KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) A year ago, in the days after the Chiefs were eliminated from the postseason by the New England Patriots, general manager John Dorsey was faced with a series of decisions that would shape whether Kansas City would be a contender the following season.
He hardly made a misstep.
Dorsey shelled out big money to solidify the most precarious positions, highlighted by the decision to franchise safety Eric Berry at a cost of more than $10 million. Then he went bargain hunting to fortify spots elsewhere, and wisely addressed the rest of his needs through the draft.
The result is not only a 12-4 record, the team's first AFC West championship since 2010 and a first-round playoff bye, but the belief among many that Kansas City is a Super Bowl threat.
''In this day and age, you have to have an influx of young players. That's just the way the (salary) cap works,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''You've got to draft well and those guys have to play. We've done that. Dorsey has done that. We've had production from those guys. It's a tribute to him.''
Reid likes to say the margin between winning and losing in the NFL is razor-thin, and that extends to the kind of decisions that Dorsey made during the offseason:
- With the future of Jamaal Charles in question after reconstructive knee surgery, the Chiefs needed to solidify the running back spot. But rather than give Matt Forte a $12 million, three-year deal like the Jets, or Chris Ivory a $32 million, five-year deal like the Saints, Dorsey wrote a pair of $3.6 million, two-year checks to keep Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West on the roster.
Forte gained 813 yards in 14 games. Ivory managed 439 yards in 11 games. But Ware and West combined to go for 1,214 yards at a fraction of the cost, and the fact there is two of them helped with depth.
- Pass rusher Justin Houston's slow recovery from knee surgery knee injury meant the Chiefs needed to add linebackers. But instead of blowing the budget on free agents such as Bruce Irvin, Dorsey kept veterans Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali with $21 million, three-year deals.
With their leadership assured, Dorsey proceeded to sign role players such as Frank Zombo (three years, $3.6 million) and Ramik Wilson (two years, $1.14 million) that have not only played at a high level but filled in admirably when Johnson went down with his own season-ending knee injury.
- Naturally, the biggest decisions Dorsey had to make involved the biggest money, and franchising Berry, signing left tackle Eric Fisher and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz to big contracts, and giving a $46 million, five-year deal to tight end Travis Kelce have paid off.
Berry has picked off four passes and returned two for touchdowns, along with a 99-yard pick that he returned for a two-point conversion in the closing seconds to beat Atlanta.
Fisher ($48 million, four years) and Schwartz ($33 million, five years) have provided bookends to an offensive line that starts three others still on their rookie contracts.
Kelce caught 85 passes for 1,125 yards, earning his second straight Pro Bowl nomination.
- After forfeiting a draft pick for offseason tampering, Dorsey traded back in the draft to gain more selections. He wound up with a Pro Bowl returner in Tyreek Hill in the fifth round, a new starting defensive tackle in Chris Jones, and five more players that have contributed this season. Hill dropped in the draft after he was kicked out of Oklahoma State for pleading guilty to domestic abuse, and Dorsey said the team only drafted him after extensive interviews with coaches, friends and the prosecutor in the case.
All of which explains why Reid, in a jubilant locker room following a division-clinching win over San Diego on Sunday, was quick to acknowledge the work Dorsey has done.
''I don't want to leave him out of this. These were guys that he brought in,'' Reid said. ''We're down to a few of the ones that were left here that were good players and then he's brought in guys. That's the NFL. He's done a nice job of bringing in players that we can coach. So let's not forget that part.''
Dorsey, a longtime Packers personnel executive, had many opportunities to take front office jobs before arriving in Kansas City four years ago. But it was the chance to work alongside Reid at one of the league's most tradition-rich organizations that finally lured him away.
Now, Dorsey and Reid have the Chiefs back in the playoffs and awaiting their divisional opponent.
''When they joined us four years ago, we had high hopes,'' Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. ''Certainly, they have lived up to all those expectations. This season has been so much fun up to this point. I look forward to seeing how it progresses as we enter the playoffs.''
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