Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Kansas City Chiefs.
The writing was on the wall when the Chiefs took Patrick Mahomes in the first round of last year’s draft, yet it was still a shock to see them ship Alex Smith off to the Washington Redskins a couple of weeks ago. Mahomes is a talented prospect, but going with what amounts to a rookie at quarterback after making the playoffs in four out of five seasons.
Smith has taken a lot of heat for being unable to advance very far in the postseason, so making a change at QB makes a certain amount of sense. But he was clearly not the reason for their collapse against the Tennessee Titans this year. Travis Kelce getting injured took away a valuable weapon on offense, and the defense was utterly incompetent down the stretch.
That kept in line with that unit’s performance as a whole this season; the Chiefs were the fifth worst statistical defense in the league, in spite of the talent they have on that side of the ball. Smith was asked to do more than ever in 2017, and he responded with the best year of his career. His reward? Getting traded. Huh?
In any case, Mahomes should be in a position to succeed. While offensive coordinator Matt Nagy left to take over as the Chicago Bears head coach, he’ll still have a fantastical threesome of juggernauts in Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt to work with. Head coach Andy Reid seems to have gotten better at scheming with age as well.
However, the Chiefs don’t have a lot of assets to improve the roster this offseason. Sure, they picked up an extra draft pick and underrated cornerback Kendall Fuller in the Smith trade, but they had to give up their first-rounder in order to move up to take Mahomes last year. Their cap situation isn’t ideal either.
Still, they’re talented enough to remain competitive heading into 2018. It’ll be exciting to see Mahomes step into a starting role and potentially expand the offense even further. There may be a few bumps in the road though.
Current number of draft picks: 6 (none in the first round)
Cap space: $12-17 million
Notable free agents
Derrick Johnson, ILB: It’s becoming more and more rare to see one player spend his entire career with one team, and the thought of Johnson parting ways with the Chiefs is definitely sobering. Reports have emerged of that being the case, and the team is arguably making a mistake.
Despite turning 35 during the season, he still finished second on the team in total tackles with 71. While he’s certainly not as spry as he used to be, Johnson remains a dependable linebacker, and it’s likely that he’ll eventually retire on his own terms.
Darrelle Revis, CB: Revis definitely won’t be coming back next year, as the Chiefs cut him last week. It’s no surprise. After signing with the team during the final month of the season, the veteran corner limped through the last five games, only starting in two of them and picking up as many pass breakups during that time. It’s a far cry from his Revis Island days. He may get another shot in 2018, but his time is fading fast.
Bennie Logan, NT: Logan is extremely limited as a pass rusher, but he’s very effective at stopping the run, picking up 58 total tackles in 2017. While the current state of the league doesn’t bold well for his growth as a player, there’s still room for someone like him in football.
Phillip Gaines, CB: A third-round pick in 2014, Gaines was solid as a rookie with limited snaps, but he’s regressed in each season since, cumulating with just 3 pass breakups and a Pro Football Focus grade of 35.9 this year. Fuller coming into the fold makes him expendable, so he’ll have to catch on elsewhere.
Anthony Sherman, FB: A big reason for the Chiefs continued success on the ground has been Sherman’s lead blocking. Since he joined the team in 2011, the offense has consistently finished in the top half of the league in rushing yards, never dropping below 15th. Fullback is a dying position in football, but guys like Sherman show that it still has its place.
ILB: The Chiefs were smart to trade for Reggie Ragland before this season to potentially fill the void of Johnson leaving the team. Still, they don’t have many compelling replacements on the roster, so finding someone to replace the latter needs to be a priority.
NT: Logan hitting free agency will leave the Chiefs with a host of inexperienced nose tackles. They should look to bring him back if possible.
WR: While Hill is undoubtedly a dangerous threat at wideout, the Chiefs don’t have much across from him. Chris Conley will attempt to return from a ruptured Achilles, while Albert Wilson, the team’s second-leading receiver in 2017, is a free agent. Mahomes will need some secondary options outside of the Hill-Hunt-Kelce trio.
G: Left guard Zach Fulton is headed to free agency, and his departure would be costly for the Chiefs, as he filled in at center for most of the season while Mitch Morse was injured. Additionally, Bryan Witzmann didn’t do much at left guard when he entered the lineup.
CB/S: The acquisition of Fuller was a good move, as he should be able to work well with Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson. However, depth will be an issue, given that three other corners on the roster (Revis, Gaines and Kenneth Acker) are all free agents.
Meanwhile, Eric Berry is recovering from a ruptured Achilles (yes, two Chiefs players got hit with that injury this year), and the options that replaced him during 2017 weren’t especially compelling, so another option in the secondary would be useful.
QB: With Mahomes moving into the starter role, the Chiefs will need to find a new backup QB. The only other one on the roster, Tyler Bray, is a free agent.
FB: If the Chiefs want to continue to use a fullback, they need to re-sign Sherman or find a suitable replacement.
P: Longtime punter Dustin Colquitt is a free agent.
Best player/building block
Kareem Hunt, RB: While Hunt never quite reached the heights of the first two months of the season, he still finished as the leading rusher in the league with 1,327 yards on the ground. He also scored 8 touchdowns and was a threat as a receiver as well, catching 53 passes for 455 yards and 3 TDs. PFF gave him a grade of 88.9, the third best among running backs. Not bad for a third-round rookie.
Chris Jones, DE/DT: Jones has been a very solid player through his first two years as a pro, yet he’s not getting enough attention. He was second on the team in sacks with 6.5, also forcing 4 fumbles and breaking up 7 passes as well. PFF graded him at an 88.2, 12th for interior defenders. He’ll turn 24 before next season, so he’s got plenty of time to get the notice he deserves.
NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers