Chiefs players filled black trash bags with footballs, shoes, hats, T-shirts and other personal belongings on Monday morning.
They underwent physicals and met with head coach Andy Reid and their position coaches for the final time until the team’s offseason program begins in April.
That’s the routine every year for clubs that do not make the playoffs, and the Chiefs, 9-7, missed the postseason despite their 19-7 victory over San Diego on Sunday.
A year ago, the Chiefs were preparing for a wild-card game at Indianapolis, but on Monday, the day after the season finale, they were saying their good-byes.
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“It’s a bit of an empty feeling as far as winning the game but not having an opportunity to go to the playoffs,” said Reid, who guided the Chiefs to an 11-5 record and playoff berth in 2013, his first season in Kansas City.
“You’ve got to take care of business, particularly in the second half of the season. Going .500 the last eight games isn’t good enough.”
It’s not unusual for a team that goes 11-5 one season to regress the next because of a more difficult schedule and lower position in the draft. The Chiefs finished two games worse this season, a year after Reid orchestrated the greatest single-season turnaround in franchise history.
Still, after two seasons and a 20-12 record, Reid likes what he’s seen in his program.
“We’re sitting here and disappointed we’re not continuing to play,” Reid said. “I love the fact we had a strong schedule and were able to test ourselves. That will pay off for us down the road. I liked the fact we were young, and we have something to build with there.”
Reid believes the Chiefs, whose players’ average age is among the youngest in the league at 26.9 years old, will be able to add more talent through the draft. The club will have at least 11 picks because of compensatory selections, including a second-rounder for the first time since 2012. The Chiefs sent their second-round picks in 2013 and 2014 as part of the trade for quarterback Alex Smith.
“We’re sitting 18th in the draft,” Reid said. “Not that you want to be there, but we’re there. That’s a positive. All those things add for the future. We’ve got a phenomenal organization here. People who want to work together and are willing to check their ego.”
Smith, who missed the regular-season finale because of a lacerated spleen, would not have been available for most of the playoffs, but he still lamented the fact the Chiefs fell short of the postseason.
“It’s strange that we had a chance the entire year, literally up until our final game,” Smith said. “Obviously we knew we still needed some help, but we were still alive at some level. Then, immediately after the game, you’re done. It’s a very final feeling, pretty empty, how fast that happens.
“Everything you’ve been working for, all that talk … the hours, the commitment, sacrificing you do, and it’s done. It wasn’t enough.”
Smith doesn’t believe the Chiefs took a step backward.
“I feel like today, we’re a really good football team and very close to being an elite team,” he said. “We have the core to do some really good things. When you look back at this year, we didn’t put ourselves in the position to get in the tournament.
“Some missed opportunities I look back on. Certainly some games we should have won … had won, and didn’t. You get to this time of year, and those things add up. You look at how we played against top competition in the NFL when we were playing to our level, that’s what gives me the feeling we’re not far off.”
Smith will be 31 next season, and several other key members of the Chiefs, including running back Jamaal Charles (28) and linebackers Derrick Johnson (32) and Tamba Hali (31), are nearing the age where their best seasons may soon be behind them.
There is some urgency to return to the playoffs during the closing windows of their careers.
“This opportunity is right in front of us,” Smith said. “It’s on to the next step. The 2014 season is over. The next year is in front of us. For us, that football calendar is ‘on to the next one.’ As crappy as that is, that’s the honest truth. That is the sense of urgency.
“The team is not going to be the same, and guys are going to be gone, new faces are going to be coming in, and you’re on to the next year, and you have to have a sense of urgency for that.”