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This Could Be the Last Playoff Run For the Current Era of Chiefs Football

As KC heads into the playoffs for the fourth time under Patrick Mahomes, a new era might be on the horizon.

This is the last hurrah for an era of Kansas City Chiefs football: the Mahomes rookie contract years.

An ending of the era does not mean names like Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill will not be on the team but over the next year or two, the Chiefs will be in something of a transitory period. It's one that could shake up the team a fair bit. Some of the major moves that won the Chiefs a Super Bowl two years ago and produced two Super Bowl appearances overall could be gone soon.

There is one obvious player that signifies this era specifically, and that is Frank Clark. The trade for Clark signified how the Chiefs thought of acquisitions while Mahomes was on a rookie deal — they were aggressive. Brett Veach was aggressive with trades, aggressive with contracts and aggressive with draft picks. The trade for Clark and his extension worth over $100 million represent that mindset.

Of course, that trade has had mixed results.

Most expect the playoffs to be the last few games Clark will play for the Chiefs. He has never lived up to the contract he signed back in 2019 and the team needs to move on in order to bolster other aspects of the roster.

In the same vein, it is probably the last ride for Anthony Hitchens as well. Much like that of Clark, Hitchens’ contract is a byproduct of the way the Chiefs operated under Mahomes’ contract. Hitchens was given a top-of-the-market contract despite never playing like a top-of-the-league linebacker because Veach viewed him as an ascending player. It never quite worked out like that, and so Hitchens never returned the value on his contract.

Cutting Clark and Hitchens affords the Chiefs a fair bit of salary cap room in the offseason. Salary cap manipulation will continue to be important going forward for them, however, Mahomes’s contract itself will be a huge part of that math. How much of the contract the Chiefs restructure each year will be interesting to watch and how the team uses restructures on the deal will define the next era of Chiefs football.

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Due to the juggling of salary cap, old faces might finally be departing this offseason. This is the first year Veach’s own rookies will be free agents. Due to how disastrous the 2018 draft was, the only 2018 draft pick up for a new deal that is a quality player is Derrick Nnadi. Charvarius Ward, however, was an undrafted free agent that year as well and might be departing.

In many ways, this offseason is the first offseason where Veach can fix his own mistakes. The stink of the 2018 draft will be gone and the duo of Clark and Hitchens will likely be cut. The Chiefs, other than their elite core of Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones, are a product of Veach now. There is one player that, like Clark, is someone who will define this era of Chiefs football and might not be around for the next one: Tyrann Mathieu.

Mathieu has been incredibly important to the success the Chiefs have had during the last three years. His leadership and locker room presence have been vital for the Chiefs' deep playoff runs and Mathieu is probably Veach’s best free agent signing to date.

This era change could be defined and headlined by the split of the Chiefs and Mathieu.

This is not saying it is likely Mathieu will not re-sign with the Chiefs this offseason, but the possibility is at least there. Will Veach and the Chiefs want to hand out the largest safety contract in the league to a soon-to-be 30-year-old with a torn ACL in his past? As a strict football roster-building decision, that is a tough one. Whether Mathieu is retained or not, that decision will have ripple effects on the roster and will signal major changes one way or another. If he is re-signed, though? Other role players will have to be let go, such as the aforementioned Nnadi and Ward. If Mathieu is not re-signed, the Chiefs will need to acquire a new "glue guy" on defense if they do not think they have one on the roster currently.

The word for the next year or two of Chiefs football will be retooling. This process already started with the offensive line last year, but imagine that turnover applied to the whole roster. It really does seem like a lot of turnover for major role players is coming. The Daniel Sorensens and Demarcus Robinsons of the roster might finally be let go. When those types of players were still young, it made sense to keep them. Now, all of those role players are older and it just makes logical sense to try and find cheaper — and maybe even better — replacements. 

There might even be a few shocking departures next year, with both Jones and Hill becoming free agents in 2023. The core that John Dorsey built might finally have its time ending with the Chiefs sooner rather than later.

A new era of Chiefs football, defined by Mahomes’s prime and new contract, is coming. For many on the team now, the last shot at winning a Super Bowl is here. For the first time, the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs will have to play wild-card weekend. Can they win three straight games to make their third straight Super Bowl? That is the task ahead for this team: a unit that represents a truly special era of Chiefs football.

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