Kansas City Chiefs: Defense the focus once again in 2020 offseason

The Kansas City Chiefs are done celebrating and now must figure out how to defend their title. It starts with the defense once again, even if Mahomes needs a new deal.

The Kansas City Chiefs just won their first Super Bowl in a generation. The NFL churn never ceases, though. There is much work to do this offseason if Kansas City hopes to repeat. They have two monster contract decisions to make, but only one area that can’t be ignored.

The two biggest names on the Chiefs’ offseason to-do list are Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones. Mahomes is entering the final year of his rookie deal and will be due what is likely to be the largest extension in football history. Jones is a full-fledged free agent this offseason. Kansas City must focus on defense or risk losing everything.

Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate the Kansas City Chiefs in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

Todd Salem:

The Chiefs have said they won’t rush Mahomes’ offer with other, more chronologically pressing matters at hand. They could also throw this rock down the road a bit by simply accepting his fifth-year option, but why mess around with Mahomes? It’s not like they are going to move in another direction in 2021. His Super Bowl MVP may have been a sham award, but award him with the most money any football player has ever received, and let’s move on.

Jones is another story. Perhaps the defensive MVP of the Chiefs, Jones is a free agent. The Chiefs could obviously sign him back if they can find the money; they could franchise him too. The latter doesn’t preclude the team from trading him, as it did with Dee Ford last year. Losing Jones wouldn’t exactly cripple this defense, but it would be a huge blow.

To make matters worse, much of the secondary is set to hit free agency alongside Jones. Bashaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller, and Morris Claiborne are all free agents. For a team that eventually excelled defending the pass in 2019, this could be a monumental offseason. The Kansas City defense was roughly average overall, but that was thanks to dismal run defense. The team ranked sixth in the league in pass defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA.

On offense, there isn’t projected to be a lot of turnover in the starting lineup, but depth could look quite different next season. Both of Mahomes’ backups are free agents; as are two of Damien Williams‘ backups at running back. With not a ton of cap space, the Chiefs may elect to run things back here and focus their spending on defense.

That spending could be aided by releasing Sammy Watkins (save $14 million) or linebacker Damien Wilson (save $4.5 million), though linebacker would look pretty bare if Wilson was no longer around.

It is hard to keep a champion intact. That is almost the point of the salary cap. Teams are forced to jettison expensive (normally good) players, increasing parity. When the champion gets worse, the rest of the league cuts the deficit. Kansas City may be able to postpone the closing of that gap at least another year, though it will take some fancy cap work to bring back Jones, extend Mahomes, and rebuild the secondary, while also filling in gaps elsewhere.

Dan Salem:

Defense was Kansas City’s undoing the season prior and they certainly fixed things enough this past year, because they are Super Bowl champions. But that means they absolutely must focus on defense once again this offseason. Losing too many key pieces will put them back at the disadvantage they faced a season prior. Perhaps the draft will fill the void, but the Chiefs can not rely on that strategy since they are drafting last.

Releasing Watkins is a no-brainer move because his impact was rather minimal last season. They can add a receiver for less than the $14 million savings they gain by letting him go. But Kansas City has a lot of offensive talent, so that money is best spent elsewhere. I could see them going after a veteran running back, but again, their offense is predicated around the pass and quite exceptional. Defense wins championships and the Chiefs won because they fixed theirs.

Jones is worth the money and the Chiefs would be smart to bring him back. They use the franchise tag only if they plan to trade him, but I’m of the belief that one star player will elevate those around him. Having Jones back on defense will elevate whoever joins him in the secondary.

Losing their current complementary pieces hurts but retaining the continuity of your leadership and best player normally masks such a loss. Perhaps the Chiefs try to add a pass rusher as well, but that’s a pricey move that they did not need last season. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Kansas City’s run defense was good enough last year.

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The primary goal here is to keep the defense at or above its level from last season. Maybe they can add a player like Leonard Williams who is good but not great and will find it difficult to command top dollar. But its more likely another team overpays for a player like Williams. The Chiefs can afford to overpay for Mahomes and will hope Jones accepts a more team-friendly deal. When you are the champs, you get that sort of thing working in your favor.

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