Pass rushers have been the story of the 2022 NFL Free Agency Period thus far – but should the Chiefs consider a different path to success – and quarterback longevity?
Charles Robinson @CRob5769
This has been an ongoing trend in the league for a couple of years now.
A season ago, after the Chiefs lost to the Tampa Bay Bucs in Super Bowl 55 the “blueprint” to stop the Chiefs offense had been found. The Mahomes code had been cracked and teams were throwing 2 high safety looks at Kansas City to slow down their historically high powered offense. Bigger safeties and more athletic outside linebackers appeared to be the answer to roughing up our receiving threats at the line of scrimmage. The Chargers, Ravens, and Bills all dealt the Chiefs losses early in the regular season with this formula and it appeared the reign was over.
Fast forward to the AFC Championship from this past season and there was a familiar host – the Kansas City Chiefs. After avenging losses to the Chargers (de facto AFC West championship game late in the season) and the Bills (AFC Divisional round instant classic), the Chiefs ended up falling to Cinci for a second time in 4 weeks, but not because of the same issues that had plagued them previously. Maybe the mystery of the Chiefs offense would still elude teams in the AFC and NFL as a whole?
The offseason has certainly brought us some jaw dropping moments, but one thing is very clear – those AFC teams that thought they had the Chiefs figured out are doubling down in an attempt to take down the Kingdom – this time by bolstering their respective pass rushes.
The Chargers traded for Khalil Mack.
The Broncos brought in Randy Gregory to play opposite Bradley Chubb.
The Raiders signed Chandler Jones to bookend a vicious pass rushed with Maxx Crosby on the other side. And just last night they traded for Davante Adams and immediately backed up the Brinks truck to welcome him to Vegas.
And finally, yesterday, the Bills signed 32-year-old (nearly 33) Von Miller to a 6 years, $120 million contract.
Defensively, that’s 4 players and 316 career sacks heading to teams that will occupy 7 of the Chiefs 17 regular season games in 2022.
It’s evident what is happening. The teams in the AFC – particularly the AFC West- who have been second fiddle for years are tired of it. If the Chiefs had a target on their back after 3 consecutive AFC Championship appearances and 2 Super Bowls, the target got even larger this offseason after a fourth straight AFCCG.
Much of the Chiefs fanbase has been fixated on the defensive side of the ball and the wide receiving corps this offseason – and for good reason. With the likely exits of Tyrann Mathieu, Jarran Reid, Derrick Nnadi, and others, the Chiefs needs to bring in some new blood defensively. The first day of free agency brought new talent to the locker room with the signing of Justin Reid, but the front 7 still needs attention. And then there is the wide receivers.
Outside of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs have absolutely no pass catchers that strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Mecole Hardman is a nice weapon, but hardly a threat to opposing defenses as a number 2 wideout. Josh Gordon is a physical specimen who could undoubtedly be better in 2022 than he was in 2021 with a full offseason to dissect the playbook and work on timing and rapport with Mahomes but is also undoubtedly more of an unknown than he is a sure thing.
But what if the Chiefs zigged while all the other contenders in the AFC are zagging? Follow me here. Last offseason Brett Veach did a masterful job of rebuilding an offensive line that – by the time the Super Bowl concluded – was one of the worst we’d seen in the Kingdom in a long, long time. Enter Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown, Jr via free agency/trades. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith a little while later in the draft. And boom – what was the biggest weakness on the back-to-back AFC champs was suddenly its most complete and dominant unit.
So what if we zig while everyone else is zagging. Obviously, the Chiefs have some cap issues they need to clear up. The Tyreek Hill extension should be done by the time we sit down for our coffee on Saturday morning. There’s still the possibility of extending Chris Jones to have a similar effect, and the team can still convert some of Patrick Mahomes money to save around $12M on the cap this year. They will just have to weigh if they want that space in 2022 while tacking on $4 million a year in 2023, 2024, and 2025.
Dallas just released right tackle La’el Collins. There are a ton of offensive tackles still available right now in free agency – Bryan Bulaga, Daryl Williams, Marcus Cannon to name a few – even if the Chiefs couldn’t afford Collins. David Johnson, Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, Tarik Cohen, Jalen Richard, Phillip Lindsay, Cordarelle Patterson, Devontae Booker, and Sony Michel – to name several – are all still available in this year’s running back class. Not to mention the Williams twins – Darrell and Damien, who already have familiarity with the team and coaching staff.
With a healthy Clyde Edwards-Helaire coupled with the right combination of speed and strength added into the running back position in KC, and the offensive line that already exists today with a piece added to it the Chiefs running game could go from afterthought to centerpiece. All of this is possible without even considering the Draft coming up in April.
Consider the other offensive weapons as well. Mecole Hardman may not be a prototypical WR2, but he is incredibly dangerous receiving and rushing the ball in jet-sweep sets. There’s still the issue of getting Pat another weapon, which could create a good fit for another receiver to step into the offense and bring versatility in both the running and passing game. Jarvis Landry is not only a stellar possession receiver, he can also carry the ball. He’s got 5 rushing touchdowns in his career and a career 146.8 passer rating…you thinking what I’m thinking?
I’ll admit, this is an absolutely bat shit crazy idea. With Patrick Mahomes as your quarterback, it is insane to consider transitioning to a run first offensive mindset. Waste the greatest signal caller in the game – as well as the talents of Hill and Kelce – by handing the ball off 30 times a game? Yeah right.
But would adding another quality starting offensive lineman hurt Mahomes longevity? Absolutely not, it would in fact do the opposite. In 2021, even with an elite pass blocking offensive line in 4 out of 5 positions, Mahomes was flushed out of the pocket more than anyone would like to see. Could foritification at the right tackle spot prevent this? Not entirely – Mahomes thrives in improvisation. It’s part of his game and is an inherent risk/reward proposition that Chiefs fans are going to have to live with as long as 15 is in KC. Even if there was a larger emphasis on the run in 2022, he would be better protected on passing downs by upgrading the RT position.
Bringing in veteran running backs would only help with providing additional receiving threats out of the backfield and pass protection when those backs stay in. Bolstering an offensive line that was already one of the league’s elite would be like taking the siding off and bricking your house, not tearing it down completely.
The Chiefs last season had the number 2 offensive line in the NFL in run block win rate (74%). Creed Humphrey was tied for 2nd among all centers, Trey Smith 2nd among all guards (remember, they were both rookies and will continue to improve), and Orlando Brown tied for first among all tackle in the league in run block win rate. So individually and as a team the Chiefs offensive line is realistically built to run the football, whether that was by design or by chance.
Am I completely sold on this idea myself? No, absolutely not. Especially not when Mahomes has been vocal about wanting more offensive weapons in the form of wide receivers. Especially not when the defense as it stands is considerably worse off than it was a year ago when at times it looked like one of the league’s worst.
But I do know one thing – the best way to slow down a pass rush is to make them move backwards. The best way to make a defensive line move backwards is to have an offensive line, and an offensive game plan, that punches them directly in the mouth. The best way to keep an explosive offense contained is to keep them off of the field. This could quite possibly be the dumbest thing I’ve ever written, but the Chiefs have the ability to do this. It’s just a matter of whether or not they’re willing to try on a little bit of a different identity offensively. Only time will tell.