If there’s one thing Brett Veach has proven during his time as general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s that he can overhaul a whole bunch of positions in a single offseason. Two years ago it was the offensive line. In 2021, it was the cornerbacks and wide receivers.
The team’s wide receivers have undergone some surprising changes. Only one player who was with the team in 2021 is now under contract for 2023: Cornell Powell, who spent the 2022 season on the practice squad. Only one wideout who caught a pass for the Chiefs in 2021 also caught one in 2022: Mecole Hardman, who will become a free agent when the new league year kicks off on March 15. last season, 2,356 came from players who were new to the team in 2022.
But despite the unit overhaul over the past year, Kansas City is still set to lose 1,545 yards of wide receiver production to the open market. Along with Hardman, three other wideouts on the team will reach free agency: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Watson and Marcus Kemp.
Joining Powell on the team’s current roster are three wideouts who were on the team’s active roster in 2022 — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore, and Kadarius Toney — plus practice squad wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Three other wide receivers now on the roster have never made a snap in Kansas City: rookie 2022 undrafted free agent Justyn Ross — who spent the season on the Reserve/Injured team roster — and recently signed wideouts John Ross and Ty Fryfogle.
So what can the Chiefs do to ensure they continue to build their roster and take the passing game a step further in 2023? Let’s look at some possible options.
Re-sign Smith-Schuster and Watson
In the season just concluded, Smith-Schuster led the team wideouts with 933 yards (and three touchdowns) on 78 receptions. When signed to an incentive-laden one-year contract last spring, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout wanted a touchdown spot where he could win a ring while rehabilitating his career, while Kansas City was looking for a wide receiver. Reliable passing that could line through from tight end Travis Kelce and moves the chains. Both sides got exactly what they wanted.
Spotrac lists Smith-Schuster’s market value at $58.6 million over four years, which is an annual salary of $14.6 million. While it would take some salary cap moves to create the required space — the Chiefs currently only have $526,000 in cap space — the team could conceivably afford to re-sign him. But if Kansas City makes this deal, there could be very little additional offensive spending during free agency.
Meanwhile, Watson played on a Veteran Salary Benefit (VSB) contract in 2022, which paid him the $1 million salary owed to him as a veteran player, but cost the Chiefs only $895,000 under the salary cap. If Kansas City decides to bring him back, he could likely be signed to the same deal, which in 2023 would cost the team just $940,000 against the cap.
With 315 receiving yards (and two touchdowns) in 2022, Watson ranked fifth among Kansas City pass-catchers. He will be 27 when the season kicks off and still has more than enough in the tank to stretch the field and connect on an occasional Mahomes long throw. For the price, Watson offers sufficient value at the bottom of the list.
Acquire wide receivers in free agency
If the Chiefs don’t want to open the checkbook for Smith-Schuster, the remaining free agent options are a bit bleak. That could push Smith-Schuster’s value even higher, because the only comparable free-agent wide receivers are Allen Lazard of the Green Bay Packers and Jakobi Meyers of the New England Patriots. Both are expected to sign deals close to $13 million a year.
But if the Chiefs decide to roll the dice on yet another hapless receiver, there are a few names to consider.
Jarvis Landry signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the New Orleans Saints last season, but never found his footing there. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and coming off an ankle injury.
Parris Campbell is only 25 years old. She is coming off her first season healthy with the Indianapolis Colts. In 2022, he had 693 rushing yards (and three touchdowns) in one of the worst offenses in the league. Spotrac lists its annual market value at $2.5 million.
Darius Slayton is another budget player with some possible edge. Spotrac lists its annual worth as $3.5 million. Slayton stayed relatively healthy by racking up over 700 rushing yards in three of his four seasons with the New York Giants.
Acquire wide receivers in the draft
The problem with building through the 2023 NFL Draft is that many of the top-end wideouts are smaller slot receivers, rather than bigger chain movers like Smith-Schuster.
One player who fits that bill is TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston, but he is expected to be a top 15 pick. But if you look into the third or fourth round, there are some interesting prospects.
One is Wake Forest wideout AT Perry.
Few wide receivers have been more productive than Perry, who has totaled 2,389 yards and 26 touchdowns over the past two seasons. At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, size isn’t an issue. He does a good job using his long body and limbs in contested catches. There’s a possibility that at the next level he could be a great slot player, rather than a true X receiver. He doesn’t possess incredible speed, so the speed with which he runs for 40 yards at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis will be big on him. If he can run at least in the high 4.4s, expect him to jump on the boards.
Some other names to consider include Cedric Tillman of Tennessee, Xavier Hutchinson of Iowa State, Jonathan Mingo of Ole Miss, Michael Wilson of Stanford and Rashee Rice of SMU.