It's possible to be concerned about something without bursting into a full-blown panic. Usually, when a smoke alarm goes off, it's because I decided to cook like Gordon Ramsay despite having very few of his skills. Or maybe I hit the wrong "popcorn" button on the microwave and then left the room. Either way, it doesn't necessarily mean the house is on fire. It just means that something, on some level, has gone wrong.
That's where I'm at with the Kansas City Chiefs' offseason so far. The smoke alarm is going off. The house almost certainly isn't ablaze and you don't need to call the fire department, but there's smoke in the kitchen and I'm not totally sure what's going on.
We're now deep into NFL free agency and the Chiefs' only two sizable additions have been guards: former New England Patriots guard Joe Thuney and former Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long. Long's signing is a low-risk high-reward gamble on veteran guard nastiness and Thuney's is high-risk high-reward, paying a premium and expecting All-Pro caliber play for that price.
Those moves both sit somewhere between understandable and excellent, and they're not my concern at this point. My concerns come from the fact that a week after signing Thuney, all of the news out of Kansas City has been about how the Chiefs have taken big swings on other free agent targets and have missed on... well, all of them. And now there are fewer targets to shoot for.
The Chiefs' biggest hack following the signing of Thuney was their pursuit of San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams. The Chiefs were "in it to the end" on Williams, according to Albert Breer of The MMQB, even at a record-setting price-point.
Now, nearly a week later, the Chiefs still have an absolute vacuum at left tackle. Two 32-year-old veteran tackles — Alejandro Villanueva and Russell Okung — are both still on the market and could provide a short-term fix at the position while the Chiefs try to develop a young left tackle of the future. But as other tackles like Riley Reiff have found homes elsewhere, the position has gotten extremely thin extremely quickly.
At this point, left tackle isn't even the only spot on the offensive line without a starter. Ahead of free agency, the Chiefs reportedly planned on parting ways with starting center Austin Reiter. Despite reports that they were ready to make a major run at Rodney Hudson before the Las Vegas Raiders almost-cut-then-traded him to Arizona, the Chiefs haven't made a move at center and are now reportedly waiting on Reiter to reunite with the center they apparently didn't particularly want 10 days ago.
At wide receiver, the Chiefs let Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson both hit the open market, a move that made total sense for a team looking to upgrade. Kansas City then made a high-dollar run at Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who elected to stay in Pittsburgh despite reportedly being offered more money by the Chiefs and Ravens.
After missing out on Smith-Schuster, the Chiefs were reportedly in the mix for former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds, who instead went to the Tennessee Titans despite having "a few great options including the Kansas City Chiefs," according to Dianna Russini of ESPN.
Smith-Schuster and Reynolds are the two receivers who we know the Chiefs reportedly made offers to, but given their price ranges, it stands to reason that the Chiefs were probably in the mix for at least a few receivers in a similar financial/contract-length range, such as Houston-to-Miami's Will Fuller, Detroit-to-Jacksonville's Marvin Jones and Buffalo-to-Las Vegas' John Brown.
Regardless of how many top free-agent pass-catching targets the Chiefs were seriously pursuing, the scoreboard is blank and the remaining options are sparse. As of March 22, the Chiefs' top three wide receivers are Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle. Watkins and Robinson are still both currently free agents, though Watkins is visiting Baltimore Monday night and seems to be set to play 2021 elsewhere. Even if they add one of the very, very few veterans still on the market (such as T.Y. Hilton) and bring back Robinson, it would be a bit of an underwhelming result after they had their sights set on bigger and younger names. The Chiefs were clearly looking to improve their receiving corps this offseason, not just hold it steady.
Meanwhile, with all of these conversations about the offensive line and wide receivers, the Chiefs' defense is quietly getting thinner.
Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland is still a free agent, but most signs have pointed to him landing elsewhere. (I'd be more than happy to have Breeland back in KC for 2021, by the way.) The Chiefs will also need to replace Damien Wilson at linebacker, but that isn't stressing me out. What does keep me up at night (literally, waiting for news) comes at the EDGE position.
The Chiefs re-signed Taco Charlton and have second-year defensive end Mike Danna back for 2021, and that's pretty much it across from Frank Clark.
Kansas City let Tanoh Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor hit free agency this offseason and neither have found landing spots yet, but the Chiefs haven't added any new names at EDGE to this point, leaving an under-performing unit in even worse shape than how they ended 2020.
Fine. So the Chiefs have whiffed on a lot of their targets. Now what?
The Chiefs could stabilize their rocky free-agency period by signing Hilton, adding Okung or Villanueva and bringing back Reiter and Robinson, but even if they hit all of those marks, it would be capping off a disappointing couple of weeks for Kansas City.
Replacing Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz with Okung/Villanueva and Lucas Niang/Mike Remmers is, at absolute best, a wash. Perhaps they're able to bring Breeland back at corner, or maybe they add a slot corner so L'Jarius Sneed can kick back to the outside. Even with this paragraph of moves, the Chiefs still have to add a starting EDGE unless they plan to enter the year with Taco Charlton or Mike Danna starting opposite Frank Clark with nothing but rookie depth behind them.
But what about the draft?
While the Chiefs will have plenty of draft picks to fill out the roster, be careful what you expect from highly drafted rookies. Just look at the Chiefs' picks within the first three rounds of the Brett Veach era in Kansas City: Breeland Speaks, Derrick Nnadi, Dorian O'Daniel, Mecole Hardman, Juan Thornhill, Khalen Saunders, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Willie Gay Jr., Lucas Niang.
Within the range most fans expect to find starters or significant role-players, the Chiefs have three disappointments, two role-players, two starters and two relative unknowns. Take what you can get, but it's not exactly great business to expect that your first three or four picks will produce Day 1 starters.
None of that is any particular indictment or endorsement of the job Veach has done in three years — just some raw numbers to recalibrate what should be expected of a draft class. In the meantime, the Chiefs still have major roster holes to fill, and they're running out of time to find impact free agents.
The Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes and money to spend, so you shouldn't be reaching to smack the panic button (or calling the fire department) on behalf of the 2021 Chiefs. But as free agency has churned along, the Chiefs have lost more bidding wars than they've won, and there's a little bit of smoke coming from the kitchen.