The explosive Kansas City Chiefs are starting their offseason earlier than they anticipated.
With roster turnover around the corner, they're not being bashful about where they are focusing on improving: defense.
Such efforts begin with determining how to proceed with safety Tyrann Mathieu, a key part of the Chiefs' defense and their run to four-straight AFC Championship Games (Mathieu appeared in the last three). The safety is headed toward unrestricted free agency in March, but told reporters Sunday he was "hoping" to find a way to remain with the Chiefs in 2022.
"We love him," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said on Tuesday, via The Athletic's Nate Taylor. "The offseason is long. It's a process. The first thing we always do is try to separate the emotions from the last game."
Mathieu isn't the only player Veach will be focused on attempting to retain. Veteran edge rusher Melvin Ingram arrived in Kansas City via trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers and helped key a defensive turnaround that propelled the Chiefs to the No. 2 seed in the AFC after a 3-4 start. Ingram stepped up in the postseason, making a significant difference in Kansas City's Divisional Round win over Buffalo and having a similar impact on the Chiefs' AFC Championship Game loss to Cincinnati.
"We just stayed aggressive and kept calling (the Steelers) back and we were able to bring him here and obviously he had a tremendous impact," Veach said. "He solidified the depth at that position and allowed Chris (Jones) to play more inside, more of his natural technique. But then his leadership and his approach elevated everyone else's game. I don't think it was just a fluke that the defense kind of took off from there, and we had a really good string of late-season football. I think he was a huge part of that.
"With Melvin, I think it'll be very similar to last year, I think he'll be a guy that will want to take his time. He's played a lot of snaps, he's still a productive player, he still can help a team. He'll still be of interest to us. I think he'll go through the process of taking some time and getting with his family and seeing where he wants to play and what makes sense for him. But I do think that if a guy like Melvin decides that he wants to come back and play, I think that we would be at the top of his list and that's something we'll work to keep a dialogue open with."
Kansas City would also benefit from adding talent at cornerback and defensive line, Veach said Tuesday, though such additions aren't exactly cheap.
As for the other side of the ball, Kansas City has one obvious candidate for a long-term extension: left tackle Orlando Brown. The Chiefs gave up significant draft capital to acquire Brown via trade with the Baltimore Ravens, and they'll likely make a similar effort to retain him for the long run.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported a franchise tag is likely to keep Brown in Kansas City for 2022, with an extension possible beyond the tag.
"He's as dependable as there is," Veach said. "We'll certainly work and get him done. We expect him to be our left tackle moving forward."
Kansas City is the latest powerhouse franchise to arrive at the same difficult process of keeping as much of its roster together as possible under existing salary cap constraints. The league is built to make success difficult to sustain, but it's not impossible -- it just requires effective work completed by front office executives. It will be up to Veach to get creative in fitting new deals into the team's cap.
With key contributors and franchise players already in place, the most important part of remaining a contender comes with filling in the gaps with quality talent. The Chiefs have room to operate, owning roughly $14 million in projected available cap space entering 2022 (per Over The Cap). Veach will have his fair share of such work ahead of him this offseason.