The Kansas City Chiefs strengthened arguably their weakest position group on Wednesday by trading a sixth-round pick to the New York Jets for linebacker Darron Lee. The former first rounder has had an up-and-down career thus far, but for nothing more than a sixth? It’s a great move by Brett Veach.
And it’s another move that removes any kind of excuse if this team comes up short of a Super Bowl this season.
The Chiefs had the best offense in the NFL last year, one of the best of all time, and it’s back in nearly its entirety (though more on that later). The defense, which was horrendous in 2018, has been completely rebuilt and is easily more talented than last season’s. Veach completed a smart though not flashy draft this year. Savvy moves like a one-year deal for cornerback Bashaud Breeland and a low-risk trade for Lee have shored up brutally weak cornerback and linebacker groups, respectively.
Plus, Bob Sutton is out. Steve Spagnuolo is in, but the more important part here is just that Sutton is gone.
There’s no reason to believe this team can’t make a run to the Super Bowl, and with all the moves made this offseason that’s the bare minimum goal. Success is defined differently by everyone, and in American sports culture we often fall into the trap of correlating seasons without a championship to wholly unsuccessful seasons, which can be a shortsighted way of looking at things.
But the Chiefs have done all they can to improve the team around quarterback, MVP, franchise icon and demigod Patrick Mahomes. They were within one boneheaded penalty of reaching the Super Bowl last season. If you were to tell Chiefs fans that with a first-year starter and a bad defense the team would make it to the brink of a title game appearance, that would sound like a spectacular year.
It has to be the expectation now, though.
Consider all the issues facing Kansas City’s roster heading into the season and all that has been to address them. The secondary lacked (healthy) playmakers, so Eric Berry was let go (for what it’s worth, he’s still a free agent, too) and Tyrann Mathieu, one of the most versatile and dynamic safeties in the league, was signed. Breeland was brought in to replace Steven Nelson outside. They drafted Juan Thornhill, a do-everything safety, in the second round.
Up front, while Dee Ford and Justin Houston both played well last season, they were sent away by different means because they don’t fit Spagnuolo’s scheme. Enter Frank Clark, one of the best 4-3 edge rushers in the game. Plus, a slew of decent/depth players were added to solidify the edge rotation. Damien Wilson was added to the linebacker group, and now Lee has been brought it. These are not all superstar or All-Pro players, but the Chiefs have addressed every hole.
A top-five defense isn’t necessary for this team to reach a Super Bowl. In all reality, a top-20 defense will probably be enough.
Ironically enough, the biggest question mark could be on the offensive side of the ball. Tyreek Hill’s off-field situation involving himself, his fiancee and his son is still ongoing and there hasn’t been an update in some time. It’s reasonable to think he won’t be on the roster come Week 1 (but there’s also a decent chance he is, we just have no idea at this point). If he’s not around, the offense is losing one of its most important pieces, arguably its best due to his explosiveness.
Losing Hill wouldn’t be a good enough excuse if the season goes awry, though. He’s an unreal talent, but this is a talented skill position corps in plenty of other ways. Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, rookie Mecole Hardman and others can pick up the slack should Hill be out of the picture. And let’s not forget about who is distributing the ball. Not only did Mahomes post otherworldly numbers in 2018, he visibly made the players around him better. He made Demetrius Harris look good enough to get a multi-year deal with a good offense. That was a borderline miracle.
Mahomes is already in the NFL’s most elite tier of quarterbacks. It hurts to lose your No. 1 receiver, but if he’s truly as good as he showed us last season he’ll be just fine without Hill.
Veach has done a good job of shoring up the roster this offseason. Mahomes is still the quarterback. Andy Reid is still the coach. There’s no room for excuses in 2019 for the Chiefs. With all they have done to make this team better, they don’t have any option other than success.