There’s always that age old question around birthdays and holidays: “What do you get the person who has everything?” That’s how it must feel to run the Kansas City Chiefs lately.
Though they were coming off of a tough overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game last year, the Chiefs had been the toast of the conference for four seasons. Beginning in Patrick Mahomes’ second season as the starting quarterback in 2018, the Chiefs went 50-15 in the regular season, 8-3 in the playoffs, and reached the Super Bowl twice in a four-year span.
The defense could be better, but even that side of the ball ranked in the top 10 in points allowed in 2019, 2020, and 2021. How could general manager Brett Veach take the best team in the NFL and make them even better despite an impending trade of one of their most elite players, another year without a high draft pick, and salary cap constraints?
It’s hard to perfectly quantify how, but he did it. He actually did it.
Through a series of offseason moves, the Chiefs managed to go from 12-5 to 14-3 and are in the Super Bowl for the third time in the last four years. There’s understandable emphasis on the unmatched on-field ability of Mahomes, but the brilliance of Veach and head coach Andy Reid can’t be overstated as the reason Kansas City is back in the final game of the year. These three offseason moves show why.
March 18, 2022: Chiefs trade Tyreek Hill to Dolphins for first, second, fourth-round picks in 2022, fourth, sixth-round picks in 2023
Hill’s unique skillset and gifts at wide receiver, posting a 4.29 40-yard dash at his pro day in 2016, helped propel him to being a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler in six seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. The first of those Pro Bowl selections was as an electrifying return man with three touchdowns on special teams, but Hill showed no problems in translating his talents to wide receiver and averaged 84 catches, 1,207 yards, and 10 touchdowns per season from 2017-2021.
Despite a career-high 111 catches in 2021 and no obvious replacement in the building, the Chiefs felt they couldn’t match Hill’s demands for a new contract extension and opted to trade him while he was still in his prime, opening up approximately $20 million on the 2022 salary cap in the process. Though Hill posted new career highs of 119 catches and 1,710 yards in his firs season with the Dolphins, Kansas City has managed to reach the Super Bowl again, with Patrick Mahomes a favorite to win his second career MVP.
With $20 million freed up on the salary cap, the Chiefs were able to fit left tackle Orlando Brown, Jr. on the franchise tag, valued at $16.6 million, and still had money to spare.
Apr. 28, 2022: Chiefs trade up in draft for cornerback Trent McDuffie
Most people assumed that when the Chiefs traded Hill to Miami that they would use the acquired first-round pick, 29th overall, on a wide receiver. After all, Hill was by far the team’s most valuable wideout, and though Kansas City signed JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling within days of the trade, neither had proven to be near the caliber of a No. 1 receiver.
But in true Chiefs fashion of being savvy with their draft picks, Kansas City managed to turn their first-round pick into the No. 3 cornerback in the class, and the second-round pick into an electric wide receiver prospect who many felt had the talent to go on Day 1.
With the pick received from Miami, Veach traded picks 29, 94, and 121 to the Patriots in exchange for pick No. 21, selecting Trent McDuffie out of Washington. After Derek Stingley and Sauce Gardner went third and fourth, McDuffie was the No. 3 corner on a lot of boards and when he fell out of the top 20, the Chiefs made their move.
This might seem rather trivial out of an entire game of plays but Trent McDuffie shedding this block to tackle Chase on the first play of the game was awesome. Did not see this in the first game against them. pic.twitter.com/uqEMrY3Ms5— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 30, 2023
Though the 21-year-old injured his hamstring in Week 1 and missed the next six games, he’s been one of the top corners in the NFL since his return. According to PFF, the Chiefs’ coverage grade rank has gone from 27th without McDuffie to first since his return. McDuffie ranks third in yards per coverage snap, ninth in yards per target allowed, and he is shutting down explosive plays against all but the most elite wide receivers. He’s already considered by some as one of the top press coverage corners in the NFL and is an ideal fit for Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
There are 112 cornerbacks who have played at least 50 snaps in press coverage this year, and the rookie McDuffie ranks third among them in coverage grade.
So though the Chiefs didn’t immediately replace Hill on offense, they might have landed a cornerback who could have Hill-like value on defense. And they still used the trade to draft a receiver with sky-high potential in Round 2: Though Skyy Moore has yet to make an impact in the NFL (22 catches, 250 yards, no touchdowns), he’s making an incredible leap from playing at Western Michigan to playing against pros and he’ll have a full offseason ahead to try and get on the same page as the best quarterback in the league.
June 8, 2022: Chiefs re-sign RB Jerick McKinnon
If you ever needed evidence that not even NFL teams quite know what they have in veteran players, look no further than McKinnon: The league let him sit in free agency for three months and finally allowed him to just simply go back to Kansas City on a cheap one-year deal for barely more than $1 million.
McKinnon’s rushing numbers don’t pop—72 carries, 291 yards, one touchdown—but that’s never been the case. However, he has in ways been the Tyreek Hill replacement in the passing offense that the Chiefs needed and posted career-bests of 56 catches, 512 yards, and nine touchdowns.
Jerick McKinnon caught more touchdowns this season than Justin Jefferson, Jaylen Waddle, Tee Higgins, DeVonta Smith, DK Metcalf, Mike Evans, Christian Kirk, Brandon Aiyuk, and yep, Tyreek Hill.
Though the veteran has had issues with staying healthy and had little impact in 2021, nobody expected him to become the standout threat out of the backfield like he’s been for the last five months.
Well, nobody except maybe for Andy Reid. Funny how that happens.