3. Understanding Windows
The Chiefs used to be the "all-in" franchise they made big swings with trades like Frank Clark and Orlando Brown. They brought in big free agents like Sammy Watkins, Joe Thuney, and Tyrann Mathieu. All of these moves coincided with Patrick Mahomes' cost-effective rookie contract.
Since the loss to the Bengals in the 2021 AFC Championship, the Chiefs have changed their approach by being less aggressive in free agency, letting big-name players go, and investing in the draft. The Chiefs did everything they could to break through and win their first championship in 50 years. Now they have changed approaches and it's paying off.
The Bills made a big free agent push in Josh Allen's last cost-effective year with Von Miller and DaQuan Jones. They are now paying the bill on those moves with Allen's larger contracton the books in addition to other larger contracts on defense such as Matt Milano, Tre White, and Ed Oliver. The Bills have also sunk lots of draft capital into players who've just not returned value for them: Kaiir Elam, James Cook, Spencer Brown, Zack Moss, Devin Singletary, and Cody Ford. All day 1 or 2 picks by the Bills that have currently yielded them a decent running back and a below average right tackle.
You might actually criticize the Bengals for not being aggressive enough during Burrow's rookie window. This year, their big move was returning some talent to the defense (Germaine Pratt) and signing Orlando Brown Jr. They never really seemed to go all in during Burrow's rookie window. Two season-ending injuries for him didn't help either. However, not getting serious about the line certainly contributed.
The margin between failure and Lombardi's is thin. The Chiefs have hosted five straight AFC Championships and been to three Super Bowls. That's not just luck compared to the Bills and Bengals. It's been the accumulation of lots of little moves and some sliding glass door moments. The Bills, Bengals, and Chiefs have all been good enough to be champions during this time frame but only one of them is—and the future looks a lot brighter in Kansas City.