The Chiefs are in the Super Bowl for the second-straight season and it feels like the second of what could be many, many appearances in the big game.
Unpredictable things happen in sports — that is one of the things people love about them — but it feels like the Chiefs becoming the next NFL dynasty is a sure thing.
“I don’t even think it’s a question,” longtime NFL executive Joe Banner said. “I think we have a dynasty that we’re in the middle of even though the numbers would say we’re at the beginning.”
The case for the Chiefs starts with coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. With Bill Belichick and Tom Brady no longer sharing the same work address, Reid and Mahomes are the best coach-quarterback combination in the game. Mahomes is only 25 and just beginning to hit his prime. Reid is 62, seven years younger than Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. Those two are surrounded by a strong supporting cast put together by a front office that has shown it can draft well and manage the salary cap.
Like the 49ers of the 1980s, Cowboys of the 1990s and Patriots of the past two decades, the Chiefs have a winning formula.
“It’s easy for me,” said B anner, who worked with Reid in Philadelphia for 14 seasons. “You put [Joe] Montana with one of the top couple of coaches in the league in [Bill] Walsh. You get a bunch of Super Bowl trophies. You put [Troy] Aikman with Jim Johnson, one of the top couple of coaches in the league. You get a bunch of Super Bowl trophies. You put Tom Brady with Bill Belichick and get a bunch of Super Bowl trophies. You put Mahomes with Andy Reid, you’re going to get a bunch of Super Bowl trophies. Is that two or six? I’m not sure. But there will be a lot of championship games and a lot of Super Bowls over the decade and have a bunch of rings to show for it when they’re done. I don’t even consider it a maybe.”
Mahomes helped matters by signing a 10-year, $450 million contract extension last summer that locks him up through 2031. While the total number is eye-popping, the deal is quite friendly to the team. Mahomes has reasonable salary cap numbers at the beginning of the deal ($5.3 million in 2020, $24.8 million in 2021) and then the number goes up gradually before taking a big jump in 2027 to $59.9 million, a number that can be dropped easily with a simple restructuring.
Mahomes told teammates last summer that he left money on the table for Kansas City to keep its core together. GM Brett Veach signed tight end Travis Kelce to a four-year, $57.25 million deal that runs through 2025. He signed defensive lineman Chris Jones to a four-year, $85 million deal that keeps him in Kansas City through 2023. Defensive end Frank Clark (2023) and wide receiver Tyreek Hill (2022) are also under contract beyond next season.
Jason Fitzgerald, who runs the website Over The Cap, which analyzes NFL contracts, said Mahomes did the Chiefs a huge favor. Unlike players like Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson who have looked for shorter big-money contracts lately, Mahomes agreed to this longer deal that helps the Chiefs manage their roster. Fitzgerald called it a “throwback” contract.
“He could have made so much more,” Fitzgerald said.
The Chiefs will have some roster decisions to make after this season. Fitzgerald has them projected to be $25 million over the salary cap entering 2021, mainly because of the cap decreasing after the pandemic. That will lead to cuts of players, possibly tackles Eric Fisher or Mitchell Schwartz. They may not be able to re-sign free agents like wide receiver Sammy Watkins. But Fitzgerald said their cap picture will improve after next season.
Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, now an ESPN analyst, said even with Mahomes’ deal, the Chiefs will have to keep drafting as well as they have to maintain long-term sustainability in the salary cap NFL.
“It’s very difficult because you have a core group of players,” Tannenbaum said. “I think they’ve added some good young players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Mecole Hardman. You’re going to have to keep doing that to have sustainability. You have very little margin for error because Travis Kelce can never leave. Tyreek Hill can never leave. It’s going to come from somewhere. It may come from the offensive line. It’s going to come from other places. Because of that it’s going to impact them. That’s not to say they can’t win without those players because they still have great ones but it just makes it a lot harder.”
Then there are the teams chasing the Chiefs. Teams like the Ravens and Bills look like contenders in the AFC for the near future because of their young quarterbacks. It will be up to those franchises to figure out ways to topple Kansas City.
“I think you’re seeing teams like Baltimore and Buffalo and other teams in the AFC go, ‘For the foreseeable future, it’s going to go through Kansas City,’ ” said NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, who won a Super Bowl as the Ravens coach in 2000. “You have to know what do I have to do to beat the teams in my division? That’s job 1. How do we have to configure ourselves? If you want to go to the Super Bowl, you better have an answer to, ‘OK, we’re going to ultimately end up going through Kansas City, so how are we adjusting? What are we doing differently so we can beat a team like that?’ ”
If no one finds that answer, get used to seeing the Chiefs in the Super Bowl plenty in the next decade.