KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs are built around their half-billion dollar All-Pro quarterback, and for the past five years, Super Bowl-bound Patrick Mahomes has made everyone else around him all the more valuable.
He's taken marginal wide receivers and turned them into stars. Mediocre offensive linemen became stalwarts.
Finishing the second year of his mammoth 10-year contract, Mahomes soaks up more than a fifth of the Kansas City salary cap, and some would argue he's still underpaid. Yet the deal nevertheless creates a challenge in filling out the roster around him, and it's one that Chiefs general manager Brett Veach confronted with savvy business and creativity.
Their prime rusher is a seventh-round pick. Their touchdowns leader is a journeyman running back making $1,272,500 this season, while none of their wide receivers is making $5 million. Their top tackler is still on his paltry rookie deal.
“I would start with Brett and the way that he and his guys have gone about putting this thing together,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, while also pointing to the latitude given to him by chairman Clark Hunt and team president Mark Donovan.
“They're all part of that, giving us the opportunity to do what Brett can do by bringing these guys in,” Reid said. “But the process he goes through, he's relentless. He's committed. He's got a great eye for talent. He's fearless when it comes to the trades and drafts and all those things. It's been fun for me to watch."
Reid used to hold both titles of coach and general manager when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City's opponent in the Super Bowl next weekend. But when he took over the Chiefs in 2013, he decided to step away from front-office work and focus solely on his first love: coaching.
The decision to draft Mahomes four years later got his blessing, of course, and it was then-GM John Dorsey who had the final say. But it was Veach, then the co-director of player personnel, who stood on the table and stumped for him.
Veach took over as general manager the following year and began putting his thumbprint on the rest of the team.
He invested heavily in defense, particularly when it comes to rushing the passer, and made sure veteran safeties could back up young cornerbacks acquired through the draft. On offense, he rebuilt the entire offensive line through free agency and the draft, then spread money around the skill positions without investing too heavily in any one player.
That led to Veach's biggest decision since drafting Mahomes: trading Tyreek Hill to the Dolphins.
Veach could have given the All-Pro wide receiver a massive contract extension last offseason, but doing so would have hamstrung the team for years to come. So, Veach sent him to the Dolphins for draft picks and financial flexibility.
He used both to build a team that is heading back to the Super Bowl.
“I think it’s a confirmation that we have confidence in our process,” Veach said. "It just goes to show that I have a really talented staff and I think the hard work pays off. We have a process and we’re always going to be motivated to continue to add talent and depth to this roster and provide Coach and Pat what they need.”
The Chiefs had to replenish at wide receiver after trading Hill and losing Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson in free agency. They signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year prove-it deal, Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a three-year contract and drafted Skyy Moore, who does many of the same jet sweeps that made Hill such a defensive terror.
Having tight end Travis Kelce, every bit as dangerous as the best wide receivers, helps the cause.
The Chiefs rebuilt their offensive line the previous year, and it returned largely intact, so the other focus was on the ground game. The Chiefs took a flier on running back Isiah Pacheco in the seventh round, and by the midpoint of the season, he had supplanted injury-prone former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire atop the depth chart.
Besides the quarterback, the biggest contract on the books belongs to Chris Jones. And like Mahomes, there's an argument to be made that the big defensive tackle, with 15 1/2 sacks this season, has vastly outperformed it.
Veach knows the value in pressuring the quarterback, though. It's why the Chiefs traded for Frank Clark and gave him a big contract, signed veteran Carlos Dunlap this past offseason and used a first-round pick on George Karlaftis.
The Chiefs had to replace Tyrann Mathieu's leadership on the back end of the defense, so they signed safety Justin Reid in free agency. Little did Reid know that he'd spend all season tutoring a quartet of rookie defensive backs — Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams and Bryan Cook — who came up huge in the AFC title game against the Bengals.
Harrison Butker has been one of the league's best kickers going on six years, but an ankle injury sustained in the opener led to a shaky season. He came back to drive through the winning field goal in the final seconds against Cincinnati.
Tommy Townsend merely earned All-Pro honors while setting several franchise milestones for punting this season.
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