New faces: DE Frank Clark, S Tyrann Mathieu, DE Alex Okafor, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, RB Carlos Hyde, CB Bashaud Breeland, LB Darron Lee, LB Damien Wilson, S Juan Thornhill, WR Mecole Hardman, DT Khalen Saunders
They’re gone: OLB Dee Ford, OLB Justin Houston, S Eric Berry, C Mitch Morse, DT Allen Bailey, CB Steven Nelson, TE Demetrius Harris, WR Chris Conley, RB Spencer Ware, S Eric Murray, S Ron Parker
2019 snapshot: The team that came thisclose to a Super Bowl appearance didn’t rest on its laurels, instead churning the coaching staff and roster, particularly on defense.
Steve Spagnuolo replaces Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator, while Clark, Mathieu and Okafor/Ogbah step in for departed Pro Bowlers Ford, Berry and Houston, respectively. At best, those changes feel like a wash, especially because Clark and Mathieu have higher salaries than their counterparts (and acquiring Clark cost Kansas City its first-round pick).
The defense added enough talent to improve, depending on how quickly the group clicks under Spagnuolo, but there are still concerns. Unless Breeland returns to his form from Washington, cornerback remains a question mark. There’s also no dangerous edge-rushing threat other than Clark. On the inside, Chris Jones is entering a contract year, and locking him up is imperative after trading Ford and releasing Houston.
The Chiefs breathed easier when Tyreek Hill avoided league punishment following a child and family services investigation. The pick of Hardman (second round) provided some insurance, but Hill’s role as a centerpiece in Andy Reid’s offense would have been impossible to fill if he missed time.
The offense made few other additions while losing its starting center (Morse) and a few role players, and all numbers suggest at least slight regression from 2018’s heights.
Get to know… RB Darwin Thompson
A sixth-round pick from Utah State, Thompson doesn’t bring a big pedigree, but he’s exactly the type of shifty, versatile piece who could thrive in Andy Reid’s offense. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the preseason and also scored on a 29-yard catch and run.
–Patrick Mahomes’ sudden stardom makes the Chiefs an annual favorite for double-digit wins. Taking the over on 10.5 wins always carries risk, but this team is a good bet.
–Battling voter fatigue and year-to-year regression, only Peyton Manning (who did it twice) has won back-to-back MVPs since 1996. We’d steer clear of Mahomes’ +500 odds (best by 400) to repeat.
Bottom line: The Chiefs clearly worked to improve on defense, but the upgrades appear marginal for now. They remain Super Bowl contenders but might have to keep winning shootouts.