AFC West champion Chiefs in midst of roster overhaul
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — They have a new quarterback and a new middle linebacker. They’ve released veterans, traded away one of the top cornerbacks in the league, signed wisely in free agency and loaded up on draft picks.
Sounds like a losing franchise trying to turn things around.
Try the two-time and defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The slew of offseason moves began even before free agency, when the Chiefs agreed to trades that sent quarterback Alex Smith to the Redskins and cornerback Marcus Peters to the Rams. But the pace of the dealing has hardly slowed down as the Chiefs remake an aging and expensive roster that was good enough to reach the playoffs last season but not good enough to beat Tennessee in the wild-card round.
That’s why they signed wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback David Amerson and middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens, and landed cornerback Kendall Fuller in the trade with Washington.
“We’re not trying to win a Super Bowl four years from now. We’re going out there and we’re trying to win a Super Bowl next year,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “Whether that happens, I don’t know, but I know that we’re going to do everything we can to put our team in position to do so.”
Many teams coming off back-to-back division titles would try to hold on a little longer. And the result would be a slow regression that would ultimately force the team to begin a complete rebuilding job anyway.
Veach, who took over for John Dorsey last summer, took a refreshingly different tack. He went after the trade market, was decisive in his convictions and landed his biggest priorities, even if he may have had to pay a premium to get Watkins and Hitchens in the door.
It was a sign the candid, confident Veach is going to be a far different GM than his predecessors in Kansas City.
“If we have shortcomings,” Veach said, “we’ll continue to work on those things. Our mindset is at every period to get our team in a position to win a Super Bowl. We have a lot of talent here. It’s a lot of young talent, which is exciting for the fans, but we realize there may be some growing pains. But we have some guys that can straight up play football, and that’s exciting.”
There is no doubt an abundance of talent, especially on offense.
Patrick Mahomes II is poised to take over for Smith under center, and he showed flashes of his big arm and gamesmanship in a Week 17 victory over Denver. To ease the transition, the Chiefs added Watkins to what is arguably the best set of skill-position players in the division, headlined by NFL rushing king Kareem Hunt, Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
They also retained one of their own when they brought back bruising fullback Anthony Sherman.
“As a team, we’ve won a lot of games in the last few years,” Mahomes said, “and we’re bringing a lot of those guys back. And with the additions that we have added, I feel like we can have a very, very good offense. It’s all going to start with how we prepare, especially at my position.”
Yes, the Chiefs expected to have a very good offense, just as they did last season. But one of the big challenges this offseason has been to fix a defense that ranked among the worst in the league.
Hitchens was a good first step, and he’ll step in to the void created by the release of the aging Derrick Johnson, the franchise’s career tackles leader. Amerson and Fuller will help to cover the trade of Peters, and the draft picks netted this offseason will almost certainly be used on defense.
Still, the question remains: Is that enough to make an appreciable improvement?
“We’ve got a great nucleus coming back. We’ve added some players that are top-notch,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said last week. “We’re fired up about this whole thing. I’m not great at standing up and going, ‘Hey, here we go!’ But I’m ready to roll as we’re sitting here in March.”
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL