They’re still sweeping up confetti in Kansas City but the question is whether, or how many times, the Chiefs can repeat as Super Bowl champions. More succinctly, the query is this: Are the Chiefs the NFL’s next dynasty?
The Chiefs seem to think the answer is yes.
“This is the beginning of something, this is a dynasty,” defensive tackle Chris Jones said after a 31-20 victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
Receiver Tyreek Hill echoed that, saying the team planned to “build a [expletive] dynasty in Kansas City.”
It’s a question asked almost any time a team — other than the Patriots — with a young, promising quarterback has won the Super Bowl in the last couple of decades.
But usually, the answer has turned out to be no, as it was with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (Super Bowl XLV winners), Russell Wilson and the Seahawks (Super Bowl XLVIII), and Carson Wentz/Nick Foles and the Eagles (Super Bowl LII). Usually, one of the areas in which these teams have diverged from the 2001 Patriots is in how much they’ve had to pay those quarterbacks going forward. In that area, Kansas City is more like Green Bay, Seattle or Philadelphia than New England.
The major difference is that the Patriots had a low-cost quarterback in the years after they won their first Super Bowl, in 2001. This is even before we get to talking about Tom Brady taking hometown discounts — he was downright inexpensive until 2005, earning between $3.8 and $9.1 million.
Patrick Mahomes, meanwhile, is about to get very, very costly. He’s in line for an extension that could easily make him the first $40 million-per-year quarterback.
Mahomes’s cap hit still could be manageable in 2020 since any extension can be tacked onto his current rookie deal, but it won’t be as manageable as his $4.48 million cap hit in 2019, since a portion of whatever signing bonus he gets will need to be accounted for. Starting in 2021, it will be a significant percentage of the Chiefs’ total cap.
The Chiefs, who have a projected $16.2 million in cap room heading into 2020, have to deal with Mahomes and save room for draft picks.
Their best defensive player, Jones, is a free agent. Receiver Sammy Watkins has a $21 million cap hit coming next season and will probably be cut, unless he agrees to a significant pay cut.
Cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller, linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive ends Terrell Suggs and Emmanuel Ogbah, and starting guard Stefen Wisniewski will be free agents.
And running back Damien Williams’s and safety Daniel Sorensen’s contracts are up in 2021. The contracts for tight end Travis Kelce, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Alex Okafor, and both starting tackles are up in 2022. Even then, no amount of strategic planning will eliminate the need to make hard cuts.
That’s all withstandable, since elite quarterback play basically heals all wounds in the NFL. It has been far more important to the Patriots over the last 20 years that Brady has played quarterback exceptionally well than it has been that he’s done it for $5 million to $15 million below market value in any given year. The salary cap is also a lot higher than it used to be, and could go up significantly under a new CBA.
What would put the Chiefs in a situation more similar to the early Patriots championship teams is if they mimic the organization’s success with talent acquisition.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in the early 2000s because Brady was inexpensive. The team needed to restock through the draft to do so again the following decade. The 2010 draft class, which featured Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski at the top, is the kind of haul teams need to fill a roster with while paying a quarterback on a second or third contract.
Whether the Chiefs can find their own version of that 2010 Patriots class remains to be seen, though they’ve certainly made some impressive choices. The pick of Mecole Hardman, for instance, makes the probable loss of Watkins much easier to stomach.
In short, it’s hard, but so is finding a generational talent to play quarterback. The Chiefs should be happy to pay up for Mahomes’s services, but they’re going to need to be both savvy and a bit lucky when it comes to player acquisition if they are to be considered a dynasty.