It didn’t take long after the Chiefs won Super Bowl 54 for players on the team to talk about the prospect of returning to the big game. Tight end Travis Kelce and defensive tackle Chris Jones both made it clear that they believe Kansas City is only getting started after its win over the 49ers.
Jones, who was perhaps the most dominant player on the field during the Super Bowl, echoed the sentiment.
“This is the beginning of something big,” Jones said. “This is a dynasty.”
And of course, head coach Andy Reid wants another one.
“We’re coming right back here. One more time, baby. One more time,” Reid told Chiefs fans at the Super Bowl victory parade.
NFL history can be defined by its dynasties — from the early domination of the Packers and Bears between the 1920s and 50s, all the way to the Patriots dynasty that began in 2001 and is only just now ending. Every team that wins a Super Bowl wants to believe it’s launching something even bigger.
But is that what the Chiefs are doing? Do they have the pieces in place for a prolonged period of success? We’ve got a couple experts to make the case why that might be the case — and why it might not.
Why the Chiefs are starting a dynasty
It’s easiest to talk about a potential dynasty when a young superstar quarterback is in town. Fortunately, the Chiefs have just that in Patrick Mahomes. That is, of course, a double-edged sword because Mahomes will require a very large contract in the near future. That is a major obstacle of starting a dynasty: the league is set up for parity.
All we can do is look at the pieces the Chiefs have, from the coaches to the players, and determine whether or not they are primed for sustained success. The answer to that question is most definitely “yes.” A dynasty doesn’t have to last a decade — if the Chiefs went on to win two or three more Super Bowls in the next four or five years, that’s enough.
And the Chiefs have the players and cap structure to do that.
It all starts with Mahomes, who is just 24 years old. He’s already been named league MVP and Super Bowl MVP while playing on his rookie contract, which he’s locked into for another year. More than just Mahomes, it’s the combination of quarterback and head coach. Reid isn’t looking at retiring any time soon, and the pair are a match made in heaven.
Mahomes and Reid led the Chiefs to the league’s most productive offense in 2018 and the fifth-best this season. They’re rarely out of football games, and can put up a ton of points in a relatively short amount of time — like their 28-point second quarter against the Texans in the playoffs and their double-digit comebacks against the Titans and 49ers.
Reid, who’s had a winning record each season in Kansas City, is an adaptable, innovative coach who isn’t going to rest on his laurels.
This easily could have been the Chiefs’ second consecutive Super Bowl appearance. They came just short a year ago in the AFC title game, and when they failed, they made changes. They hired a new defensive coordinator, and brought in big names like Tyrann Mathieu and Bashaud Breeland to boost that side of the ball. The results were instant: the Chiefs became a much more complete team, all because getting close wasn’t good enough.
Mahomes’ top weapons, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, are under contract for the next three and two seasons, respectively. Hill is 25 while Kelce is 30, and both are right in the prime of their careers.
Then there’s their excellent offensive line, which will return four of its five starters. The Chiefs offense screams continuity.
And of all the players on defense, I think Chris Jones is the most important. He is set to be a free agent, but the Chiefs cannot let him go elsewhere. Jones, 25, should be the anchor for their defensive line for the next several years, however the Chiefs have to restructure their cap to make that happen.
Other key defensive contributors are Frank Clark, who he’s under contract through the 2023 season, and Mathieu, who will be back for at least another year.
The Chiefs can’t keep everyone, but they can keep the players who matter. The infusion of rookies and the return of 2018 second-round edge rusher Breeland Speaks, who missed the season with a knee injury, should help as well.
All of this, of course, requires the Chiefs to make some tough calls with the salary cap. Fortunately, the bulk of their production comes from a few key players that the team should be able to afford long-term. And it’s those players that the rest of the NFL has struggled to stop. — James Brady
Why the Chiefs aren’t starting a dynasty
While it has nothing to do with Mahomes’ play, it’s heavily tied to his looming record-setting contract.
Mahomes’ dirt-cheap rookie deal means Kansas City has paid just over $8 million for two seasons that have ended with MVP awards for its quarterback (one regular season, one Super Bowl). That’s allowed the team to spend big on free agents and contract extensions recently, offering eight-figure salaries to players like Sammy Watkins, Frank Clark, Tyreek Hill, and Tyrann Mathieu.
Now the gunslinger is on the precipice of becoming the NFL’s first $200 million man. The Chiefs have no choice but to pay him; if not this offseason, then next. That’s going to squeeze a club that’s already perilously close to the NFL’s salary cap.
The Chiefs rank 26th in cap space headed into 2020, so barring some bargain-bin pickups, their main roster improvements going forward will have to come from the draft. That’s a lot harder to do when you’re making selections at the tail end of the first round. Sure, the Patriots have turned out fine, but they also helped retain players thanks to Tom Brady’s below-market contract extensions toward the end of his career. Mahomes, in search of his first real payday, won’t make similar concessions.
As a result, the Chiefs you see now will be more or less what you get in the future. That’s not a bad thing, obviously — they’re the reigning world champions — but an ever-evolving league punishes static franchises.
Kansas City will still have to make some changes. It only has an estimated $19 million to spend this offseason, though releasing Watkins would bump that up to ~$33m. The team also has to make important decisions on retaining veterans like Chris Jones, Reggie Ragland, and Bashaud Breeland. Freeing up Watkins’ $21 million cap hit up will allow the Chiefs to use the franchise tag on Jones, at least.
Factor that in with what’s sure to be a rising Ravens team — one that can get up to three more years of low-cost rookie contract from reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson — and there’s reason to be wary of a multiple-year title run in Kansas City.
Do I think the Chiefs will be very good for the next five years? Absolutely. Do I think they’ll win multiple Super Bowls in that window? It’s possible but unlikely. The NFL’s current salary cap set up is built to avoid dynasties like that. — Christian D’Andrea