Hi everyone! I hope you all are staying safe and dealing with the insanity of the pandemic as well as possible. I haven’t posted anything in quite a while (I’ve had some ideas that didn’t work out and, you know, life) but it hasn’t been for lack of interest. This has been the craziest offseason ever and the Chiefs have absolutely crushed it. It may not mean anything in the end because despite all the precautions being taken the NFL season may get completely derailed by COVID-19. But let’s all put on our Chiefs red colored glasses and assume all the games get played on schedule.
There has been much said and written about how the lack of OTA’s and minicamps favors the Chiefs because of their continuity. All of the returning players already know the system and have a season of working together to get timing and communication down. Bringing back 20 (now 18) of 22 starters from a Super Bowl winning roster is no mean feat, and the losses were arguably not hugely significant. But what about the opposition? How much turnover have they had?
I thought I would take a look at the amount of roster and coaching change among the teams that present the biggest obstacle to the Chiefs returning to the Super Bowl. That limits it to the AFC, because even though the Saints will be a tough matchup they won’t have that much impact on the Chiefs’ season. Since the first step is always to win your division, I’ll look at the rest of the AFC West teams. The Ravens are obviously the next best team in the AFC, so we’ll take a peek at them. After that it’s a mashup of second tier teams. There are arguments to be made for the Patriots, Bills, Texans, and Titans. I’m not going to spend the time diving into all of them because this is going to be long enough as it is. Turnover has never really affected the Patriots much and Bill Belichick has probably been having them all practice in space suits at an undisclosed location anyway. So there’s no point examining them too closely. The Bills are intriguing but they have to get by Darth Hoodie to be a real threat. The Texans have Bill O’Brien so is anyone really concerned about them? No? Good. That leaves the Titans, who have had an eerie ability to hang with the Chiefs even with inferior talent (until January, that is). They’re well coached and have a style of play that has given the Chiefs, even with Our Lord and Savior Patrick Mahomes, some difficulty. So the Titans it is.
Let’s start by taking a look at the Chiefs and how they’ve come through the offseason. I know everyone knows all this, but it never hurts to bask in the enjoyment of a near perfect run of events.
Amazingly for a Super Bowl championship team, the Chiefs are returning the coaching staff intact. Eric Bieniemy got hosed in the head coaching carousel, but I’m actually happy for him that he didn’t end up with the Browns, Giants, or, um, Football Team. The Panthers or Cowboys jobs would have been better fits, but he obviously wasn’t in the same tier as Matt Rhule or Mike McCarthy. And by that I mean he’s head and shoulders above either of them and those teams will regret not hiring him. But their loss is our gain.
With the COVID opt outs, the Chiefs have lost four of their Super Bowl starters: Kendall Fuller, Steve Wisniewski, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and Damien Williams. Fuller got a big contract from the Washington Football Team and I’m happy for him for that. But in 2019 he really only made an impact after moving from nickel corner to deep safety. He only started the Super Bowl because Juan Thornhill tore his ACL in Week 17. Fuller finished the 2019 regular season having played 45% of the defensive snaps, started 4 games, and had no interceptions, 2 passes defensed, and 1 sack. Wisniewski was a mid season pickup who didn’t start until Week 16. While Wis was probably the best guard the Chiefs had in the playoffs, that says more about the state of their interior offensive line than it says about him. LDT was coming back from injury in 2019 and didn’t look like his old self all year. He ended up doing a contract restructure that was really a pay cut in order to stay with the team before opting out to help fight the COVID pandemic in his medical role rather than playing football. While there was hope that he would bounce back to his 2018 pre-injury form, that’s really all it was—hope. The biggest loss for the Chiefs clearly is Playoff Damien Williams. Playoff Damien Williams is an absolute beast, with 81 carries for 355 yards, 6 rushing TD’s, 21 catches for 185 yards and 4 receiving TD’s in five games with the Chiefs. Regular Season Damien Williams, on the other hand, is pretty meh. In 2019 he played in 11 games with 6 starts and had 498 yards rushing on 111 carries with 5 TD’s and 214 yards receiving on 30 receptions with 2 TD’s. Damien is a fine running back when he’s healthy. The bad news is he isn’t healthy much. The good news is that he’s been healthy for the playoffs the last two years. His loss hurts some, but the last time the Chiefs started a rookie running back it turned out pretty well.
Where It Leaves Them
The Chiefs should be in relatively good shape going into the 2020 season. The coaching staff is intact and they haven’t lost any foundational players. Two of the four starters gone were on the interior offensive line, which was such a mess in 2019 that real continuity was impossible anyway. The loss of OTA’s and minicamps will affect the offense for the first few games. Mahomes and the receivers haven’t had any meaningful reps together for six months; their timing is bound to be rusty. Andy Reid’s screen game is notoriously intricate and it will take some time for the line to get back to their accustomed level of precision. The defense may suffer in the middle if Thornhill isn’t ready to go immediately. But compared to the other teams in the AFC, the Chiefs should be strong out of the gate.
There is much optimism among Broncos fans that their team is on the verge of being competitive with the Chiefs. They’re a sexy playoff pick for the talking heads. Let’s see how this holds up.
John Elway continues his churn and burn approach to coaching staffs. He didn’t fire Vic Fangio as head coach, but he brought in Pat Shurmur, fresh from being fired as the Giants head coach, as offensive coordinator. Shurmur replaces Rich Scangarello, who was just hired in 2019. Shurmur also brought along his offensive coordinator from the Giants, Mike Shula, as quarterbacks coach. Apparently the thought is that this pair will help Drew Lock develop better than Scangarello would, Because they did such a stellar job with Daniel Jones. Never change, John. The Broncos also lost outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley, who became defensive coordinator for the Rams. His replacement is John Pagano, who was in Houston in the same role last year.
The Broncos have had a few significant losses along with some lesser ones. The biggest departure is cornerback Chris Harris, Jr., who signed with the Chargers in free agency. Safety Will Parks, who played 51% of their defensive snaps in 2019 is also gone, as is defensive end Derek Wolfe. Their offensive line will have three new starters, as guard Ronald Leary and center Connor McGovern have moved on to pursue other opportunities and right tackle Ja’Wuan James has opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic. James missed most of last season with injury, but Denver was counting on his return. His opting out means that two years after having signed a four year, $51 million contract with the Broncos, James will have played exactly three games wearing the predominantly orange. Gotta love that. McGovern will be replaced by third round pick Lloyd Cushenberry, who should be an upgrade. Fortunately for everyone who plays the Broncos, Garrett Bolles remains at left tackle. The other loss is fullback Andy Janovich, who was traded to the Browns for a seventh round draft pick. Sorry, Andy.
Where It Leaves Them
So the Broncos have a quarterback who looked pretty good in four of his five starts last year. But he will have a new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach along with three new starters on the offensive line and two rookie wide receivers to complement Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant. No OTA’s, no minicamps, no preseason games, and a truncated training camp. Their best corner and two other defensive contributors are gone. And this is the team that is supposed to take the AFC West title from the Chiefs, per Adam Rank (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2c30Hmf7l8)? I think not.
Yes, I know they’re in Las Vegas now. Yes, if we ever get back to having normal football again I will probably fly to Vegas to watch the Chiefs take their lunch money. But for me they will always and forever be Oakland. That’s just who they are. So how have they weathered the pandemic?
With Gruden on a ten year, $100 million contract there won’t be a lot of coaching turnover unless someone pisses him off or another team poaches some of his staff. Shockingly, no other team pursued any of the Raiders’ staff this offseason. Rod Marinelli was brought in as defensive line coach, replacing Brentson Buckner, but that’s it.
The Raiders lost three starters or major contributors this offseason. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead was released and picked up by the Panthers. He played 98% of the defensive snaps last year but was a less than stellar performer. Safety Karl Joseph signed with the Browns. Joseph, as usual for his career, was pretty good when he was on the field but was injured in Week 10 and missed the rest of the season. And CB Daryl Womley went to the Cowboys in free agency. He wasn’t really considered a starter, but filled in all over the secondary and played 90% of the snaps, so he is a bit of a loss.
Where It Leaves Them
Purely from a continuity standpoint the Raiders look pretty good right now. They aren’t implementing new offensive or defensive schemes and their core roster is, if anything, more intact than the Chiefs’. Of course, they’re still running Gruden’s 1998 offense with Derek Carr at quarterback, but given the craziness that is 2020 I would pick them to finish second in the division and possibly make the playoffs.
San Angeles Chargers
Does anybody really care about the Chargers? Do I really have to look up their roster and coaching changes? Oh, okaaay. Let’s get this over with.
To the surprise of some after going 5-11 in 2019, Anthony Lynn returns as head coach and neither coordinator was fired. There are new position coaches for the offensive line (James Campen), running backs (Mark Ridgley), and quarterbacks (Pep Hamilton). So more change than the Raiders but less than the Broncos.
Philip Rivers is gone and that makes me very sad. Watching him throw temper tantrums and interceptions with equal frequency against the Chiefs twice a year was fun to watch. Tyrod Taylor will try to win some games for them while staving off the inevitable debut of Justin Herbert. Running back Melvin Gordon was overpaid by the Broncos but since that means Austin Ekeler will get more snaps it’s more addition by subtraction. Left tackle Russell Okung was traded after missing 10 games with a pulmonary embolism which is a freaking blood clot to the lungs and is treated with long term blood thinning drugs and why anyone in his right mind would play football on those meds is beyond me. (Breath in). Guard Michael Schofield signed as a free agent with Carolina and linebacker Thomas Davis went to the Washington Football team.
Where It Leaves Them
New quarterbacks need time and practice to gel with their receivers and offensive linemen. Neither Taylor nor Herbert will have much of that before the season starts. Look for the Chargers to finish no higher than third in the division.
We all know who the real #1 player in the NFL is, and we all know he’s going to turn this little slight into bloody revenge on the Ravens’ defense. It isn’t their fault but they will just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Like the Chiefs, the Ravens have their entire coaching staff returning for the 2020 season. If the Chiefs didn’t have Andy Reid, John Harbaugh is on the short list of current NFL coaches I would covet.
The Ravens’ biggest loss this offseason was the retirement of guard Marshal Yanda, who has been solid for a very long time. Defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Chris Wormley have also departed, Pierce in free agency and Wormley, who started 7 games for Baltimore in 2019, in a trade with Pittsburgh. It’s hard to see him as much of a loss given he was traded to a division rival. Pierce started 14 games and had 19 tackles and half a sack, acting primarily as a block eater to free up other defenders. Linebacker Patrick Onwuaser left for the Jets in free agency but had been pretty meh as a Raven. Baltimore declined to pick up the option on our old friend Brandon Carr, as well. Their third wide receiver, Seth Roberts, signed with Carolina, but since he only had 35 targets last year he can hardly be called a major loss.
Where It Leaves Them
The Ravens are right there with the Chiefs in terms of continuity. They have a fine coaching staff and a talented roster. They may well be the second best team in the NFL right now. If we’re lucky we’ll get to watch Patrick Mahomes shred them in the AFC Championship Game.
Yes, they were 9-7 last year. Yes, they’re probably overrated going into the 2020 season. But this is a team that has given the Chiefs fits over the years, including their regular season matchup in 2019. I really like Mike Vrabel as a head coach. Watching him turn Belichick’s own clock manipulation against him in the playoffs, then establishing the defensive formula to neutralize Lamar Jackson (keep him from running and make him throw outside the numbers) was wonderful. And there really isn’t another team in the AFC that worries me.
No big changes here, but Jim Haslett has come in as inside linebackers coach and Anthony Midget has taken over as defensive backs coach.
Tennessee has had two pretty major hits here. Former All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin went to the Browns in free agency, and cornerback Logan Ryan, arguably their best defensive player, is still on the free agency market. The Titans did not pick up Conklin’s fifth year option after he was injured for much of 2018 and is almost certainly regretting that decision after he bounced back to his previous form in 2019. Ryan was essentially a cap casualty with Tennessee opting to pay Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry instead. The Titans also traded defensive tackle Jurrell Casey to the Broncos and seldom used wide receiver Tajae Sharpe went to Minnesota as a free agent.
Where It Leaves Them
The nature of the Titans’ losses, especially Conklin and Ryan, show the superiority of the Chiefs’ front office. Failing to pick up the fifth year option on an All-Pro who got injured and then being unable to resign a really solid corner because of cap issues contrasts pretty starkly with what Brett Veach was able to do with $177 of cap room this year. It’s hard to look at the Titans without thinking they have taken a bit of a step back from last year in terms of talent. I still expect them to be in the playoff mix because the AFC South is a dumpster fire. And I would still be a little nervous about playing them in January.
The closer we get to the NFL season actually starting, the better the Chiefs look. Yes, there have been some unexpected player losses with the opt outs, but it’s almost like the team had planned for those possibilities and had alternatives ready. Doesn’t it feel great to root for an organization that looks hyper-competent at every level? The only teams I looked at that are close to the Chiefs in terms of continuity in this stunted offseason are the Raiders and the Ravens. We all know the Raiders are going to Raider. And this review just confirms what we already knew: the Baltimore Ravens look like the biggest obstacle to the Chiefs’ ability to #RunItBack.