With the Super Bowl on deck, the Chiefs also are preparing for big changes on the horizon

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — The Super Bowl represents a natural ending point to the season, one for which every team in the NFL strives. It could represent a much different ending point for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Regardless of what happens Sunday, when they play the San Francisco 49ers for their third title in four trips spread across five years, there is a palpable sense of change on the doorstep. The Chiefs have important players from their run headed into free agency, the word “retirement” follows Andy Reid and Travis Kelce wherever they go and while Patrick Mahomes and others are on long-term deals, many of his closest teammates could very well be gone in the next year or two.

“Listen,” Reid acknowledged this week, “every team is going to be a little bit different. That's just the nature of the NFL."

The two biggest decisions staring at the Chiefs involve what to do with Chris Jones and L'Jarius Sneed.

Jones, the All-Pro defensive tackle, has been a part of each of their Super Bowl runs, and the Chiefs would love to keep him around the next few years. But they have tried in vain to sign him to a long-term contract the past two offseasons, and they were so far apart heading into this season that Jones held out through Week 1 before finally agreeing to a one-year deal.

The Chiefs could conceivably franchise him, but the blow that would deliver to the salary cap would be crippling.

The Chiefs probably would have the cash available for Jones if they didn't also want to sign Sneed to a long-term deal. The former fourth-round pick has developed into one of the NFL's best — and most underrated — cornerbacks, and he should demand a princely sum in free agency. And while Jones may have more accolades on his resume, he will be 30 in July, while Sneed turned 27 last month, putting him far closer to his prime than the pass-rush specialist.

“Sometimes I look at our situation and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this,’” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told a small group of reporters at their hotel at Lake Las Vegas. “But we usually work through things systematically and have a list of the priorities. Certainly, Chris and LJ are at the top of the list.”

The list is long, though. They will need to decide what to do at left tackle, where Donovan Smith will become a free agent. Players such as linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and defensive tackles Derrick Nnadi and Tershawn Wharton that have played big roles the past few years also will hit the market. Even their punter, Tommy Townsend, will need to work out a deal to stick around.

“Then there is next year,” Veach said, “when we have a lot of players coming due.”

Indeed, whatever the Chiefs do to massage their roster going forward must be done while looking through the lens of next offseason. Middle linebacker Nick Bolton, center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith will all be finishing their rookie contracts, while safety Justin Reid and pass rusher Charles Omenihu are due to become free agents.

It's easy to say that is the natural cycle of the NFL. But over two years, that is a lot that the Chiefs could potentially lose.

“All you can do is enjoy the moment,” Mahomes said with a shrug.

All of that change on the horizon comes without even delving into the possibility of retirement.

The 65-year-old Reid has spent all week fighting the notion he could hang up the whistle with another Super Bowl ring, insisting to anyone that will listen that he isn't going anywhere. And while things could change, Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said he believes so strongly that Reid will continue to coach that he hasn't even considered potential replacements.

“I do know he is really engaged and enjoying it, and I have no sense that he is going to be ready to retire in the near future,” Hunt said. “In terms of how long it goes, I don't know. I certainly hope it's a long time in the future.”

Mahomes likewise doesn't expect the coach he affectionately calls “Big Red" to go anywhere.

“I’m highly doubtful because, I mean, he enjoys it every single day. He loves it,” Mahomes said, “and he comes to work with that energy every single day. So it’d be very surprising to me, and I haven’t got any sense of that.”

Kelce also clapped back at talk of retirement, even though the four-time All-Pro tight end appeared to lose a step this season. He will turn 35 midway through next season, and with so many side endeavors — Hollywood has come calling, to say nothing of his relationship with pop star Taylor Swift — it is entirely possible that he could walk away with little warning.

“I love this game. I love coming into work. I've got a lot of desire to be accountable for the ones next to me,” Kelce said. “I think everybody has distractions or things in their lives that can take away their focus, and you have to compartmentalize. It's no different. It might be on a national media scale so it looks harder, but in reality, when I step through those doors or step on that field, I'm focused on playing championship football and playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.”

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02/10/2024 17:25 -0500

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