The Kansas City Chiefs were a few inches away from the Super Bowl in January. Less than two months later, they’ve torn down one side of the ball.
Offsides. Defense. Number 55. Lined up in the neutral zone. Five yard penalty. Replay third down.
Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford was inches over the line of scrimmage. Charvarius Ward’s interception was nullified, along with the first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years for one of the NFL’s star-crossed franchises. The New England Patriots got another chance and ultimately won the AFC Championship Game, driving down the frozen Arrowhead Stadium field on overtime’s only possession for six points.
From there, the tear-down began.
On Sunday, General Manager Brett Veach released outside linebacker Justin Houston. Two nights later, Ford was traded for a 2020 second-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers. Less than 24 hours after that, Eric Berry was released. All of this coming mere weeks after firing longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, replacing him with Steve Spagnuolo and his 4-3 under scheme.
It’s fair to wonder if the defense was being blown up regardless. Houston was due $21 million against the cap in 2019. Ford was getting $15.4 million on the franchise tag, and the team had little intention of keeping him past next season with extensions for Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones looming. As for Berry, he’s appeared in four games over the past two seasons due to an Achilles’ tear and a Haglund’s Deformity. It’s been a long road.
Still, how different does everything go should the Chiefs reach the Super Bowl and quite possibly win it? Does Veach decide to continue forward with Berry and one of Ford and Houston? Maybe Sutton is retained against the wishes of the greater fanbase, with either a full trophy case or an AFC champion returning?
None of it matters now. The cold reality is that what ifs are a waste of time. Ford did line up offsides. The defense did cave time and again both throughout the season and against New England. This remake was inevitable once Rex Burkhead plowed over the goal line, leaving 11 defenders and a legion of dreams in his wake.
Now, Berry will find another home. Houston will cash in elsewhere. Ford will enjoy his $87.5 million deal with the 49ers. The Chiefs, however, have no such certainty.
After going 12-4 and reaching the AFC title game for the first time since 1993, a defense that finished 31st overall somehow feels worse. Tyrann Mathieu was signed to a three-year, $42 million deal in free agency, but that hardly covers all the holes in this unit. The pass rush is Chris Jones and a bunch of question marks. The linebacking core is Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and Reggie Ragland. Nobody is worrying about that group except for Kansas City. With three picks in the first two rounds of the upcoming draft, Veach has to nail those selections.
A few inches. One penalty. Multiple fates.