While the NFL ran wild, the Kansas City Chiefs ran it back
It seems like an eternity ago now, but the NFL’s “legal tampering” period – the de facto start of free agency – kicked off on March 16, just three short weeks ago. While the sports world at large had abruptly stopped on its axis the previous week – with the cancellation of March Madness and suspension of the NBA season due to COVID-19 – the NFL pressed on. The NFLPA announced the passage of a new collective bargaining agreement on March 15th, promising ten years of labor peace. The next day, at 11 a.m. Arrowhead Time, “legal tampering” began as scheduled.
Chiefs’ GM Brett Veach had a workmanlike first day: he exercised team options on Damiens Williams and Wilson, franchise tagged star pass rusher Chris Jones and re-signed backup quarterback Chad Henne to a two-year deal.
The rest of the NFL went completely insane.
Texans head coach/GM/god of his own universe Bill O’Brien inexplicably traded DeAndre Hopkins for an aging running back. The Colts sent the 14th pick in the draft to San Francisco for DeForest Buckner. The Miami Dolphins doled out more money to free agents than any other team. Tom Brady left New England for TAMPA BAY.
The real world, unfortunately, got even crazier. On March 18, the same day Veach found $5 million restructuring Frank Clark’s contract to get under the salary cap in time for the official start of the new league year, Kansas governor Laura Kelly announced that Kansas students would not return to class for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. The next day, California became the first state to give a “stay at home” order, with others quickly following suit.
By the time Kansas City, Missouri issued a city-wide shutdown on March 21, five days into free agency, it was clear that this offseason would be unlike any the NFL had seen before. The league had already cancelled its live draft events scheduled for late April in Las Vegas, and was days away from issuing a formal order telling teams to close their facilities. Rumors swirled that rookie mini-camps, OTAs and perhaps even training camp would be shortened, postponed, or canceled. The Chiefs, to this point, had signed just two new players: cornerback Antonio Hamilton and offensive lineman Mike Remmers.
The Chiefs’ response to everything changing? Keep everything the same.
On March 24, the same day the NFL ordered teams to close their facilities, the Chiefs inked fullback Anthony Sherman and defensive tackle Mike Pennel to new one-year deals. On March 28, they re-signed wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. Then, on April 3, they announced a new deal for wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
“Run it back” may have been the Chiefs’ plan all along. It may have been an on-the-fly response to everything changing. It may have been a little of both. But however Brett Veach and Andy Reid got here, it makes an awful lot of sense now. The Chiefs’ offense returns 10 of 11 Super Bowl starters, eight of its top nine leading receivers from 2019, five of its top six rushing leaders, most of its offensive line, and the entirety of its offensive braintrust: Andy Reid, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, passing game coordinator/QB coach Mike Kafka, and every assistant coach.
While the defense still has holes to fill at cornerback, could use an upgrade at linebacker and needs a bit more depth across the board, it too returns defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, every assistant coach, and nine of the 12 players who played more than 50% of the defensive snaps in Super Bowl LIV: Daniel Sorensen, Tyrann Mathieu, Charvarius Ward, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and Derrick Nnadi.
The “Run It Back 2020” campaign is officially on.