“We have great guys in the locker room, great people in the facility and overall it’s just a fun atmosphere every single time you come to work,” Kelce said. “Guys don’t want to leave that. Guys want to keep building off of that.
“Going out there and playing football with guys that come to work every single day and fight their tail off for you, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Kelce was speaking for himself but could have been speaking for any of the Chiefs’ other high-profile players who signed new contracts during the offseason: quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Chris Jones.
It goes beyond just this group, in fact. The Chiefs, to a large degree, kept intact their Super Bowl championship team from last year. They were set to bring back 20 of their 22 starters from the Super Bowl before Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Damien Williams opted out of the season because of COVID-19. Before Duvernay-Tardif’s departure, the Chiefs looked as if they would be the first defending Super Bowl champions to return every player who started at least 10 games the previous season since the 1981 Raiders from the pre-free agency era.
Why did so many players, including a number of lesser-known players, decide to stay? Boiling it down, they wanted to.
“We’ve got a lot of selfless guys on this team, a lot of guys that don’t necessarily look in their own mirror,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s about the guys around them. It’s a very fortunate situation we’re in and I think everybody is just grateful to be a part of it.”
The Chiefs have doled out a lot of money to keep the gang together. They would pay more than $600 million over the lives of the contracts of Mahomes, Jones and Kelce alone.
But Watkins decided to stay for the final season of his contract by agreeing to a pay cut. He was scheduled to make $14 million this season but will instead be paid $9 million, though he could make up the difference and then some by reaching certain performance incentives.
“I’ve made enough money,” Watkins said. “I’d love more money, but as far as being smart and [staying] on this team, knowing you’ve got to pay Pat, you’ve got to pay Chris, there’s a lot of guys you’ve got to pay. So for me to take a contract like I did was a blessing. … This is my happy place, so why not take a smaller contract and come out and play with the guys I’ve been playing with?
“Very important to stay. For what we did in winning the Super Bowl and the type of team and coaches we have, the organization, why wouldn’t I stay? I’m a guy that’s been in the league going on seven years, and I’ve been on teams that were not so good and were not winning. We’ve got a well-established quarterback, a well-established team, coaches, organization. The real fun is in the winning more than anything.”
As the Chiefs, in their own words, attempt to “run it back,” a look at four reasons players are eager to stick around:
Coach Andy Reid
Most Chiefs players seem to like working with Reid. That’s particularly true of Mahomes, who before signing his extension extracted a promise from the 62-year-old coach that he wouldn’t retire anytime soon.
Players generally feel Reid cares about them as much, if not more, as a person than as a player and also believe he can help them reach their potential as a player more than most coaches.
“No. 1 is Coach Reid,” said backup quarterback Chad Henne, in listing his reasons for re-signing with the Chiefs in March. “He’s definitely one of the best coaches that I’ve been around. He knows the ins and outs of the offense and the defense. He’s been around for a while and he’s a winning coach.”
This is particularly true for pass-catchers like Kelce and Watkins. Kelce’s two best statistical seasons have been the last two, since Mahomes was made the starting quarterback. Watkins hasn’t hit career bests in two seasons with the Chiefs but might have had he not missed six games in 2018 and two last season.
Not only are the Chiefs defending Super Bowl champions, but the future looks good. Many of their better players are still young in football terms. Mahomes is 24, Jones 26, Tyreek Hill 26, Frank Clark 27 and Tyrann Mathieu 28. Among their best players, only Kelce at 30 and Mitchell Schwartz at 31 are at an advanced football age.
“Guys want to be around a winning atmosphere,” Henne said. “Obviously, a Super Bowl helps, but when you’re around guys who want to compete each and every day and fight for one another, I think it’s definitely just something that you want to be a part of. Throughout my career, ups and downs, winning [and] losing, winning is the way to go. We have great tradition here and a lot of great people around us.”
Players trust chairman Clark Hunt and general manager Brett Veach to make the right moves after Reid is finished coaching, whenever that might be.
“We trust the front office, Brett Veach, Andy Reid and Clark Hunt, to keep the core,” Kelce said. “We trusted that they were going to be able to make it make sense for all of the players, which they did. They held their end of the bargain. We’re very thankful that we still have the core going into this year and for a few years ahead.”
This is particularly true for Kelce, who is signed through 2025, and Mahomes, who is signed through 2031. Each may be playing for a different coach by the time his contract expires.
“I think that trust is something that’s built, and with my three years in the Chiefs organization, you see the trust that everyone has within each other,” Mahomes said. “Everything that coach Reid says, everything that Veach says, and what everyone in this organization says, those things happen and they put in the work every single day.
“It’s almost a challenge if I can beat coach Reid or Veach to the facility some days. They put in as much effort as anyone, and when you have a culture like that from the top down, with Clark Hunt to the 75th, 90th, whatever man on the roster, that trust and that culture was something that I wanted to be a part of.”