Super Bowl hangover doesn’t just affect NFL fans; it’s also a huge problem for the winning team, albeit in a different way. Super Bowl winners are more likely to struggle the next year. In fact, 54% of championship teams don’t win a single playoff game the next season. And 32% of them don’t make the playoffs at all.
Analysts often point to psychological factors to explain the drop-off. Simply put, teams get lax and don’t have the same competitive drive. Yet more tangible factors also make it hard to achieve repeat success. Let’s look at three key challenges that Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs will face in trying to win another championship next year.
Roster turnover for the Chiefs
Roster turnover is a common problem for Super Bowl champions. Virtually all of the team’s players—especially those who hit the field during the big game—take on an added veneer of success, whether or not they truly earned it. If those players also happen to be free agents, they almost always end up getting big offers from other teams around the league.
The Chiefs entered the off-season with a 19 unrestricted free agents on their roster. Even when you consider that not all of those players are high-impact guys, it’s still a huge number. A number of those players have already signed with other teams, or signaled their intent to leave Kansas City.
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah signed a deal with the Miami Dolphins. Cornerback Kendall Fuller was lured away by the Washington Redskins. Veteran running back LeSean McCoy made it clear he won’t return to Kansas City, after he failed to get any playing time in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs also recently signaled that they won’t be bringing defensive tackle Xavier Williams back next year.
The Chiefs’ salary cap situation
In a perfect world, of course, the Chiefs would likely bring back the vast majority of their players from last season. Yet the NFL places a lot of financial restrictions on teams to help promote parity across the league. Those restrictions—embodied in the salary cap—mean that Chiefs will have to make yet more tough decisions about who to keep and who to let walk away.
According to one February estimate, the Chiefs only had about $16.5 million in cap space. By contrast, the Miami Dolphins have the greatest amount of cap space, at $93.7 million. The Chiefs will have to do some creative finagling to make the numbers work. That will likely involve cutting multiple players who have failed to perform up to expectations.
With Kendall Fuller already gone, the Chiefs will probably prioritize keeping cornerback Bashaud Breeland. They also desperately want to retain talented young pass rusher Chris Jones—a feat that will entail a significant financial investment. Even if the Chiefs can keep their core pieces together next year, yet more tough decisions will be looming in the following offseason.
Patrick Mahomes’ contract
Perhaps the single biggest priority in Kansas City is working out a new contract for Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is a franchise player the likes of which the league has never seen before. And while Mahomes still remains on his rookie contract, the Chiefs would love to lock him up long term this offseason.
Yet the question remains whether they will have the financial flexibility necessary to do so. Prior to the Super Bowl, the Chiefs owner acknowledged that Mahomes’ extension may still be a year away. Even then, with Mahomes expected to make an unprecedented $40 million per year, the Chiefs will find it harder than ever to field a high-caliber roster around him.
For the time being, at least, Mahomes says that he is happy in Kansas City, and wants to remain a Chief for “a very long time.”
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