Veach rolled the dice on the then-26-year-old Hitchens in 2018 with the hopes that he had secured a three-down middle linebacker for the foreseeable future. The hope was to find a next-generation Derrick Johnson for the defense. What we got instead was this era’s version of Tracy Simien. While Hitchens has provided great leadership and been durable, the hard truth is that he just has not reached the ceiling that was projected for him when he inked his 5-year, $45-million-dollar deal.
What the Chiefs have in Hitchens is a veteran leader who knows and understands Spagnuolo’s defense well, is capable of helping younger players and their assignments, and occasionally chip in with a good tackle on early downs.
The Chiefs also have two other linebackers who could be in their final season in Chiefs red, Ben Niemann and Dorian O’Daniel. Each of those players is in a contract year, but it is more likely the Chiefs retain one or both of those players on one-year extension. Hitchens is absorbing too much money for his contributions at this point in his career, and if Veach is looking to trim the fat around the books, Hitchens will be near the top of his list.
Hitchens will turn 30 before he enters his contract year in 2022, but the Chiefs could save almost $4.8 million by releasing him in the spring. With premier draft assets already tied up in two young linebackers, Willie Gay and Nick Bolton, the writing is on the wall for Hitchens. Kansas City can comfortably let Hitchens go next spring and ride with Gay and Bolton to lead their linebacker group for years to come.