted to clear him off the roster so that younger guys can get the reps. If the younger guys can’t get it done, however, that won’t help the Chiefs get to the divisional round again, and it definitely won’t help them get past it.
Coaching thermometer: By getting an extension on the same day G.M. John Dorsey got a pink slip, Reid has as much security as any coach in football. And with Brett Veach replacing Dorsey, many believe Reid will now have even more influence over the roster. So if the Chiefs are indeed taking a step or two back in an effort to eventually take a step up, chances are that Reid will be there every step of the way.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Eric Berry. He overcame cancer and has returned as good as ever, becoming the heart and soul of the team and finally getting a contract that reflects it. What does he really think about undermining Smith and eventually replacing him with Mahomes? What does the think about the way Maclin’s exit was handled? Does he truly believe that the team is moving in the right direction, and that the team can put together a championship-caliber offense before the window closes on a quality defense?
How they can prove us wrong: If they decide to throw Mahomes into the fray as a rookie in the hopes of having the game slow down for him sooner than later, the Chiefs could quickly become not a top-10 team. Likewise, the apparent plan to thrust 2016 rookie phenom Tyreek Hill (who averaged only 5.3 touches from scrimmage per game last year) into a bigger role will mean more opportunities to take more of the hits that are more likely to lead to an injury.