Replace broken

Chiefs 2022 offseason: How to fix the defensive line

Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach likes overcorrect. This may sound like a criticism, but it’s not. That’s just how it operates.

Veach was promoted to general manager on July 10, 2017. His first full offseason was in 2018. The Chiefs were coming off a 10-6 season in which the defense finished in the bottom 5 in total defense. The Chiefs had just allocated more than 200 yards on the ground against Tennessee. Adding tenacity and courage to the defense became the priority.

Veach spent all six of his 2018 NFL Draft picks on defensive players — though Kahlil McKenzie eventually moved to the offensive line. Veach also went to the free agent market to add linebacker Anthony Hitchens on a massive contract. It should also be noted that Marcus Peters was traded during that same offseason; the Chiefs have (more or less) replaced him with Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade.

The offseason theme was clear: It’s time to toughen up the defense.

This offseason was a sign of things to come. The Chiefs again spent the 2019 offseason doing everything he could to overhaul the defense – starting with the defensive coaching staff. Steve Spagnuolo became the defensive coordinator. Justin Houston and Eric Berry were cut. Tyrann Mathieu, Bashaud Breeland, Alex Okafor and Damien Wilson were signed in free agency — and the team traded a first- and second-round pick for Frank Clark. With Spagnuolo, Mathieu and Clark, Veach has built a whole new defensive identity.

It worked. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl the following season. The off-season theme?

Run it back.

So that’s what they did. Changes to the list were minimal. Why fix what isn’t broken? It was a reasonable plan until the Chiefs offensive line started to crumble. You remember what happened next. Patrick Mahomes was running for his life in the Super Bowl. The offseason plan was set in motion the night the Chiefs lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Fix the offensive line, no matter the cost.

And they did. They traded for Orlando Brown Jr., signed Joe Thuney to a mega-deal, drafted two new starters inside and added depth in free agency.

Veach has developed a model we should learn from: To fix the problems that kept the team from winning the Super Bowl the year before, he’ll use a flying hammer. Honestly, that’s an admirable trait. With Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs are in constant winning mode now – and Veach knows it. The offseason is his time to prove it.

The 2022 off-season

That brings us to the 2022 offseason. Once again, the Chiefs had a fatal flaw last season – and now is the time to fix it.

It’s time to throw more trumps on the defensive line.

The Chiefs finished last season with just 31 total sacks. It was less than the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans. Only the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons had less.

Statistics like this call into question the future. For the moment, it is not known if Frank Clark will be back. Jarran Reed, Derrick Nnadi, Alex Okafor and Melvin Ingram are free agents. The defensive line room is ready for another overhaul. But where will these additions come from?

This is where things get risky. The last time Kansas City improved on defense, Clark was a top trade contender. He sold himself to Seattle with his game – and the Chiefs made it a priority as he entered what they thought was his prime at just 26.

Good luck finding such a player in this year’s free agent or trade market.

The top pass rushers available on the market this year are all older. The group includes Von Miller (33), Chandler Jones (32), Jadeveon Clowney (29), Randy Gregory (29), Emmanuel Ogbah (28), Melvin Ingram (33), Jerry Hughes (34) – and if he is cut, Za’Darius Smith (30). The best commercial candidate is probably Robert Quinn (32).

You get the point. This isn’t exactly Frank Clark 2.0 territory. Veach has mostly been hesitant to sign players of that age to multi-year contracts. It’s usually a smart strategy – but in this offseason, it’s not.

For Veach to fix the defensive line, he will have to be aggressive. It means paying too much for an aging veteran. It’s not a good position, but when you’re looking for rushers in a market that highly values ​​those players, that’s life.

Leaders can’t get one either. They probably have to walk away with a top rusher and another solid veteran. A carry of Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram – for example – would give the Chiefs a solid starting point. You could replace Jones with Miller, Gregory, Smith, or Quinn, and that would work just as well.

The work doesn’t stop there, however. The Chiefs also need a long term response to the post. This means spending more draft capital on an edge rusher – probably in the first or second round.

I wish the Chiefs could solve their EDGE issues by simply drafting a player with the 30th pick and calling him a day. But this year, that just won’t do. In the past 20 years, only one player selected between the 20th and 50th picks has finished his rookie season with at least nine sacks: Clay Matthews III in 2009. Finding instant sack production from a late defensive end in the first turn is not likely to happen. To expect something different would go against all available historical trends.

So again, overcorrection will be the plan. For Veach, failing is not an option — at least not after watching his team fail to take the lead against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.

Veach saw the fatal flaw. He knows he has to fix it. Now is the time to get to work.