The Kansas City Chiefs came up short in the postseason as Andy Reid and Co. failed to make it past the Divisional Round once again. It was a crushing defeat at the hands of the Steelers – well, mainly Chris Boswell – one that will leave the Chiefs searching for answers.
The defense is strong and forced the most turnovers in the league this season, but several questions remain on that side of the ball, as they do on offense. Can the Chiefs win with Alex Smith? Is Jamaal Charles done in Kansas City? Who will the Chiefs re-sign of their big free agents?
Those are all decisions that need to be made this offseason in order to make a deep run at the Super Bowl next year. Here are five things KC needs to do to make a run to the top.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY SportsHoward Smith
Add depth at linebacker – inside and outside
The Chiefs have a very good inside linebacker on the roster in Derrick Johnson, however, he’s 33 years old and coming off of an Achilles injury. There’s no telling how much longer Johnson can play, particularly with him suffering two major injuries in the past three seasons. The Chiefs have to get younger at the linebacker spot, both inside and out. Justin Houston endured an injury-plagued season, and Tamba Hali isn’t the pass rusher he once was. Dee Ford came on strong this year, but depth is needed on the edge.
It may not be a huge priority this season, but after seeing Ben Roethlisberger rarely pressured on Sunday, it’s clear the time to draft pass rushers is nearing. Adding speed and youth at the outside linebacker spot would allow the Chiefs to use more of a rotation, reducing the burden on their veterans, thus hopefully avoiding injuries that have plagued them.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsDenny Medley
Find a true No. 1 receiver
Jeremy Maclin is a nice piece to have on offense, but he’s not a true No. 1 receiver. He doesn’t have great size, and his durability has become somewhat of a question mark -- he's missed five games in the past two seasons. His production also fell off of a cliff this year, catching just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs’ biggest issues are on offense, where the scheme has to be more dynamic, particularly with Alex Smith at quarterback. He needs all the weapons he can get, and adding a prototypical No. 1 wideout would work wonders.
Alshon Jeffery and the high-priced free agents are likely out of the Chiefs’ price range, but finding a big receiver in the draft shouldn’t be a problem. Mike Williams and Corey Davis will likely be gone before the Chiefs pick in the first round, leaving a guy like Malachi Dupre as a possible option in the second or third round.
Sign/draft a No. 2 cornerback
The Chiefs are set at one cornerback spot for the foreseeable future with Marcus Peters playing like one of the best in the league. However, the drop-off from him to the next player on the depth chart is significant – and it allows opponents to move the ball through the air without much trouble. The Steelers figured that out fairly easily in the Divisional Round, simply throwing the ball to the left side more often with Peters staying on the opposite side of the field.
The Chiefs need to address the cornerback position either in free agency or in the draft because going into the year with Terrance Mitchel or Phillip Gaines playing opposite Peters is a poor decision. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kansas City land a corner in the first or second round, aiming toward shoring up the secondary.
Erik Williams-USA TODAY SportsErik Williams
Re-sign Eric Berry
The Chiefs have two huge pending free agents in Eric Berry and Dontari Poe. One of them should be unequivocally re-signed, and the other should be a lesser priority. Berry is one of the best players on Kansas City’s defense, proving as much the past two seasons. The reigning Comeback Player of the Year is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate after being named a first-team All-Pro this season.
Berry is an Earl Thomas-type player in the way that he’s nearly impossible to replace on the back end, and we all saw how different the Seahawks were without their All-Pro safety. Poe hasn’t been the impactful nose tackle he was two and three years ago, and finding a replacement for him will be easier than finding one for Berry. This season, Berry had 77 tackles, four interceptions, nine passes defensed and a forced fumble. His pick-two against the Falcons won the Chiefs the game.
Move on from Jamaal Charles
As difficult as it may be, the Chiefs have to move on from Jamaal Charles. He’s coming off of his second significant knee injury in as many years, and his production has fallen off as a result. Considering he’s played just eight games the past two seasons and the Chiefs have remained successful without him, it’s never been more clear that they have to part ways with one of the best running backs in the franchise’s history.
His contract certainly allows the Chiefs to cut him, too. Charles’ cap hit in 2017 will be $7 million – eighth-highest on the team. If they release him, they won’t be forced to eat any dead money, freeing them of his contract. The Chiefs are in a good spot to make this move because of the depth they have at running back with Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. Both are capable three-down backs, particularly Ware. There’s no telling how effective (or healthy) Charles will be when he returns, and $7 million is too much to risk in order to find out.