The Kansas City Chiefs left Arrowhead Stadium stunned after a sensational performance by Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game after Evan McPherson knocked through the game-winner for the second consecutive week.
After a 21-3 lead, the Chiefs offense sputtered, and a third straight trip to the Super Bowl was put to rest courtesy of the surging Bengals. Now, the Chiefs began their offseason sooner than expected. Where do they go from here?
Biggest offseason questions
The Chiefs don’t have a ton of questions. They don’t need to do a lot this offseason with a loaded offense and an improving defense.
However, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is a question mark — and not due to poor performance. Bieniemy again was linked as a head coaching option and interviewed with the Denver Broncos before they hired Nathaniel Hackett.
At some point, Bieniemy will be a head coach in the NFL; just nobody knows when. Losing him will be a massive loss for Kansas City, although Andy Reid should have a long list of familiar faces he could call upon if that does happen.
Top free-agency decisions
Key free agents: Tyrann Mathieu (S), Jarran Reed (DT), Melvin Ingram (EDGE), Kyle Long (OG), Orlando Brown (OT)
Thankfully, the Chiefs don’t have a ton of decisions to make in the offseason.
Tyrann Mathieu is the most significant question mark here, especially with his recent play expected to land him a nice contract in free agency — if the Chiefs don’t bring him back.
But, all signs point to Mathieu returning in 2022 and beyond, especially with Kansas City’s need for a quality starting safety.
Orlando Brown needs to be back for Kansas City, as the Pro Bowl offensive lineman has been marvelous since joining Mahomes and company.
After what the Chiefs gave up to acquire Brown, they will try and do whatever it takes to keep superior protection in front of Mahomes.
Melvin Ingram has been the most surprising of all the impending free agents. After leaving the Los Angeles Chargers and signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Steelers then let him go to the Chiefs for a sixth-round pick.
Since then, Ingram has been excellent. In nine regular-season contests, he posted seven tackles and a sack. In the playoffs, Ingram was everywhere and added on a pair of sacks — one against the Cincinnati Bengals and one against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He also added a nice pass deflection, making his presence felt on the big stage.
The Chiefs need to find a way to keep these guys, and after Ingram was let go by the Steelers for pennies on the dollar, Kansas City should be rushing to get a deal done with him.
2022 NFL Draft needs and potential targets
Draft picks: First (own), second (own), third (own), third (compensatory)
Draft needs: CB, WR, EDGE, LB, S
The Chiefs have a lot of picks to work with in the upcoming NFL Draft. The question is, which direction do they go?
It is no secret that the Chiefs defense needs a lot of work, so that needs to be the focus in the NFL Draft. Even if Mathieu and Ingram return — which seems like a possibility — they need some young players to add to this group.
Even with Mathieu, cornerback, linebacker, and safety are a few areas to improve the defense. One corner the Chiefs could be hoping for is Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner out of Cincinnati.
After a thrilling season with the Bearcats, Gardner is one of the most interesting players in this draft class. Is he a top-15 pick? Does he slide out of the first round?
The NFL Combine will be huge for Gardner to improve or hurt his draft stock, but there is no denying the talent is there.
If the Chiefs want to wait and get a CB or a safety in the second round (this draft has plenty of them), they should pivot and grab a wide receiver in the first round.
The perfect scenario would have Drake London, the star from USC, falling to the Chiefs at the end of the first round.
London was well on his way to finishing as the best WR in college football before suffering an ankle injury. Yes, the Chiefs have Hill and Kelce as pass-catchers, but they desperately need a big-bodied wide receiver, and London would be a dream come true for Mahomes.
1 player on each side of the ball who must step up in 2022
The Chiefs need more from Clyde-Edwards Helaire. After selecting the talented LSU running back in the first round, he has been underwhelming in his time in the NFL.
If he doesn’t improve in 2022, the Chiefs will have no choice but to look for other options. In the postseason, they hinted that as Jerick McKinnon emerged as a serious threat and a nice arsenal for the talented Chiefs offense.
Is that sustainable? Who knows, but Edwards-Helaire must improve in 2022 before he loses his job for good.
On the other side, many players need to step up, and it isn’t easy to pick just one. The entire secondary — except for Mathieu — needs to play better. The linebackers played a bit better, although the addition of Ingram helped out.
For the sake of conversation, the player who needs to step up is Nick Bolton. The Chiefs’ second-round choice in 2021 enjoyed a successful rookie year. However, somebody needs to be the star of this group, and Bolton has all the talent in the world to emerge as that guy.
Bolton should become a major factor in this defense with another entire offseason under his belt. Of course, if Mathieu and Ingram leave, others will need to step up to replace those two.
Stats Courtesy of Pro Football Reference