FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Kansas City Chiefs finished their season with a 27-20 loss Saturday to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. Here are five questions facing the Chiefs this offseason:
What to do about Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson? Each player needs a new contract if he is to return next season. The two linebackers are among the longest-serving Chiefs, Johnson arriving as a first-round pick in 2005 and Hali coming as Kansas City’s top pick the following year. There’s a sentimental attachment to each player, but the Chiefs need to decide this on what’s best in a football sense. Each played well this season and the Chiefs could conceivably squeeze one more productive season from both players. But Johnson will be 34 at this time next year, Hali 33. The Chiefs, who drafted Dee Ford in the first round in 2014 to be Hali’s eventual successor and Ramik Wilson in the fourth round in 2015 to eventually replace Johnson, have planned for this day and they may decide it’s best to move on from one or both.
What to do about Sean Smith and Eric Berry? These two are potential unrestricted free agents but fit into a different category than Johnson and Hali because of their respective ages. Smith, a cornerback, turns 29 in July and Berry, a safety, will be 28 in December, so each could have at least a few good seasons ahead. Smith has been an important component in a strong Kansas City pass defense the last couple of seasons. It’s no coincidence the Chiefs improved dramatically on defense shortly after he returned this year from his three-game, season-opening NFL suspension. The Chiefs drafted Marcus Peters in the first round last year and he played well as a rookie, but Kansas City doesn’t have a lot of depth at corner. Phillip Gaines will return at some point after tearing his ACL early this season. Berry played well this season after returning from his bout with lymphoma and is a fan favorite for what he has overcome. But Berry will be expensive for the Chiefs to retain.
Do the Chiefs have their long-term replacement for Jamaal Charles? Charles will be healthy enough to play again next season after his knee injury. But the Chiefs can’t and won’t leave themselves without an alternative to a running back who has a lot of wear and tear, had surgeries on both knees in his career for torn ACLs and will turn 30 next season. They need to determine whether that player is on their roster. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have done an admirable job of filling in for Charles, but are they good enough to carry the Chiefs for another season, if need be? Knile Davis is clearly not this player, even though the Chiefs drafted him in 2013 for that reason. He was passed on the depth chart by West and Ware this season.
What to do about the offensive line? Two of Kansas City’s veteran offensive linemen, Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson, are unsigned going into next season. Based on the Chiefs’ recent history of letting their veteran linemen depart as free agents, there’s little reason to expect they will return next season. That leaves tackles Eric Fisher and Jah Reid, guards Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Zach Fulton and center Mitch Morse as players the Chiefs can count on for next year. That’s not enough, particularly if the Chiefs are hit with another rash of injuries like the one they went through this year. The Chiefs also have some developmental prospects, and veterans Ben Grubbs and Paul Fanaika will be coming off the injured reserve list. Even so, the Chiefs have work to do here. They also need to decide whether Fisher, a former overall No. 1 draft pick, is good enough to be their left tackle. He was improved this season but still has to get better if he’s going to be the long-term answer.
Who’s the offensive coordinator? The Chiefs will lose Doug Pederson to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he will become the head coach. Andy Reid has no shortage of candidates to replace Pederson if he stays within his current staff. An obvious choice is special offensive assistant Brad Childress, but Childress didn’t get the job when Reid joined the Chiefs in 2013. A better choice could be quarterbacks coach Matt Nagy, who joined the Chiefs when Reid was hired and has worked with Alex Smith since arriving in a trade with the 49ers a couple of months later. Reid could also turn to wide receivers coach David Culley or running backs coach Eric Bieniemy. In any case, Reid will probably continue to call the offensive plays.