KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — At first glance, the Kansas City Chiefs appear poised to make a strong postseason run next season. They’ve solidified the quarterback spot, have several young stars under contract, and came within a hair of making the postseason this year.
Delve a little deeper and the offseason outlook changes considerably.
Their offensive line is in dire need of upgrades. So is their wide receiver corps, where Dwayne Bowe has failed to live up to his massive contract.
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali could be forced to restructure his big contract or be cut, and fellow pass rusher Justin Houston — who just set the franchise record with 22 sacks this season — is a pending free agent.
The Chiefs won’t be busily preparing for a playoff game, but general manager John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid certainly have plenty of other work ahead of them.
“I don’t think there is any one thing that you can say, ‘OK, this is how we’re going to be better next year,’” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said after Sunday’s season-ending win over San Diego. “They’ll get into evaluation mode right away. We’ll have free agency and the draft right around the corner. And the key is we’ve got to come back a better football team next year.”
That didn’t necessarily happen this year.
After winning 11 games and qualifying for the playoffs in Reid’s first season, Kansas City backtracked to 9-7. Yet the Chiefs were still in the postseason hunt until Sunday, when two outcomes they needed — Baltimore and Houston losing — failed to transpire.
Not even a season-ending victory over San Diego did them any good.
“It’s a bit of an empty feeling as far as winning the game but not having the opportunity to go to the playoffs,” Reid said. “There’s some good things we can learn from that.”
Namely, taking care of business in the second half of the season.
Kansas City started 7-3 and was barreling toward a first-round bye. But just like last year, the Chiefs fell into a tailspin and were never quite able to pull out of it.
Now, as the Chiefs head into the offseason, here are some of the key story lines:
HOUSTON’S MONEY: No. 1 with an asterisk is the fate of Houston, who is poised for a big payday after his record-setting season. Only Michael Strahan has had more sacks in an NFL season, and that was by a half. The Chiefs spent last offseason negotiating with his representatives on a long-term deal, but the two sides were never close. If nothing else, the Chiefs could franchise him.
“You have to give us a window to lay out that plan here in the next four to five days, to be able to move in a proper direction,” Dorsey said. “We’ll be able to make those hard decisions.”
HEALTH CHECK: Alex Smith expects to be ready for the offseason program after lacerating his spleen in the Chiefs’ penultimate game. Meanwhile, Reid said linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive Mike DeVito were making progress in their return from torn Achilles tendons.
BERRY’S FUTURE: Eric Berry is continuing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leaving his future with the team in question. The star safety is due more than $8 million next season, the final year of his current contract — a big salary cap number for someone unlikely to play a game.
OFFENSIVE LINE WOES: The Chiefs’ line was a mess most of the season, especially after Jeff Allen sustained a season-ending injury in Week 1. There are massive holes at guard and right tackle, and potentially at center, where Rodney Hudson is a free agent.
“I’m not really thinking about that right now,” Hudson said. “Take some time, reflect on the season a little bit, get a little rest and figure all that out.”
WIDE RECEIVER QUESTIONS: Bowe struggled all season and could be released. If that happens, the Chiefs would free up cash but lose one of their only playmakers. Upgrading at wide receiver will be just as important as fixing the offensive line.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Bowe said. “I know I’m a great player. I did a lot here in the city and that’s all I can look forward to.”