While other teams around the NFL gear up to make a run at a few notable free agent receivers set to hit the open market on March 17, the Kansas City Chiefs’ No. 1 ranked offense will not require a large influx of new talent at the position this offseason.
With Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce all under contract through the 2022 season, the biggest wild card to address in the coming weeks will be the future of Sammy Watkins, who is scheduled to join an unusually stacked unrestricted free agent class.
On Monday, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach spoke more to that while also dropping some hints as to how Kansas City may approach adding receivers in free agency and April’s NFL Draft.
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Veach: ‘There’ll Be Challenges’ in Retaining Watkins
As the Chiefs’ biggest free agent name this year, Watkins, who enters his age 28 season already with seven years of NFL experience, makes for an intriguing case study due to his injury history and a diminishing team salary cap in 2021.
The former No. 4 overall pick elected to gamble on himself last offseason, agreeing to a one-year, $9 million deal loaded with incentives to bring his potential financial ceiling up to $16 million. Unfortunately, calf and hamstring injuries limited Watkins to just 10 games and a career-low 421 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Already nearly $20 million over the new projected $185 million salary cap, the Chiefs once again have some work to do on their books. Like the front office, Watkins also finds himself back in a similar spot this offseason. Only this time, the idea of a reunion may be just that — an idea — at this point.
“I’ve said it many times before, love Sammy [Watkins] and love what he does for our offense,” Veach said during his press conference on Monday. “There’ll be challenges this year. It’ll be a lot more challenging to retain him and bring him back this year just because of where we are. We were able to work with him and his agent last year and make it work. This year will probably be even more difficult just because we’ll have some work to do to get under the cap and once we do we’ll have to see where the markets go.”
Both Veach and Watkins have already expressed interest in re-upping in recent months, with the veteran wideout reiterating his desire to compete for championships over pure financial gain. The odds appear stacked against Watkins returning at this stage, but the Chiefs will exercise patience in seeing how the market plays out in the weeks to come.
Don’t Expect K.C. To ‘Run out of the Gates’ in Free Agency
Speaking of market dynamics, Veach later expounded on the depth of both the free agent and draft classes at the wide receiver position this spring.
“It’s a pretty deep class in regard to free agency and that receiver position,” Veach continued. “Typically, like most years, there are numbers from top down in the receiver position in the draft. I think we’re certainly blessed to have Tyreek Hill and expecting big things out of Mecole Hardman this year and I think we’re all excited about the development of Byron Pringle. So, we feel really good about those three players.
“I think in free agency we’ll be smart and if something makes sense for us, we’ll do what we do every year and listen,” Veach said. “I can’t see us running out of the gates the first week of free agency and sign a receiver. I don’t think that’s where we’re at. But if the market falls and things make sense for us, I think we’ll be smart and selective. Then if something doesn’t work out in free agency I think there’s depth in that position to address it potentially in the draft.”
Although Veach was specifically referring to “running out of the gates” to sign a pass-catcher, that statement should more likely be applied across the board for Kansas City. While fun to think about, that should also put an end to the idea of Patrick Peterson or Justin Houston signing big-money deals to play for the AFC champions.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!