The Kansas City Chiefs added a proven tackle when they traded for Orlando Brown Jr. That much is certain. The 24-year-old has proven over the last three years that he belongs in the NFL. Last year, he proved he belongs at left tackle. For a team with a gaping hole at left tackle and a pick at the end of the first round, it is completely understandable why the Chiefs would trade for a player of Brown's caliber.
It is also a gamble. Not just a gamble on Brown and his fit on the Chiefs offense, but a gamble on the Chiefs' scouting department and on the salary cap.
If everything goes well, the Chiefs will be sitting pretty.
Brown is the second player in Brett Veach's four-and-a-half-year tenure as Chiefs general manager that he has acquired via trade by giving up the Chiefs' first-round pick. The other player being, of course, defensive end Frank Clark.
Clark has returned mixed results so far during his tenure with the Chiefs. He was instrumental in the 2019 playoff run and contributed to the Chiefs' first Super Bowl in 50 years. When looking at the trade in terms of overall team-building, however, the Clark trade has definitely been a disappointment. It's telling when the first question about a player in the offseason is, "When can they cut him?"
In this context of team-building, was Clark worth the first-round pick, second-round pick and a $100 million contract? It is hard to argue that he has been. However, the Chiefs had a margin of error that let them sustain such a mistake and still make the Super Bowl two years in a row.
The Chiefs' margin of error is going to be narrower going forward.
The first place this margin of error is apparent is on the books. The Mahomes contract, while a boon for the Chiefs, is still a harsher reality compared to having the greatest quarterback in the NFL on a four-year/$16 million rookie contract. As Mahomes' contract occupies more of the salary cap in future years, the Chiefs will have less cap space to work with. That does not mean his contract will sink the Chiefs by itself, though, as I have written about before.
Mahomes is not the only contract that could shrink the Chiefs' margins. Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu, Joe Thuney and the aforementioned Brown will all command big money too. The Chiefs can roster all these big contracts, but they leave little room for error. If the Chiefs are right about all these players and they play up to their price tag, then the gamble worked. If not, then there could be issues. What if Tyrann Mathieu falls off after turning 30?
The rising salary cap will help this issue. It is hard to deny the effect that all the new money flooding into the NFL will have. This rising cap does not mean that Veach can sign huge contract after huge contract forever, though. There will be limits to how many even Veach can fit in the Chiefs' books.
The best way to mitigate large contracts in the NFL is to have quality players on rookie contracts. With the Chiefs trading away a net of two draft picks in the Brown trade, the Chiefs once again head into a draft projected to take six players. In each of the last three drafts, the Chiefs have taken six players.
The Chiefs are functioning on a completely different wavelength than Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta, who said this about draft picks and their success at drafting the last few years:
"We’ve probably had the most picks over that span [2015-2020]. I look at the draft and in many ways, I’d have to say, it’s a luck-driven process. If you have more picks, you’re going to hit on more good players. That goes back to a philosophy that I think Ozzie Newsome started back in 1996. We started really going after comp picks. We tried to trade back as much as we could in any given round."
When NFL general managers lament that the NFL draft is a crapshoot, it is hard not to listen.
Even the best front offices in the NFL will have less than ideal hit rates in the NFL draft. Veach proved that with the 2018 draft. It just makes sense to have more tries at the lottery when the hit rate for even the best front offices is probably around 50%.
It is entirely possible Veach hits on both the 58th and 63rd overall pick in this year's draft, but with the Chiefs not picking until the 144th overall pick after the pair of second-round picks, the chances Veach finds multiple good players in this upcoming draft is not high. This is one of the main reasons it would make sense for Veach to trade down from one of the second-round picks, even though he's never traded down as an NFL general manger. It would increase the margin of error afforded to Veach and give him more swings.
As the Chiefs roster stands right now, I do not think the Chiefs are in trouble because of how Veach operated the last few years. He aggressively remade the offensive line in a positive way, still holds two day-two picks in the 2021 draft and is in a position to move on from Clark and Anthony Hitchens next year to make salary cap room. The Chiefs still have a margin of error baked into their roster going forward.
I wrote a month ago about Veach swinging for the fences in free agency. Veach still swang with Thuney and Brown; it remains to be seen if these two acquisitions are home runs. With a drastic need to remake a crumbling offensive line, Veach's aggressiveness makes sense. With Mahomes entering his prime and his contract extension, Veach will have to dial it back eventually. Hopefully this starts with his first trade down in the draft on Friday. It is time for Veach to make his own job easier by taking more shots, increasing the margin for error and filling out this roster with talented players on rookie deals.