Season grade: Above average. The Chiefs won their third straight AFC West championship, controlling the division race from start to finish. They even earned the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed and won a divisional round playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was the second player in NFL history to throw 50 touchdown passes and for more than 5,000 yards, had a dynamic debut season. But the team has not reached the Super Bowl in 49 years.
Season in review: The future looks bright due in large part to Mahomes' breakout season. He was everything the Chiefs hoped he would be when they traded up in the first round to draft him in 2017. The Chiefs did an excellent job of surrounding him with talent as tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill had career seasons with each surpassing 1,300 receiving yards in the regular season. The Chiefs led the league in scoring, but their pace slowed over the last four games of the regular season, when they played without running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Hunt was released after a video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman. Watkins had a foot injury. The offense rebounded against the Colts but struggled in the first half against the Patriots. In the end, the Chiefs didn't have enough to overcome their defense, which finished 24th in the regular season in points allowed and couldn't stop the Patriots when it mattered most Sunday.
He said it: "He's been the MVP. He's done good. He is a heck of a player [and] still has room to grow. That's the exciting part and something for Kansas City to be very excited about. His work ethic and everything else is MVP-caliber level. He comes to work with a purpose, makes everyone feel a part of it, makes everyone around him better and has done that for our organization, for all of us, his fans and coaches and owner, too. He's been very important." -- coach Andy Reid on the debut season as a starter for Mahomes.
Should the Chiefs keep defensive coordinator Bob Sutton? The Chiefs spent significant resources last offseason to improve their defense, signing linebacker Anthony Hitchens and lineman Xavier Williams, and drafting defensive players with their first five picks. But other than in rushing the passer -- the Chiefs tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 52 -- they didn't get better in any meaningful way. Reid has been extremely loyal to Sutton, as with most of his assistants. This time he might decide the time has come to make a change. The Chiefs wasted a good thing in the NFL's highest scoring offense. The Chiefs should be powerful on offense for the foreseeable future, but do they want to rely on defensive improvement that has been elusive in Sutton's six seasons as coordinator?
Should the Chiefs re-sign linebacker Dee Ford? Ford had a career season with 13 sacks at the right time. He's a prospective unrestricted free agent. The Chiefs would be smart to retain Ford, even if they have to use the franchise tag on him at a cost of about $15 million. At 27, he should be heading into the best seasons of his career. It would be a shame for the Chiefs to let Ford play for another team during those seasons after they patiently waited for him to develop into this kind of consistently productive player when early in his career it didn't look as if he would. Keeping Ford would make it more palatable for the Chiefs to release their other starting outside linebacker, Justin Houston. He would otherwise cost the Chiefs about $40 million against their salary cap over the final two seasons of his contract. The Chiefs drafted Breeland Speaks in the second round last year with the thought he might eventually replace either Houston or Ford.
What to do about the secondary? It's reasonable to believe that of all of defensive backs who played for the Chiefs this season, only cornerback Kendall Fuller might remain by 2020. The Chiefs need some long-term solutions at both safety and corner, and the time to get started on that is now, with Kansas City holding three picks in the first two rounds of the draft. At safety, Eric Berry looks to be at or near the end of his career, and it's not too early for the Chiefs to be thinking in terms of his replacement. At cornerback, starter Steven Nelson is a prospective unrestricted free agent, and veteran Orlando Scandrick was a one-season stop-gap. The Chiefs need to decide whether rookie Charvarius Ward can be someone they can count on going forward. It's also not too early for the Chiefs to think about extending Fuller, whose contract would expire at the end of the 2019 season. He turns 24 in February and the Chiefs can't afford to let that kind of young talent get away.