The season ended in disappointment. On the day of that last game in 2014, Justin Houston broke Derrick Thomas’ team sack record and Chase Daniel did enough to help the Chiefs knock the Chargers out of the playoffs, but that makes for a lousy rallying point.
The team lost seven games, each of them with varying degrees of sting, ultimately shoved into the NFL’s basket of also-rans because of a little bad luck, too much bad play and too many holes in the roster.
In that way, it was a collective disappointment. Andy Reid and the coaches wear some blame for wet-paper performances against the Titans and Raiders. Alex Smith and the players wear some blame for not making the important plays at Oakland and Arizona. John Dorsey and the front office wear some blame for a bad offensive line and receivers.
All of that is true, but so is this: with natural progression and a productive offseason that is now mostly complete, the Chiefs are in position to get back in the playoffs with 10 or 11 wins. With a little luck, maybe more.
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The team is in a really good place right now. Coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey have cleaned up the mess they inherited, preserved the strengths, and replaced the after-school special of the Scott Pioli years with the solid base and consistency that chairman Clark Hunt had chased without success.
This could be the start of the kind of sustained competitiveness the Chiefs have lacked since the 1990s.
It’s all there, showing more and more the harder you look.
Because that 2014 season wasn’t all bad. Start there. Around Kansas City, the fact that the Chiefs beat both Super Bowl teams was repeated to the point of comedy, but it does mean something.
The Chiefs’ point differential suggested they should’ve won 10 games, for starters, but more than that they played virtually the entire season without their two best run defenders and still gave up fewer points than any team in the league save the Seahawks.
The draft, which ended Saturday, concludes what has to be seen as a very successful offseason for the Chiefs. They used their picks to strengthen weaknesses, from secondary depth to the offensive line to wide receiver, most notably.
The Chiefs have addressed each of their most obvious needs. First-round pick Marcus Peters is a terrific stylistic fit — physical, aggressive, edgy, and best in press coverage — for a team in need of secondary depth.
Mitch Morse is a versatile, nasty and athletic offensive lineman for a system that prioritizes each of those traits. Chris Conley is a big, athletic, fast target for an offense that was sorely lacking those traits at receiver.
Nobody knows anything about draft picks. This is an event and industry built on projections, and on people being absolutely certain about things that nobody can be absolutely certain about.
But the thought process is easy to follow, and to get behind. The Chiefs say they have not addressed specific needs in this draft more than in years past, but it played out in a way that’s allowed them to get better in the places they needed it most.
The whole offseason has been like that, really.
Jeremy Maclin is the kind of plug-and-play talent teams don’t usually find in free agency, particularly to fill such a desperate need as the Chiefs had at receiver. He turns 27 this month, and has a mutual affection with Reid, and a mutual respect with Smith.
Ben Grubbs came in exchange for a fifth-round pick, giving the Chiefs an experienced, athletic, strong interior lineman after a season in which the guards were a particular problem.
The whole thing puts the Chiefs in an enviable position. They are going against the NFL trend of prioritizing offense, but the defense has a chance to be special.
They couldn’t stop the run last year, but that should be much different in 2015 if the recoveries of Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito are going as well as everyone says.
Things change so quickly in the NFL, but in the big picture, the Chiefs have a roster that should be improving. Last year, they began the season with the third-youngest roster in the NFL. The only teams younger were the Rams and Jaguars, who combined for nine wins.
Maclin, Justin Houston, Sean Smith, Dontari Poe — the Chiefs have a lot of guys who’ve proven themselves in the NFL and are still 27 or younger. That doesn’t include players such as Allen Bailey, Ron Parker, and Eric Fisher, who are also young and showing varying degrees of promise. None of this includes Eric Berry.
Every front office and coaching staff is optimistic this time of year. Everyone gets better in the draft, and the spring is a time where projections and potential are often confused with reality and certainty.
The Chiefs will have their challenges, of course. The teams they are chasing have Hall of Fame or star quarterbacks. Schedule analysis is particularly silly in May, but at the very least it’s less than ideal to have just three home games before Thanksgiving.
But all teams have concerns. There are no boats without holes here. What matters is plugging as many holes as you can, and on that point the Chiefs have done an admirable job this offseason and with the draft.
That doesn’t guarantee anything, of course. But it does mean they are heading into the 2015 season with more reasons for optimism than any season in years.