Brett Veach faces pivotal offseason for KC Chiefs
When owner Clark Hunt promoted Brett Veach to be the new general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in July, 2017, he did so largely due to his relationship with head coach Andy Reid and the belief that Veach was integral in the push to draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
At the time, of course, the team did not know what they had in their then-rookie quarterback, but it was clear that the team believed in him, and that Hunt believed in Veach’s vision for building a team around the 10th overall draft pick.
Over the course of the last three and a half years, Veach has engineered a massive overhaul of the roster, leading to three consecutive AFC Championship games, back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, and of course, a Lombardi Trophy. One would conclude, then, that Veach’s tenure has been a resounding success, right?
Veach has absolutely made some huge moves for Kansas City since taking over control of the roster. A few include trading for cornerback Charvarius Ward, drafting cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, signing Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year extension, re-signing most of a World Champion roster, and a host of other integral moves in propelling the Chiefs on this present run of sustained success
But, in the wake of laying an absolute dud in Super Bowl LV, it is time to critically examine where it is going wrong for Veach and Co., and where the young GM must improve and evolve if Kansas City is going to continue to win at the clip it has been. To put it simply: the Super Bowl exposed glaring weaknesses in the Chiefs roster construction process. (And no, we’re not saying that Veach is solely to blame here with so many contributing factors at work.)
Veach (and certainly, to a degree, Andy Reid) has made a series of calculated gambles since taking over that are all built on one (obviously) hubristic notion: that Patrick Mahomes can overcome any roster deficiencies because he is just that good.
The most obvious proof can be found in the offensive line. To be fair, it is not anyone’s fault that the team had two offensive linemen opt out for the year due to COVID-19. It’s also not Veach’s fault that the team saw three others finish the season on injured reserve. Few teams could withstand the loss of five offensive linemen in a season and still make it to the Super Bowl, but the unit has not played very well over the last three years either.
Patrick Mahomes’ mobility has consistently covered up the inferiority of what has been happening along the front for years. The unit has been just good enough to hold up in the face of most four-man fronts, which has forced teams to blitz often, leaving the Chiefs bevy of weapons open in the process. But the unit hasn’t been good, or even above average, at any point since Mahomes took over for Alex Smith.
Naturally, Veach has identified this weakness and invested heavily in fixing it, right? Unfortunately, he has not. Instead of using early draft picks on protecting the team’s most important player, Kansas City has not used a first or a second round pick on the offensive line at any point. He also has not made significant moves in free agency, choosing instead to take flyers on cheap (and oft-injured) veterans to go with late-round selections. It isn’t working. It is imperative that the Chiefs using at least one, if not both, of their first two draft picks on the offensive line this April.
Perhaps it would not be all bad if Veach was using those draft picks in a way that was significantly improving the rest of the team. Instead, his draft history has not been that good. Let’s revisit. The 2018 draft featured six selections for Kansas City, and precisely one of them has meaningfully contributed to the team’s success (3rd round pick Derrick Nnadi has been decent as a starting defensive tackle). Three of the selections are no longer on the team (Breeland Speaks, Tremon Smith and Kahlil McKenzie), and two are hanging onto roster spots but certainly not making waves (Dorian O’Daniel and Armani Watts).
The 2019 draft was more of the same. Veach traded the first round pick for Frank Clark, and also gave him a massive contract extension. Clark has been quite good in the postseason for Kansas City (sans Super Bowl LV), but has otherwise been a major miss for Veach. Mecole Hardman was drafted to be the team’s future WR2, but looks like being a gadget player may be his best (and only?) role.
Safety Juan Thornhill could be the lone quality selection from 2019, but he was forced to work his way back from injury most of this season, flashed in the AFC Championship Game, and was invisible in the Super Bowl. Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders was fine in limited action as a rookie, but was a game day inactive most of 2020.
Cornerback Rashad Fenton is still buried on the depth chart. Darwin Thompson has been replaced in the running back rotation (twice, really), and Nick Allegretti, a seventh round pick, started most games this season (which is more of a reflection of how needy the line was in 2021 than how well he played).
The 2020 draft, once again, disappointing. The Chiefs drafted a running back in the first round instead of an offensive lineman. While Clyde Edwards-Helaire was okay this year, the pick certainly has not paid off relative to investment. Willie Gay, Jr needed far more time than expected to get on the field at a needy linebacker position. The jury is still out on offensive lineman Lucas Niang after opting out. L’Jarius Sneed was an excellent selection at cornerback in the fourth round, and Mike Danna looked okay before being injured, but he isn’t the answer opposite Clark. Seventh round pick Bo’Pete Keyes was inactive for most of the season.
That’s a very long way of saying that while Veach has been consistently praised for identifying Mahomes, his draft history as a general manager isn’t that great. The Chiefs have chosen not to invest early and often into protecting their quarterback, an unsustainable move going forward.
Kansas City must begin to hit on draft picks and invest in the offensive line, if they have any hope of continuing this run moving forward. The offense relies on sending five guys out on routes, and the defense relies on the offense scoring points. Neither of those can happen if Mahomes isn’t being protected against quality teams.
There are compounding issues here beyond the quality of the players on the roster. The Chiefs have salary cap concerns, a ton of free agents, and face big (expensive) decisions with three would-be returning linemen in 2021: Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz and Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff. It seems unlikely that the Chiefs can return all three of these players at their current salaries.
In addition, Kansas City must find solutions to the wide receiver position after Tyreek Hill. Bringing Sammy Watkins back this year was a huge miss. Demarcus Robinson was not good and Mecole Hardman failed to improve. Byron Pringle may have been the second best wideout on the team, but for whatever reason, he largely remains buried on the depth chart.
The Chiefs must sign a quality free agent to be the X-receiver next year, and he must be cheaper than the $9 million that Watkins received in 2020. The team also must draft, in the first three rounds, somehow who can grow into a top-tier option in a year or two so Hardman can be used properly as a return man and scripted player.
Both of the above demands for this offseason will represent huge moments of growth for Veach’s ideology. By drafting offensive linemen early, he’d be showing growth in how to approach building that part of the roster. By drafting a wide receiver early and signing a quality free agent, he’d be admitting a miss on Hardman and Watkins. All of the game’s best GMs admit mistakes as soon as they’re recognized, and Veach must do so for the future of this dynasty.
Brett Veach has had a fine start to his general manager career, but he is far from acing the position. The 2021 offseason will define what the next five year’s look like for the team. There are two paths: either the team will be this decade’s version of Tom Brady’s New England Patriots or they will be Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers. There is no question that we have the quarterback in place; it’s up to Veach to ensure he has the pieces around him to be successful.