Brett Veach might not have started out the offseason with this gameplan, but he is sure showing his cards now. The marching orders at One Arrowhead Drive are simple enough: bring back everyone who you can bring back, and give everyone one-year deals.
After re-signing cornerback Bashaud Breeland and franchise-tagging defensive tackle Chris Jones, the Chiefs are currently slated to return the top 11 players who logged snaps on defense in 2019. The three notable departing free agents on defense — defensive back Kendall Fuller, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Reggie Ragland — ranked 12th, 14th, and 17th in defensive snaps played last season.
It’s a similar picture for the offense, where one-year deals for wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson meant that the top eight players in offensive snaps for the 2019 Chiefs will be returning next year. In fact, the only player in the top 12 to be departing is swing-tackle Cameron Erving, who played the ninth-most offensive snaps mostly out of necessity last season when left tackle Eric Fisher was injured for eight games. The other notable free agent departures on offense — tight end Blake Bell, guard Stefen Wisniewski and quarterback Matt Moore — ranked 13th, 18th, and 19th in offensive snaps.
The NFL has been publishing snap count data for every game since the 2012 season. For some context as to how unlikely it is for a Super Bowl team to return that many players for the following season, here are the 12 teams to participate in a Super Bowl since 2012 and how many of their top-11 players on both sides of the ball they retained the following season:
There is no obvious correlation between retaining the same roster and winning games the following season, as there are still a multitude of factors that go into each season’s final record, but it is interesting to note that only one team — the 2016-2017 Atlanta Falcons — retained more than 18 of their top 22 players. Guard Chris Chester retired after the Falcons’ Super Bowl collapse, but they managed to keep every other player from the top 11 on offense and defense, just as the Chiefs plan on doing for 2020.
As for the one-year deals that Veach has been giving out like candy this offseason, that explanation is simple enough. There are many questions surrounding the exact amount of available money NFL teams will have to spend for 2021 and beyond due in part to the league’s escalating salary cap and in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chiefs also have the looming Patrick Mahomes mega-deal and possible Chris Jones extension to put on their books. The more cash Veach saves for the 2021 offseason by letting contracts expire after this season, the more flexible he can be with the ever-changing climate of NFL free agency.
For now, the Chiefs will run it back with almost their entire Super Bowl roster fully intact, a feat only one of the previous 12 Super Bowl participants managed. They will also have enough expiring contracts to be agile in dealing with the uncertainty that lies ahead in the NFL. And if those players want to come back again after next season? Well, they have Veach’s phone number.